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Winter Quarter 2017

English 370: English Language Study,


What Do We Do When We Speak English?

MW 1:30-3:20: CMU 326

Office phone: 543-6203 (but it's usually better to email me)

E-mail: cicero @

Padelford A-407 Office Hours: MW 3:30-4:30pm and by appt

Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates


Course Overview:

English Language Study, or,

What Do We Do When We Speak English?

English Language Study introduces students to the most extraordinary thing we human beings do: speak. Indeed, this fact of human behavior is so central to our lives that we take it for granted. We speak our words so much, so easily, and so automatically that we hardly even think about what we are doing when we do it.

But even if we are not thinking much about what we do when we speak English, in fact we are doing a lot. We look for words to fit our thoughts, and we judge them for how well they fit the context in which we use them. We put together the sounds of the words we select in carefully articulated ways, and we slot the resulting words into different structures, each of which creates different meanings even when we are using the very same words. And we do all these things at speed, not even noticing our actions.

How do we do it? How can all the tweaks, moans and pops that human beings so easily cast out into the air cause others to laugh or grow angry or reach out to take a hand?

It is actually all pretty amazing, and it sets us the problem: how can we capture even the basic facts of this extraordinarily ability to communicate?

All of which means: this class will introduce you to a range of language issues, like why grammar is your friend (and not boring at all), or how in spite of the fact that all the words we say in English are made up of only about 40 distinct sounds, speakers can nevertheless say millions of completely different things. You will find out, too, why English spelling is so confusing, and how language change has caused enmity and war, or (with Shakespeare) how making language into poetry is often to take a first step towards making love.

Most important, you will learn something about yourself—about the ways language can control you much more than you control it, and about how knowing more about that control can give you at least some of the power you will need to have in order to fight back.

Text: Parker and Riley, Linguistics for Non-Linguists, 5th ed., plus occasional online readings.


The goal of this class is to introduce you to the systematic study of English as a language. We'll look at its structures and how those structures enable us to communicate. We'll glance at its history and its relation to other human languages, and we'll look at questions of dialect, usage rules, and the social dimensions of language choice. And we will conclude by looking at stylistics—the study of how writers deploy language for literary effect.

Work: Two midterms and a final; a language autobiography, and a term project. Many exercises, and a few quizzes. Final Self-reflective Essay on your learning in the course. I’ll also assign a value for attendance and participation.

You can earn up to 450 points apportioned as follows:

Midterm 1...................................75
Midterm 2...................................75
Language Autobiography I.......... 25
Language Autobiography II..........75
Attendance and Participation........40

Overall demands of the course: Language is complicated, its study is an enormous field, and though we won’t be covering it all by any means, we will do enough to give you a strong base for pursing further language study either in this department or in Linguistics or Education. But yes, it will be demanding. The reading is not that much per week, but you will find yourself having to read and reread, to memorize a good deal, and to get used to thinking about language quite differently than you may have done before.

Moreover, we will cover a LOT. That means that missing class will be a major downer. I hope we will keep things interesting, but really, missing class will make your job a great deal tougher. So if you have a busy schedule and don’t have time to devote to this class, then you will want to find something else to take. (And I really do mean that!)

Writing: You will be doing some form of writing for most classes. Sometimes it will be a short paper; at other times it will be an exercise from the book, or something to prepare you for a quiz. I will collect some, but not all. However, all papers, quizzes and exercises will be collected by you and submitted in your final portfolio for credit. More on the Language Portfolio will be forthcoming later in the quarter.

What do I want: Engaged Critical Intelligence (ECI) : My criterion for the daily exercise/response papers is “engaged critical intelligence,” or ECI. You don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort, even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent more time and anxiety on these responses than is necessary. Please understand: although I genuinely do want you to take these exercises seriously, I’m not asking for finished "English Papers." I call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an Engaged Critical Intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it—and NOT writing a series of "papers."

In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE FULLY ENGAGED HOUR of writing. If you want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages, or, when posting on line, over the word-limit.

My response to your responses. I certainly do want your papers to be coherent, but the daily response papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also rarely read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get substantially more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end-of-quarter evaluations from students in earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, you are welcome to come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers: I cannot accept late papers. There will be 40 or more of you, and you’ll be handing things in a lot. That adds up to a huge number of pieces of paper, and if they are coming in at different times, I simply cannot keep track of them. So if I have collected a day’s exercise but you didn’t have it ready to turn in, then make it up, and submit it in your final portfolio, but please don't give it to me. (You can miss up to TWO such exercises without penalty. Otherwise you will lose points for missing papers.)

Virtual Office Hours: My office hours are listed above; I enjoy talking with students, so don't hesitate to use them. I am also available for reasonably simple questions online. Send me a note. If your question or concern is too complicated to address online, I’ll tell you so and we can find a time to talk f2f.

Tentative Reading Schedule

The most up-to-date information will always be on the Assignments and Updates page.






Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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