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English 270 A, Fall, 2021

Assignments and Updates

See also: Blackboard

(Back to Main 270 page)

This page has the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

(Information on this page will be listed in reverse chronological order--beware!)

For help with grammar and mechanics for ELL/ESL students, first, read my short essay on the challenges of learning English at:

then try:


Ecclesiastes comment

I learn from my students all the time. I have learned from you. And as an example, one of you wrote me about the sounds of the Ecclesiastes passage, but in seeing what that student wrote I found that that student gave me a better way to talk about what and why one can understand why the Preacher talks the way he does:

In the opening paragraph of Ecclesiastes—what we looked at a couple weeks ago—only words that are quite common and general are used: that, it, done, no, thing and the like in the last sentence. Elsewhere the vocabulary of most of the paragraph is “wind,” “sun,” “rivers,” “north,” “south,” all in sentences describing the way earthly phenomena recur cyclically, and thereby always stay the same. This paragraph would claim that there is in fact, and in spite of what humans tend to believe, no real change in anything that matters, and the prose of this paragraph enacts exactly that claim: “The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” That’s a tricolon whose structure is repeated with both rivers and winds—all of these essential elements of any life on earth.

The point of all this, then, is to respond and counter the human tendency to think there ARE new things under the sun, whether in the wind, or in the running of water back down into the sea—or in the things that we humans strive and live for —a new car, a college education, a weekend of shopping at Alderwood Mall. But the preacher here is reminding his listeners that that kind of striving is "in vain." Believing in change and growth and invention is a human thing, this preacher is telling his listeners, but it is a weakness at least in a spiritual sense, that we keep thinking there are new things beyond nature and, he might add, family.

With that in mind, think about why Hemingway would also be thinking about The Sun Also Rises. Try thinking of this paragraph from Ecclesiastes as a kind of intro to “Big-Hearted River,” the Hemingway story about the guy going fishing, and you can see how central that whole idea is to that story—the river was there, not somewhere else, not gone altogether, just the same river over and over, with the same stream of water and the same fish, and more importantly, about the “big fish” “holding themselves steady” down near the bottom of the river.

Now, do any of us agree with this notion of the way we human beings keep wanting to believe that there ARE new things under the sun? Are we wrong for thinking so? Or is there another way of thinking altogether, and kind of point of view from the celestial realm, that “progress” and “meaning” are ephemeral, not “real” in the same way the natural processes of our earth are. And now, a little over 2000 years after this Preacher was giving sermons like this, we are finally confronting the truth that humans have not only invented new things and all of that, but we have progressively managed to change what could not change—our rivers do not go where they once went; underground reservoirs in California are going dry, farmers are fighting about who gets to use the diminishing water supplies in Eastern Washington. And then there are the melting ice fields in Greenland and Antarctica.

No, I don’t think that preacher was thinking about eco-politics. But the warning that we could come to a point where what was figuratively illustrated some centuries ago has now become to come back to bite us—well, maybe there is here something to think about as we go forward.


Monday and Wednesday, November 8 and 10 (See Canvas...)

Reading: With the Style Checklist you read about last week in mind, read both the Ralph Ellison paragraph below and the paragraph from Ecclesiastes we looked at a while ago.

Writing: In these paragraphs there is a significant use of sound and rhythm. The first is from an essay entitled "Living with Music."

1. Ellison: We have talked already about rhythm and sound in sentences (as with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address). For Monday we will work more on this, and these paragraphs offer a good chance to do so. "Living with Music" is Ellison's title, and Ellison's prose is designed to provide a musical accompaniment to his descriptions. Read the paragraph through, aloud as well as silently, and listen to the rhythms and sound effects. Look for the ways "music" itself becomes a theme in the paragraph, and listen for the ways in which this is reinforced by stylistic choices. Then, having located at least 3 sentences in which you can see a kind of verbal "music" being made, explain as fully as you can in each how Ellison uses language to create those effects.

Then pick one of the sentences numbered 1,2,4,6,7,8,9 and write your own sentence, but with a different topic, following as closely as you can the syntactic and rhythmic structure of your model. You don't need to be exact; the point here is mainly to help yourself see and hear more clearly what Ellison manages to do.

For Example: If I were imitating sentence 3, I might describe a visit to a disappointing natural history museum by writing:

"Happily there was the tyrannosaurus, various castings, and a tea room."

Then, for the sentence you compose, include a brief description of what in your new sentences is the same and what differs from Ellison's sentences. In my example I have closely imitated the syntax—substituting a different adverb to begin the sentence but maintaining the underlying syntax and its short list of illustrative items—which are, like the original, written as a three-unit tricolonic parallel structure of NPs.

Ralph Ellison, from “Living with Music”

(1)In those days it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live. (2)In the process our apartment—what with its booby-trappings of audio equipment, wires, discs and tapes—came to resemble the Collier mansion*, but that was later. (3)First there was the neighborhood, assorted drunks and a singer.

(4)We were living at the time in a tiny ground-floor-rear apartment in which I was also trying to write. (5)I say “trying” advisedly. (6)To our right, separated by a thin wall, was a small restaurant with a juke box the size of the Roxy. (7)To our left, a night-employed swing enthusiast who took his lullaby music so loud that every morning promptly at nine Basie’s brasses started blasting my typewriter off its stand. (8)Our living room looked out across a small backyard to a rough stone wall to an apartment building which, towering above, caught every passing thoroughfare sound and rifled it straight down to me. (9)There were also howling cats and barking dogs, none capable of music worth living with, so we’ll pass them by.

*The Collyer Mansion was famous for a while as a place left crammed full of papers, magazines, and other collections of all kinds at the death of its wealthy, but very disturbed owners (brothers, both of whose corpses (one of which had mummified) were actually found in the building when it was finally forcibly entered after no one had heard or seen either of the two brothers in some very long time). (You can find pictures of the by clicking here: Collyer Mansion)

2. Ecclesiastes. This is about as different from Ellison's paragraph as you can imagine, both in terms of sentence structures and in terms of what the paragraph is about. Accordingly, I'd again like you to read it aloud and listen to the "music." Again, identify three sentences that seem to you to have a kind of musicality and explain as carefully as you can how that music is created.

Ecclesiastes, from the Bible, King James Version

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

[You can use Canvas, or you can bring your papers to class; I'll be collecting them to read....]


Wednesday, November 3

Reading: Read The Speaker in the Text, including the sample paper on "The Gettysburg Address."

Writing: Your first memorization of sentences for this class, and a writing exercise with "The Gettysburg Address."

First look carefully at the structure of Lincoln's 10 sentences. This has been one of the most quoted, and best remembered of all the speeches ever given in this country. Every single sentence of this speech is carefully "built," but it works as a set of 5 smaller units, as well.

Those units are: sentence 1, sentences 2-5, sentences 6-7, sentences 8-9, and sentence 10.

Here is the address:

The Gettysburg Address

Unit 1:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Unit 2:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Unit 3:

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Unit 4:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

Unit 5:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Your Writing: Having read the address with care, then:

(Step 1) Pick one unit that you think is particularly well made (a case can be made for ANY of the units here, so don't worry about making a bad choice!), Then:

(Step 2) Memorize that unit. Then, once you have done so, close your eyes and listen closely to your unit's sounds, its rhythm, and its syntax. Then:

(Step 3) Write about the sentence you've picked from Lincoln's address describing its syntax, diction and anything else you can notice. Explain as best you can why and how it is successful.

(Step 4), Finally, now write your own version of this unit, not about Gettysburg or about history—just about whatever you want to describe from your ordinary life. Imitate your unit's structure and its rhythm as closely as you can, though you don't have to make it exact. An example:

A very long time ago my grandfather created in Reading, Pennsylvania a new business, planned as an optical company and organized expressly to provide lenses of value to every customer.

To get a more specific idea of how to write about style be sure you read/re-read the student essay included on The Blackboard at the end of The Speaker in the Text. The student who wrote that essay (a very strong essay and a good example of what I hope most of you will feel able to do by the time of our final) points to a number of things they have noticed ranging from rhythm to diction, to syntactic structure, to figurative/metaphorical language. We'll be dealing with all of those dimensions of style over the next weeks, but as we begin I'd like you first to become more aware of how many effects of language writers can use.

Monday 31 October

Mid Term



Wednesday, October 27

Midterm on Syntax.

Monday, October 25

Writing: Sentences sent out on October 23

1. Carolyn parked her car in the garage

2. Children who read books do well in school.

3. For students to learn grammar enables them to analyze prose.(remember that < for-to> allows deletion of the "for" in many S's embedded as objects of the verb)

4. Sally’s succeeding as a writer required that she write in her journal daily. 

5. The book that I was reading reminded me that I should keep a dictionary by my side. 

6. Terry explained to her mother that her laptop had been stolen.

7. The speaker was offended by Tom’s having left the room before the talk ended.


Monday, October 11

Reading:Parts 1 and 2 of Introduction to English Phrase Structure Rules. We will have a perfect quiz on the reading. (Don't worry. You'll like the perfect quiz.)

Writing: Immediately below is a prose paragraph. Read it carefully, and then use what you have learned so far about style to find 3-4 adjectives/adverbs that you think describe the voice/style, and then identify some of the elements of this style that create the voice your adverbs/adjectives have described.

What do you make of his sentences?  Pick one that you think is an interesting sentence (or pick one at random if you feel that you don’t yet know how to recognize an “interesting” sentence).  Explain as best you can 1) the structure of the sentence, and 2) give an answer to the question:  Why does Cohen use that particular sentence structure in that particular place?

Roger Cohen, “The Rage of 2016”
December 5, 2016 New York Times

            The long wave unfurled at last. Perhaps it is no surprise that the two societies that felt its furious force — the United States and Britain — are also the open societies at the hub of globalized turbo-capitalism and finance. For at least a decade, accelerating since the crash of 2008, fears and resentments had been building over the impunity of elites, the dizzying disruption of technology, the influx of migrants and the precariousness of modern existence.

            In Western societies, for too long, there had been no victories, no glory and diminishing certainties. Wars were waged; nobody knew how they could be won. Their wounds festered. The distance between metropolis and periphery grew into a cultural chasm. Many things became unsayable; even gender became debatable. Truth blurred, then was sidelined, in an online tribal cacophony....

Wednesday, October 6

Reading: Just the Syllabus on the Main course page, and the addition you can find below--prepare for an in-class syllabus quiz.

Writing: Here I'd like you to write about:

1. Why you are taking this course and

2. What you think it may be able to do for you, and

3. A short account of your language life. Include an account of what language/languages you speak, write, and/or read and your level of fluency.

While I certainly have my own sense of what this course should do for you, I have also found it helpful to have students tell me something about why they have signed up, what they are expecting, what they sort of wish was NOT going to be part of the course. With that knowledge I can do a better job of modifying assignments as we work our way through the quarter. I'll be posting a full assignment on our class Canvas page on Wednesday afternoon.

So, for next Tuesday, submit via Canvas your fullest explanation of why you have enrolled in English 270. I ask for it on Tuesday so I can look at them before class on Wednesday. It can include stuff like "I couldn't think of anything else to take," but in that case, having read the syllabus, explain what you are nowlooking forward to, or what you are not sure you are going to like, and what you really hope will be for you an outcome of the course. 500 words is your limit....

A Final Note: Experience has taught me that a lot of you will not yet be comfortable as writers, but don't worry here--many of the papers you write for me will not be graded, and that includes this one. I just want to see something about where you are as a writer, and I hope you will find yourself more and more comfortable when writing as the class goes on.

You can access the Writing Assignment at:

An Introduction to English 270

Why I Teach This Class, or, The Empire of the Conscious Critical Mind Strikes Back.

I’ve been in love with language all of my life. But as I’ve learned more and more about language and how it works I have gained even more respect for the unbelievably complicated phenomenon it is. In these remarks I’ll summarize a few things I hope you will take with you from this class and keep somewhere in your conscious mind for as long as you live, and I will at the end include a restatement of something I will have been suggesting all quarter long: the meaning of what we have done here in the larger frame of the science of mind.

So. Things I hope you’ll take with you:

1. A deeper knowledge of the grammar of English sentences. You will be able to recognize what many of you (but not all!) might not have recognized before: compound S’s, complex S’s, embedded S’s, RC’s, parallel constructions, loose and periodic constructions—and just for good measure, adverbs and adverbials. You will also pay attention to S length and complexity or simplicity, and consciously recognize a passive versus an active construction, and you will have some good sense of what difference in effect the choice of one form over the other might have.

2. An introduction to the predictable effects of choices authors of all kinds make among S structures and among vocabularies: AS, Latinate, registers (among them: academic, slang, vocational, social). You will look at difficult prose and understand what the causes of that difficulty are: passives, periodics, Latinate language, invocations of registers with which you are unfamiliar. You’ll also know that easy to read styles are often personal, in a register you already know, and made up of a blend of diction levels—AS giving you easy stretches amidst more demanding vocabulary required by the nature of the subject under discussion.

3. Practice analyzing styles in terms of the effects different ways of writing have on their readers. In starting with adjectives, we will be acknowledging the immensely complex and almost entirely unconscious knowledge you have built up in your minds regarding not just the “meaning” of words, but also a whole set of cultural and at times psychological effects the uses of language elicit from you.

Even those of you whose first language is not English (ESOL students) have already developed such responses, though in your English (as opposed to your first language) such responses may not be as rich or as easy to locate as they are for native speakers. Some of what you bring to English texts is no doubt via a kind of cultural transfer: though our first-language cultures are generally different (sometimes very different!) from the cultures of our second or third languages, other things are shared enough that we can borrow from our natively developed knowledge. Indeed, ESOL students sometimes even have an advantage over native speakers, as what they come up with may bring new understandings to the surface precisely because in some contexts their cultural knowledges are of necessity more complicated—and thus potentially richer—than are those of native English speaking students.

4. A platform for rethinking your own writing style. I will have asked you to write a lot this term; many of you will feel increases in your fluency, and maybe you also will have increased your comfort and your confidence as writers as well. You may still tighten up a bit when you worry about the final, but you’ll relax when you see it—it’s only going to be more of that with which you have already had a great deal of practice. And again, for those of you whose English is a second language you deserve some extra credit here: the task of searching for and locating the cultural significances of the various language samples we have studied here has required from you not just the tapping of unconscious knowledges (though it has done that, too!) but also the working up of a great deal of new language knowledge as well.

5. A means of making visible and describable what is for most of us as users of language invisible and mysterious. Here we will have moved away from the explicit goals and tasks of the course to the other thing this course wants to do: enable you to develop or extend ways to pay attention to your own incredibly skilled—if mysteriously so—minds. For in day to day use, you already know how to handle much of what we will have worked on here. Maybe you don’t yet know how to name the effects you have felt as a reader, but in this course you will have to become aware of and familiar with a range of language choices you are already responding to, even if unconsciously.

And that, in turn, leads to my final observation about what I hope you will take away from English 270:

What we will have been studying here is a concrete example of the power of the unconscious mind. Over your lifetimes you have internalized an amazingly deep and complex range of linguistic behaviors—many of you in two or more languages. One way to describe what we will have done in this class is to make those unconscious knowledges and skills “visible.”

In somewhat more technical terms, this entire course will have been an applied exercise in “metacognition”—the ability to think about your own thinking. This gives you certain powers as a writer and reader—that’s what I’ve outlined above. But it also illustrates something that in my thinking is even more important, and that is that an extraordinary amount of the work our minds do is NOT within our conscious mind’s control. That’s great for our phonology (who wants to have to make decisions about where your tongue should go, and for how long, when you speak the word “write”?!), but it’s terrible for our decision making. For the fact is that we often make decisions about language, and about things that are NOT in the realm of language, automatically—even when we think we are being fully rational.

Our challenge is that much of our knowledge is given us—unexamined—by the cultures and subcultures within which we grow up and live. And without cultivating a metacognitive ability to monitor and adjust/correct our unconscious behaviors, we fall into at best sloppy and boorish ways of thinking, and at worst—well, let's leave that unexplored. I know some of you already know a good deal about this dilemma, but I myself find I must relearn it regularly. I call the ability to ride herd on your unconscious mind “Ordinary Life Critical Thinking.” No one class can teach this to you; my hope is that this class will have made a contribution to the collective effect of making these years of your lives a highway to what really will be a post-racism, post-sexism, post-anti-science world.