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Fall Quarter 2010

English 370: English Language Study,


What Do We Do When We Speak English?

Tu Th 12:30-2:20: MGH 251

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: TuTh 2:30-3:30pm

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 tend to take it for granted. We speak our words so much, so easily, and so automatically that we hardly ever 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 the sounds of the words we select together 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: George Yule, The Study of Language, 4th Edition. Cambridge, 2010. Occasional online readings.


The chief 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.

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 500 points apportioned as follows:

Midterm 1................................... 75
Midterm 2................................... 75
Language Autobiography I........... 25
Language Autobiography II.......... 75
Attendance and Participation........ 50
Portfolio.................................... 100
Final.......................................... 100

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 that you’ll leave here with a good basis for pursing further language study either in this department, or in linguistics or in education. But yes, it will be demanding. The reading is not all 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 in ways quite different than you may have before now.

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 mean that!

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.

Late Papers: I cannot accept late papers. There are more than 40 of you, and you’ll be handing things in a lot. That adds up to huge numbers of pieces of paper, and I simply cannot track 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.

Virtual Office Hours: My office hours are listed above; I am also available for reasonably simply 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

What is written here is sure to be modified over the length of the quarter. Get used to updating yourself regularly as to reading and writing assignments; the most up-to-date information will always be on the Assignments and Updates page.

Week 1

Thursday, Sep 30: Introduction to the course; Linguistic Self-profile, Step 1

Week 2

Tuesday, Oct 5: Phonetics--spelling things right. (Linguistic Self-Analysis Step 1 due)

Thursday, Oct 7: Phonetics and Phonemics

Week 3

Tuesday, Oct 12: Morphemes--Words as Shape-Changers. Morphology--As systematic as possible, but just a little random.

Thursday, Oct 14: More Morphology

Week 4

Tuesday, Oct 19: Grammar and Syntax--the promised land, sort of.

Thursday, Oct 21: More Syntax

Week 5

Tuesday, Oct 26: Mid-term 1

Thursday, Oct 28: Transformations

Week 6

Tuesday, Nov 2: Finishing up Syntax

Thursday, Nov 4: Review of Syntax

Week 7

Tuesday, Nov 9: Semantics

Thursday, Nov 11: No Class--Veterans' day

Week 8

Tuesday, Nov 16: Pragmatics and DA

Thursday, Nov 18: Midterm 2

Week 9

Tuesday, Nov 23: Social and Historical linguistics

Thursday, Nov 25: Thanksgiving Break

Week 10:

Tuesday, Nov 30: Stylistics

Thursday, Dec 2: Stylistics

Week 11:

Tuesday, Dec 7: Stylistics

Thursday, Dec 9: Completion and review

Finals Week: FINAL: Thursday, Dec 16: 10:30-12:20 p.m.



Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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