Issues in Contemporary American English

Lesson Plans



  • Prepare to succeed in this course
  • Become comfortable using Netscape Navigator and Eudora
  • Become familiar with the major linguistic concepts and terms

Class Activities

Discussion: Syllabus

  • Read the syllabus carefully and ask questions.
  • Develop a habit of doing the exercises at the end of each chapter in this book. These exercises will help prepare you for class activities, including quizzes.
  • Refer to Martha Kolln's Understanding English Grammar to shore up your understanding of English grammar. While the focus of this course is not subject-verb agreement or nonessential clauses, you will need to understand basic terms and concepts such as subject, verb, adjectival, clause, case, and prepositional phrase.

Discussion: The Internet

  • Review the section on computers in "Be Your Best."
  • If you would like additional instruction on using computers, come to my workshop at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, August 27, in the Dial computer lab. Bring your diskettes, computer paper, and e-mail information.
  • Make sure that you have an e-mail address by the end of this week. See me if you need a form.
  • Visit, personalize a page, and set up a clipping service to give you news about the English language. Read this news regularly and be prepared to discuss the issues raised here in class discussions.

Group Exercise: English Basics

Using what you already know about the grammar, sounds, vocabulary, and history of English, write a brief entry on the English language for a general encyclopedia. Include a bibliography.

Individual Exercise: Animal and Human Communication

Book historians recognize two major forms of printing before the nineteenth century: xylography, or woodcut printing, and typography, or printing with movable type. In xylography, printers carved all the letters for an entire page on a woodblock, applied ink to the block, and then used the block to print pages. In typography, developed in Europe by Johann Gutenberg, printers arranged individual blocks, each containing the impression of a letter or punctuation mark, to spell out words and sentences; they then applied ink to the blocks and pressed paper against them. When they had made the required number of copies of this page, they disassembled the words and sentences and rearranged them for the next page. How are these two forms of printing similar to animal communication and human language? Try to think of other analogies that help illustrate the differences between these two types of communication.

Individual Exercise: Linguistic Analysis

Read the following passage and analyze it from the standpoint of a linguist. What is distinctive about the morphology, phonology, and syntax? Do you see any examples of semantic ambiguity? What sociolinguistic phenomena does the passage illustrate?

MAKING them pens was a distressid tough job, and so was the saw; and Jim allowed the inscription was going to be the toughest of all. That's the one which the prisoner has to scrabble on the wall. But he had to have it; Tom said he'd got to; there warn't no case of a state prisoner not scrabbling his inscription to leave behind, and his coat of arms.

"Look at Lady Jane Grey,'' he says; "look at Gilford Dudley; look at old Northumberland! Why, Huck, s'pose it is considerble trouble?--what you going to do?--how you going to get around it? Jim's got to do his inscription and coat of arms. They all do.''

Jim says:

"Why, Mars Tom, I hain't got no coat o' arm; I hain't got nuffn but dish yer ole shirt, en you knows I got to keep de journal on dat.''

"Oh, you don't understand, Jim; a coat of arms is very different.''

"Well,'' I says, "Jim's right, anyway, when he says he ain't got no coat of arms, because he hain't.''

"I reckon I knowed that,'' Tom says, "but you bet he'll have one before he goes out of this--because he's going out right, and there ain't going to be no flaws in his record.''

(Text courtesy of University of Toronto English Library)



  • language
  • linguistics
  • creative aspect of language
  • competence
  • performance
  • grammar
  • descriptive grammar
  • prescriptive grammar
  • ungrammatical
  • Noam Chomsky
  • universal grammar



  • Study the ways sounds are created in the oral cavity
  • Become familiar with English phonemes and allophones
  • Learn to transcribe English speech with the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Use this knowledge of phonology to analyze spelling problems, accent, register, and poetry

Class Activities

Group Exercise: Consonants and Vowels

Look over "Table 6.6: Phonetic Symbol/English Spelling Correspondences" on pages 244-245 of An Introduction to Language. Note any differences between the pronunciations indicated in the table and your own pronunciation of these words. Are there more differences among the consonants or the vowels? Why do you suppose this is so?

Group Exercise: Phonemes

Complete exercise 6 on page 308 of An Introduction to Language.

Individual Exercise: Phonology and Spelling

Use your understanding of phonology to analyze and correct the common spelling problem in the following sentence: "Many scientist have studied this phenomenon."

Discussion: Sound Symbolism

Review David Crystal's list of "Sounds and Senses" on page 251 of The Cambrdige Encylopedia of the English Language. Why do you think these sounds have the associations they seem to have? Try to think of other sounds with apparent connotations.

Discussion: Intonation

Review David Crystal's comments on "A Really Interesting High Rise Intonation" (p. 249) in The Cambrdige Encylopedia of the English Language. Have you noticed this phenomenon in hearing various people speak? If so, how did you interpret it? Do you use this rising intonation? If not, would you consider starting? Why or why not?

Pairs Exercise: Accent

Take turns saying the list of words below. As one person says the words, the other should transcribe the words in IPA. Feel free to ask your partner to repeat the words if necessary. Does your pronunciation of a word change if you use it in a sentence?

  • pen
  • interesting
  • aunt
  • car
  • route
  • pin
  • here
  • buy
  • ask
  • through
  • pianist
  • mischievous

Class Exercise: Accent

Listen to the tape of a woman speaking and singing. Try to identify the woman's race and place of birth. How did you reach your decision?

Pairs Exercise: Register

This time, each of you will pronounce the following sentence: "I'm going to say something to them." First, pronounce the sentence as if you were talking to a friend over lunch. Next, pronounce the sentence as if you were speaking to a potential employer in a job interview. Transcribe your partner's speech for each context and note any differences you find.

Individual Exercise: Sound in Poetry

Use what you have learned about stops, continuants, stress, rhyme, and sound symbolism to analyze the following poem by Emily Dickinson:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

Now use what you have learned about intonation to read it aloud. You may want to refer to David Crystal's discussion of intonation on pages 248 and 249 of The Encyclopedia of the English Language. Try reading some lines with different intonation and analyze the different effects.

Individual Exercise: E-mail and the World Wide Web

  • In the computer lab, insert your diskette in the A drive of a computer and launch the e-mail software called Eudora. Place your cursor in the box labeled "POP account number" and type your e-mail address. Example: Press the TAB key and type your name in the next box. Finally, type your e-mail address again in the "Return address" box. Click on "OK." You now have stored your e-mail information on this diskette. Label it "Eudora e-mail" and carry it with you at all times.
  • Practice sending a message. Click on the picture of a pencil and paper. In the box that appears, type next to the word "To." Tab down to the message field and type SUBSCRIBE ENG521. Click on "Send." You have joined the list serve for this class. Whenever you want to send a question, comment, or idea to me and your classmates, you can send it to, and everyone in the class will receive it. I will use the list serve to pass along announcements and to share tidbits on language. We also will use the list serve to share our journals for this class. Be sure to check your e-mail before each class meeting.
  • Practice using Netscape Composer to build a World Wide Web site. See the instructions on "Be Your Best."

Journal 1: Dialect

Look up a word or expression in the Dictionary of American Regional English. Summarize and analyze its pronunciation, meaning, and use.


  • An Introduction to Language, Chapters 6 and 7
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, pp. 248-253, 317
  • Journal 1


  • phonetics
  • International Phonetic Alphabet
  • place of articulation
  • bilabial
  • labiodental
  • interdental
  • alveolar
  • palatal
  • velar
  • glottal
  • manner of articulation
  • voiced
  • voiceless
  • nasal
  • stop
  • fricative
  • affricate
  • liquid
  • glide
  • diphthong
  • stress
  • phonology
  • phoneme
  • phone
  • allophone
  • distinctive feature
  • intonation
  • assimilation
  • deletion
  • epenthesis
  • metathesis
  • allomorph
  • accent
  • register


  • Dictionary of American Regional English



  • Practice reading a dictionary entry
  • Learn to analyze a word's morphology
  • Study the processes by which languages change

Class Activities

Individual Exercise: Morphological Analysis

  • Use your dictionary to identify the morphemes in one of the words in the list below. Use terms such as "lexical-content word," "free," "bound," "affix," and "derivational" to label each morpheme.
    • anti-intellectualism
    • international
    • Jacobean
    • suicide squeeze
    • pseudonyms
    • neighborly
    • undoing
    • friendliest
    • unwritten
    • nullifies
    • relishing
  • Referring to the etymology in your dictionary, explain the process by which the word entered the English language.

Group Exercise: Lexical Innovations

Using your dictionaries, as well as your own knowledge of morphology, analyze the following sentences: "They are conversating about the test." "This method is uneffective." "She acts like a pre-Madonna." "The fort was succumbed by the army's attack." "Opponents to the law are literally coming out of the woodwork." "Many people are surprised by the enormity of the Oxford English Dictionary." "Despite their tortuous ordeal, survivors of the plane crash were in good spirits." "That lamp is very unique." "Copycat crime is a fascinating phenomena." "I borrowed my friends books." "Our program offers the most complete news coverage." You may want to break down some words into their morphemes. Although some of these words do not appear in most standard dictionaries, you probably know what the writer intended them to mean. How do you know?

Individual Exercise: Language Change

Since the time of Jonathan Swift, who said he saw "no absolute necessity why any language should be perpetually changing," prescriptive grammarians have tried to slow down or stop language change. Using what you have learned about coinage, inflectional endings, and phonological phenomena, as well as your experience as a speaker and reader of English, to make a case for or against language change.

Group Exercise: Word Coinage

  • Use what you know about loanwords, portmanteaus, compounds, derivational morphemes, or other phenomena to coin a word.
  • Write a dictionary entry for your word. Make sure you include information about its orthography, pronunciation, part of speech, inflections, meanings, and etymology.

Discussion: Lexicon in Dialects and Idiolects

Reflecting on your work with the Dictionary of American Regional English and The Origins and Development of the English Language, as well as your own experience hearing and using words, make a list of words that serve as shibboleths--terms that reveal information about a person's native region or social class. In particular, consider lexical differences in British and American dialects and orthography. Also, note any expressions that are peculiar to your family's speech or even your own speech. How do you think these lexical aspects of a dialect spread?

Journal 2: Analysis of a Word

Look up one of the words in the list below in The Oxford English Dictionary and at least one other hardback dictionary, such as The American Heritage College Dictionary. In addition to summarizing the information you find about the word's pronunciation, part of speech, meaning, and history, comment on any striking morphological, lexical, or semantic phenomena that it demonstrates. Finally, note any important differences between the treatments of the words in the different dictionaries. Submit your response to the online forum.

  • gender
  • jubilee
  • jumbo
  • yellow journalism
  • notorious
  • macho



  • dialect
  • idiolect
  • morphology
  • homophone
  • lexicon
  • lexical content words
  • function words
  • morpheme
  • derivational morpheme
  • inflectional morpheme
  • bound morpheme
  • free morpheme
  • root
  • affix
  • prefix
  • suffix
  • allomorph
  • borrowing
  • coinage
  • ejaculation
  • compound
  • clipped form
  • acronym
  • back formation
  • eponym
  • blend
  • Lewis Carroll
  • folk etymology
  • functional shift
  • commonization
  • protolanguage
  • Indo-European
  • cognate
  • analogic change
  • Samuel Johnson
  • Noah Webster
  • orthography


  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • American Heritage College Dictionary



  • Become familiar with phrase structure rules, phrase structure trees, and some transformations
  • Identify the sources of syntactic ambiguity
  • Distinguish between spoken and written syntax
  • Analyze the way transformations and other syntactic phenomena can expand rhetorical possibilities and affect meaning
  • Use an understanding of syntax to analyze common writing problems, such as fragments and run-ons

Class Activities

Group Exercise: Patterns of Clauses

Write and diagram an original sentence for each of the clause patterns David Crystal describes on page 221 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

Individual Exercise: Transformations

Use a phrase structure tree to diagram the following sentence: "The manager ordered the supplies." Next, perform each of the following transformations:

  • Yes-no transformation
  • Wh- transformation
  • Negative transformation
  • Cleft sentence
  • "It" extraposition

Individual Exercise: Syntactic Ambiguity

A syntactically ambiguous sentence has one surface structure and two deep structures. Below is a list of newspaper headlines. Using phrase structure trees, show how each illustrates syntactic ambiguity.

  • "Judge to rule on nude beach."
  • "Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax."
  • "Stolen Painting Found by Tree."
  • "Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter."
  • "Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years."

Individual Exercise: Paraphrase

Paraphrases are two or more surface structures for the same deep structure. Use a phrase structure tree to diagram each of the following sentences and then paraphrase each. Identify the transformation you used to produce the paraphrase.

  • Congress cut funding for national parks.
  • The lobbyist has given the senator several gifts.
  • The mechanic repaired the car quickly.
  • The shortstop leaped over the runner gracefully.
  • She looked up the word.

Try to think of other ways of paraphrasing these sentences.

Discussion: Rhetorical Grammar

Review the paraphrases you produced in the preceding exercise. In what way can transformations subtly affect the meaning of a deep structure while maintaining the basic message?

Group Exercise: Disjuncts

On page 229 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, David Crystal points out that disjuncts can contribute to a writer's or speaker's tone. Analyze the role of the disjuncts in the following sentences:

  • "Poe, of course, actively sought this 'union of Poetry and Music' in his own work, as any reader of "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," or "The Bells" can attest."
  • "In fact, scientists in Poe's own time noted the asymmetry of the cerebral hemispheres."
  • "America has many dialects, as you know."
  • "The difference, I suppose, is that you knew her and I didn't."

Group Exercise: Language Creation

Using what you have learned about phonology, morphology, and syntax, begin creating an original language. Make a list of vocabulary words, along with some of their inflectional affixes, and write a sentence using these words. Finally, explain the rules governing sound, word formation, and word order.

Group Exercise: Sentence Variety

Write one of the following sentences at the top of a sheet of paper:

  • "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
  • "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
  • "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe."

First, use a phrase structure tree to diagram each sentence. If necessary, "untransform" the sentence before diagramming it. Then, work together to write at least five new sentences that convey roughly the same information. Comment on the flexibility of English syntax.

Group Exercise: Poetic Syntax

Perhaps the main reason that poetry is so challenging, especially for the inexperienced reader, is that poets generally have a large syntactic vocabulary; that is, they use vocatives, inversions, and other structures more often than other writers. Use what you have learned about syntax to analyze the following lines from poetry:

  • "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears."
  • "If ever two were one, then surely we."
  • "Something there is that doesn't love a wall . . . "
  • "Whose woods these are I think I know."
  • "Busy old fool, unruly sun, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windows, and through curtains call on us?"
  • "one-night cheap hotels"
  • ". . . There lives the dearest freshness deep down things . . ."

Group Exercise: Sentence Problems

Use what you know about syntax to analyze the following phrases and suggest ways to turn them into appropriate sentences:

  • Because Picasso was a Cubist.
  • The reason being that the house was demolished.
  • Such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.
  • The idea that James was a realist.
  • Newton was a physicist, he developed some important theories about optics.

Group Exercise: What's in a Quotation?

As David Crystal notes on page 214 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, spoken syntax differs from written syntax. No one appreciates this difference more than print journalists, who often have to transcribe spoken sentences for their stories. For this exercise, pretend that you are a reporter who has recorded the following from an interview:

"I think that sports stars Jordan Sanders Mike McGwire all those guys make way too much money I mean you know how much is one guy worth you know cause like you know I just wanna say to 'em how much do you actually work in a year I heard on TV or no it was the radio that some of them make like $3,000 a minute I mean a second that's like I mean it doesn't seem right that they should make so much money when I'm when everybody else is like struggling to you know get by you know"

After analyzing this passage, do the following:

  • Transcribe it so that it could appear as a written quotation.
  • Identify some aspects of spoken English that make it difficult to transcribe. How do you suppose journalists cope with these problems? Try to come up with your own standards.
  • Compare your transcription with those of the other groups. What differences do you notice? What syntactic or other phenomena lie beneath the different transcriptions?
  • Discuss how this exercise might force us to revise our definition of the word "quotation." What implications do these transcription problems have for the mass media?


  • An Introduction to Language, Chapter 4
  • Understanding English Grammar, chapters 5 and 14


  • syntax
  • grammaticality
  • syntactic category
  • noun phrase
  • verb phrase
  • prepositional phrase
  • phrase structure rule
  • phrase structure tree
  • syntactic ambiguity
  • paraphrase
  • embedded
  • subcategorization
  • transitive
  • intransitive
  • transformation
  • deep structure
  • surface structure
  • wh- transformation
  • there transformation
  • cleft sentence
  • particle
  • active voice
  • passive voice
  • vocative


  • Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures
  • Quirk, et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language



  • Begin to appreciate the nature of lexical and syntactic meaning
  • Become familiar with some approaches to classifying meaning
  • Analyze the complex relationship between signs and signifiers
  • Use information about syntax, morphology, language change, and the English lexicon to analyze political speech

Class Activities

Group Exercise: What Words Mean

Use several different methods to try to determine the meaning of the following words. First, use semantic features. Next, write a definition with a hypernym and distinctive attributes. Finally, come up with a list of synonyms. Which method seems most effective? What drawbacks does each have? Referring to Crystal's discussion of synonyms, categorize your list of synonyms according to levels of formality, collocation, and connotation.

  • overalls
  • window
  • courage
  • love
  • medicine
  • eat
  • marionette
  • hiccup
  • improve
  • healthy
  • abstract
  • apocryphal

Individual Exercise: Semantic Analysis

Each of the following sentences or scenarios, many of which I have drawn from real life, demonstrates at least one semantic phenomenon covered in the reading for this week. Use what you have learned about proper nouns, polysemous nouns, deixis, and other concepts to analyze the item:

  • A contemporary gospel song contains the line "Our God is an awesome God."
  • The lyrics to a remarkable number of country songs contain lines like the following: "I've got friends in low places." What semantic concept are the composers of these songs using?
  • A student tells a career counselor: "I want to find a job in publishing, but they never hire anyone without experience."
  • Speaking to a student in a mentoring program, a fund-raiser my wife knew identified herself as an "opportunist."
  • While working as a copy editor, I once let my news editor know that I was uncomfortable with a story that identified someone as an "alleged murderer." Why did I object to this phrase? Would you object? Why or why not?
  • As a teenager, I worked at Chick-fil-A, where we had three sizes of soft drinks: small, medium, and large. Our "large," however, was enormous--about 32 ounces. Many customers used to tell me: "I want a large, but not that jumbo thing."
  • In Act 4, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Macduff learns that his wife and children have been murdered, presumably by Macbeth. As Macduff begins to unravel, Malcolm says: "Be comforted. / Let's make us med'cines of our great revenge / To cure this deadly grief." Macduff replies: "He has no children" (line 216).
  • "We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do."
  • "By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation. Whereas on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following to wit: 'That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free . . . .'"
  • Apparently irked by a competitor's new one-day treatment for a particular infection, a company began running a commercial that points out that the infection cannot be cured in a single day.
  • In his campaign advertisements, an incumbent member of Congress derides the folly of the politicians in "Washington."

Group Exercise: Words on Semantics

Rewrite each of the following quotations using semantic terminology:

  • How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms. Aristotle
  • Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard or misapplied words, with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation; that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge. John Locke
  • They believed their words. Everybody shows a respectable deference to certain sounds that he and his fellows can make. But about feelings people really know nothing. We talk with indignation or enthusiasm; we talk about oppression, cruelty, crime, devotion, self-sacrifice, virtue, and we know nothing real beyond the words. Joseph Conrad

Group Exercise: The Meaning of Truth

  • While campaigning for the presidency in 1988, Vice-President George Bush promised that he would not approve new taxes, famously declaring, "Read my lips: no new taxes." After winning the election, Bush eventually did sign a tax increase that Congress had passed. Did Bush lie? Defend your answer by referring to what you have learned about semantics.
  • Testifying in the sexual harrassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, President Bill Clinton said that he did not have "sexual relations" with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Later, Clinton admitted that he had an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky. Did Clinton lie? Defend your answer by referring to what you have learned about semantics.

Discussion: "Politics and the English Language"

  • Was George Orwell, author of "Politics and the English Language," a descriptive or prescriptive grammarian? Defend your answer.
  • Compare Orwell's argument with those of similar language analysts, such as Jonathan Swift, William Struck and E.B. White, and William Safire. In particular, consider the reasons these analysts oppose what they consider sloppy usage.
  • In what way do Orwell's examples illustrate the phenomenon that John Algeo and Thomas Pyles describe in the section called "The Vogue for Words of Learned Origin" on pages 252-254 of The Origins and Development of the English Language?
  • In perhaps the most famous passage of this essay, Orwell writes: "If thought can corrupt language, then language and corrupt thought." What does he mean? Do you agree? Defend your answer.
  • Using what you know about language change, semantics, and usage, support or contest Orwell's argument that we can retard what he considers the deterioration of the language.
  • This essay appeared about 50 years ago. Is it still relevant? If so, cite recent examples.
  • If you have read Orwell's novel 1984, explain how it illustrates some of the ideas he expresses in "Politics and the English Language."

Journal 3: Analysis of Political Language

Using what you have learned about phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics, analyze a sample of political or bureaucratic speech. Here are some things you may want to consider:

  • Phonology: Has the speaker or writer tried to emphasize concepts or appeal to the ear by using phonological phenomena such as alliteration, rhyme, or even regular stress patterns? If you have the advantage of hearing the speech, you may want to analyze other features, such as assimilation, register, and intonation.
  • Morphology and Lexicon: What types of words does the speaker or writer use? Do you see any leaning toward loan or native words, old or recently coined words, plain or elevated diction? What do these preferences suggest about the author's background or intentions?
  • Syntax: How complex is the syntax? Identify some transformations and comment on how these transformations affect the meaning of the deep structure. For example, does the author use the passive voice? What effect might this transformation have on the audience?
  • Semantics: How direct is the speaker or writer? Note examples of euphemism and other forms of obfuscation.

Try to refer to terms and concepts we have studied, as well as any books--the OED and books by Crystal and Orwell, for example--that can illuminate your analysis. A number of speeches are available on the World Wide Web. For a recent presidential speech, for example, visit the White House's site. For older speeches and documents, visit the University of Virginia Library electronic text center or a similar site.


  • An Introduction to Language, Chapter 5
  • The Origins and Development of the English Language, Chapter 10
  • George Orwell's essay "The Politics of the English Language"
  • Journal 3


  • semantics
  • semantic properties
  • homonym
  • pun
  • polysemous
  • synonym
  • antonym
  • hyponym
  • hypernym
  • metonym
  • proper name
  • sense
  • reference
  • thematic roles
  • pronoun
  • anomaly
  • metaphor
  • idiom
  • pragmatics
  • linguistic context
  • situational context
  • discourse
  • maxims of conversation
  • speech act
  • performative sentence
  • deixis
  • collocations
  • etymology
  • generalization
  • specialization
  • transfer of meaning
  • abstract
  • concrete
  • pejoration
  • amelioration
  • denotation
  • connotation
  • George Orwell
  • sign
  • signifier


  • George Orwell, 1984
  • William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature



  • Locate language centers in the human brain
  • Identify similarities and differences between human and computer treatments of language
  • Recognize various linguistic abilities
  • Become familiar with issues associated with reading and language acquisition
  • Develop an informed opinion on spelling reform

Class Activities

Discussion: Brain Physiology and Language

  • How are cognitive functions organized in the human brain? How do we know?
  • What do patterns in speech errors reveal about the way the human brain processes language?
  • Consider the following scenario. Use what you have learned about localization to come up with a response to each one. Would you have reacted differently before you studied localization? In shopping for an electrician to do some wiring in your home, you talk to two. One articulately explains the work that needs to be done, while the other fumbles for words and misspells "Thursday" on the estimate he writes for you. Would you make a decision based on this information?
  • Respond to questions 2 and 3 in the exercises on page 59 of An Introduction to Language.
  • Respond to questions 1, 4, and 7 on pages 392-394 of A Introduction to Language.

Individual Exercise: Language Processing

  • Listen to the following sentence and try to transcribe it as I speak: "The manager of the plants say they will remain open only if there is sufficient demand for the products they manufacture."
  • Compare your transcriptions with the original and with one another's transcriptions. What do your errors reveal about the process of understanding speech and perhaps about your own idiolect?

Individual Exercise: Check the Grammar Checker

  • Bring a disk containing a paper your have written.
  • Run the grammar checker on the paper and make note of the changes that it suggests. Try to determine how this computer program analyzes language. Is it ever wrong? If so, explain the reason for the mistake.

Group Discussions: Language Acquisition

  • How do children learn language? What are the major stages of language acquisition?
  • What do errors such as "I goed to the store" reveal about children's understanding of language?
  • Explain the "innateness hypothesis." What evidence supports this hypothesis?
  • Respond to questions 4 and 7 on pages 358-360 of An Introduction to Language.

Discussion: Reading and Writing

  • Describe some writing systems that people have used throughout history.
  • Identify some factors that hinder the abilities to read and write.
  • Should English speakers reform their spelling system? Defend your answer.

Discussion: "Primary Culprit"

  • What linguistic features did Donald Foster use to identify the author of Primary Colors?
  • Do you agree with Foster's conclusion?

Individual Exercise: Linguistic Fingerprints

Read these passages and answer the following questions:

  • Two of these passages were written by the same person. Which ones are they? Defend your answer by referring to patterns in lexicon and syntax.
  • Try to identify this author further. Is the writer male or female? What is his or her race? When did he or she live? Again, defend your answer.
  • This author well-known. Try to name him or her.


  • An Introduction to Language, chapters 2, 8, 9, and 12
  • "Primary Culprit"
  • Books


  • cortex
  • corpus callosum
  • localization
  • phrenology
  • lateralization
  • Paul Broca
  • aphasia
  • Broca's area
  • Wernicke's area
  • anomia
  • Specific Language Impairment
  • overgeneralization
  • innateness hypothesis
  • Universal Grammar
  • critical-age hypothesis
  • spelling pronunciation
  • dyslexia



  • Become familiar with some rules and solecisms recognized by prescriptive grammarians
  • Develop an informed opinion on the use of Standard English
  • Become familiar with several sociolinguistic phenomena, including euphemism, jargon, and slang
  • Improve communication skills

Class Activities

Journal 4: Sociolinguistic Phenomena

In this two-part journal, you will teach a concept in sociolinguistics to your classmates. First, choose one of the terms at the right, write a definition of it in your own words, illustrate the concept with one or more examples that you have found outside our textbook, compile a list of at least two sources related to the concept, and submit this summary to the Online forum. In the second half of the assignment, you will present the concept to the rest of the class and lead us through an exercise on it.

Group Exercise: Sociolinguistic Phenomena

Translate the Gettysburg Address into one of the following:

  • slang
  • the jargon of a particular field
  • euphemistic language

Group Exercises: Sociolinguistic Phenomena

  • Complete exercises 3, 4, and 8 on pages 443-446 of An Introducion to Language.

Group Exercise: Standard English

  • Identify several conventions of Standard English. Are some more important than others? If so, draw up a hierarchy of errors in Standard English.
  • What are the consequences of not speaking or writing Standard English?
  • Is Standard English better than other forms of English, such as African American English or Latino English? Defend your answer by referring to specific details of phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax, or semantics.


  • An Introduction to Language, Chapter 10
  • Stalker, "A Reconsideration of the Definition of Standard English"
  • Pooley, "The Teaching of English Usage"
  • Tannen, "Asymmetries: Women and Men Talking at Cross-Purposes"
  • Journal 4


  • usage
  • Standard English
  • solecism
  • overcorrection
  • African American English
  • lingua franca
  • pidgin
  • creole
  • register
  • slang
  • jargon
  • taboo
  • euphemism
  • marked
  • unmarked


  • William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style
  • The Associated Press Style Manual

© Mark Canada, 1998