English 336: Introduction to Linguistics

Short Paper Assignments

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Linguistics Main Page

Due Date for Paper 1: Fri., Mar. 14, 2014
Due Date for Paper 2: April tba 2014

Length: One to two typed, double-spaced pages of discussion. Turn in a hard copy in class and submit a backup copy in the Turnitin drop box. (If you insert or attach any extended examples—such as a writing sample you analyze—it must be in addition to the one page minimum of general discussion in your own words.)

Purpose: The short paper will demonstrate your ability to explain in your own words a specific principle or concept of modern linguistics. Your information could come primarily from a course textbook, but you should provide additional examples of your own to illustrate the generalizations being discussed, or summarize in full an essay or article (don't just summarize assigned material in the Linguistics for Everyone textbook). Either of your short paper topics may overlap with your project topic, so you may write briefly now about a topic that you decide to pursue further in your project (and the suggestions below may give you ideas for project topics). Don't forget that the glossary in your textbooks can be helpful, and you probably should check it to make sure your basic terminology is accurate (e.g., if you are writing about slang or jargon or babbling or metaphor, the glossary can help you use those terms accurately).

Writing Skills: The paper must demonstrate mastery of basic skills of composition and editing appropriate for a formal paper in an upper-level undergraduate class. Use standard English except where you might be illustrating nonstandard linguistic examples. Papers with serious problems in editing, proofreading or documentation will not be accepted. See Dr. Hanlon's page on Grading Criteria for an outline of skills that are required in work submitted for credit at Ferrum College. (These papers require the same basic skills as papers in English 102 and sophomore literature and other courses.)

Documentation: Research beyond the course textbook or a single article you choose is not required, but you must document your source(s) of information. Include at the end a list of Works Cited—or Work Cited, since you may have only one textbook or article to cite. Use the MLA or APA format for documentation, and for giving parenthetical page references to quotations or citations within your paper. YOU MUST USE A HANDBOOK to check the format of your citation(s).

If you choose to use examples that come from a small survey you conduct, people you interview, writing samples you analyze, or articles you have found, document those sources appropriately. Attach a copy of a survey or any sample passages or articles or exercises analyzed in the paper.

Since you are discussing language, you may have some special mechanical problems. The standard rule is to use underlining or italics to mark words when you refer to them as words. (The same would apply to parts of words.) If some of your examples are whole phrases, you might prefer to use quotation marks around your examples of words and phrases. If you need to use underlining or italics for special emphasis within words and phrases, be sure you use a system that is consistent in your paper; the reader should not be confused about why something is underlined or italicized.

Handbooks such as The Little, Brown Handbook or Rules for Writers contain guidelines for using and documenting sources in papers, and other aspects of composing and editing college essays. Dr. Hanlon and the library have various texts with more specialized guidelines for writing different types of papers. There are textbooks and tutors available in the ARC if you feel the need for further assistance of any kind before the essay is due. See also the Writing Center web site.

Suggested Topics: Feel free to restrict or vary topic suggestions to suit this assignment. Some of these topics may suggest ideas for project topics as well. Feel free to write papers that contribute to your course project.

Write a short paper about the use of language in a campus event. Examples: at the Women's Leadership Conference (in March, http://www.ferrum.edu/wlc), you will hear a variety of speakers. You could also use the YouTube video from the 2012 conference, when linguist Martha Barnette gave a great speech, and you can listen to her radio show A Way with Words online.

Develop your discussion forum comments on the novel Frindle into a formal paper of 1-2 pages.

Summarize an essay from the reader Language: Readings in Language and Culture that has not been assigned in class, or a magazine or journal article that discusses an important issue involving language. At the end give your own responses or evaluation of the article. (Dr. Hanlon and the library have copies of this book and one is on reserve; you have only been assigned to read "Nine Ideas About Language" by Daniels from this book.)

Discuss some aspect of terminology related to our college theme of Sustaining Community Engagement. You could do this by writing about language use in any of the theme programs this semester. Or discuss terminology that is important to changes in our society and our views of sustainability and community engagement. Some of the terminology is quite new, or the public has recently become aware of it. How have electronic social media and other new technologies changed the way people use language?

Many of the exercises in the Language for Everyone textbook suggest topics for papers. (Most of those that suggest writing topics are not assigned for homework.)

• Collect one or more examples of exercises, from textbooks or classroom teachers, which involve morphology or syntax or phonetics in learning to read, or exercises designed to help readers or writers improve their vocabulary or their sentence structure. Explain the linguistic principles and competencies that are being practiced in the exercise. If possible, give some discussion (from your own observations or a teacher or student) of the usefulness of this exercise.

• If you are familiar with a foreign language, or with literature written in Old English, Middle English, or Renaissance English, you could compare any one feature of morphology or syntax in modern English and that language. Be sure to give credit to any professor or native speaker of another language who helps you with this.

• Summarize and respond to some of the material in the PBS web site Do You Speak American? You can combine this with watching the video (Dr. Hanlon has a copy) or not (a transcript is available in the web site). Be specific about which parts of the web site you have reviewed.

• View and summarize one or more episodes of The Story of English, an extensive PBS series on the English language around the world, or another series, Do You Speak American? Our library has the companion books for these series and the library has the videos The Story of English available as streaming video (9 episodes with separate titles).

Other Topics from Reader Language: Readings in Language and Culture, 7th ed.:
• P. 33: No. 9. W. F. Bolton asserts that "we seem to understand nonsense, provided it is fitted into proper patterns." Consider the following "nonsense," the poem “Jabberwocky.” What do you "know" about the meaning of this poem? For example, can you identify nouns? Verbs" Do you know that something will or did happen? If so, what is that something? Try to describe how you "understand" aspects of the poem in spite of its nonsense words.

• Pick any one of the nine ideas from Daniels’ “Nine Ideas about Language.” Quote the basic idea from Daniels, and discuss how your understanding of that idea is affected by other examples you can think of or collect. If you write about no. 5, you could select just one or several of the styles or functions Daniels lists from other theorists, and provide examples of your own to illustrate it.

• Adapt topic no. 7 on p. 78 of Language by asking some people (at least 5) whether they believe the English language is deteriorating or not deteriorating. Then ask them why they think it is or not. Record and classify or compare their answers in your paper. What conclusions can you draw about attitudes toward language in the general public? Do you have background information about your informants?

Morphology:
• An essay in Language says that polar opposite ("not") un- attaches only to adjectives (unhappy, unlike). Two exceptions to this rule are Uncola and Uncar. Why are these exceptions? Why would advertisers have made them up in the first place when the words fail to follow the rules? Lewis Carroll also coined “unbirthday party” in Alice in Wonderland. You could write a paper about other word coinages in advertising or brand names that do not follow the usual derivational rules of word formation in English. (See also ex. 1 in Introduction to Language, p. 31.)

“Word-Making”:
• Focus on any of the methods of word formation (in the morphology chapter) by discussing examples of your own.

• (No. 3 on p. 165 in 6th ed., not in 7th ed. of Language). "Compounding is of particular importance in areas involving extensive technological development. One study found that 19 percent of the words in a series of NASA reports were in nominal compounds, compared to only 3 percent in articles published in the [journal] American Scholar. Why might this situation exist?" Or you could develop a different focus that involves compound words. Collect as many examples as you can of compounds of various kinds. (e.g., noun + noun, noun + verb, adjective + noun—are there other possible combinations?) What observations can you make about these types and which ones seem to occur most often?


• Explain the difference between lexical ambiguity and structural ambiguity and provide your own examples of both.

• Syntax: Explain the difference between imperative and declarative sentences, or between yes/no questions and Wh-word questions, or between active and passive sentences, or between positive and negative forms of the same sentence (i.e., sentences with or without not). As you list examples to consider, do you run into any complications that make your descriptions difficult? (For example, what happens if a sentence is both a question and negative?)

• Language Acquisition: Topic 6, p. 683 in Language. Or write a paper discussing your responses to exercises 1, 3, or 6 in Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams, chap. 8.

• Use exercise 4 or 10 on pp. 558-61 of Language to develop a paper about gendered language on a TV show or in advertising.

• Discuss several differences between the English language used in the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare, and twentieth-century American English. Be selective with your focus and examples.

• Discuss the jargon of a particular occupation or hobby, or the specialized language used by another group you are familiar with. For example, what special terms are used by people who work in fast-food restaurants or theaters, or people who ride horses? Does the jargon include primarily a list of specialized vocabulary items, or are other linguistic features involved (syntax, stress, etc.)?

Alphabetic writing: John P. Hughes claims that "alphabetic writing is the most efficient writing system possible." Explain why alphabets are "the most efficient writing system." (from Language, 7th ed., Part 11)

• Discuss examples you collect of slang terms used on this campus, or slang used by another group you are familiar with. Use a dictionary of slang to determine whether some of these terms have been used in the past. You might focus on a certain type of slang word. For example, in class we discussed slang that gives opposite meanings to words ("bad" for something good, "sick" for something admirable, etc.).

• Write a brief report on sexist language, or some other type of taboo language. Discuss the treatment of that type of language in one or two textbooks (either linguistics textbooks or writing handbooks.)

• Select a passage from any book, or a short poem, in which a distinctive style or features of dialect are being used, and discuss the significant features of the language used in the passage. Are special features of dialect or style used to convey something about characters, cultural background, personal relationship?

• Discuss a poem or passage that violates the usual rules of the English language. (Almost any poem by e e cummings would fit this assignment.) What effects is the author creating by violating our normal expectations about how language is used? How do these effects contribute to the themes or message of the poem or passage? (See the chapter on semantics for discussion of metaphor, idiom, and anomaly as methods of violating usual semantic rules.)

• Examine one or more Internet sites that deal with language, and report on what you have found. Example: http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/errors/index.html. "Common English Errors is a new Web site which simply and entertainingly explains a number of common spelling and usage errors in English. Created by Washington State University Professor of English Paul Brians."

• Examine some examples of student writing. Discuss problems you identify in an area relating to language usage, and methods for helping the students improve in those areas.

Note: There may not be time to revise paper #2 after it is graded at the end of the semester. If you have any questions about your paper before it is due, please see the professor or go to the Writing Center.


February 17, 2014

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