Monday, October 25, 2010

Spring 2011 Courses

Following are descriptions of the courses that will be offered Spring 2011:

ENG 344-001 Structures of English (MWF 9:00-9:50)

Linguistic study of English, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics.  Includes an examination of several applied topics, focusing on topics such as English stylistics, language acquisition as it pertains to structures English, English dialects, and history of English.

ENG 341 Introduction to Linguistics

  • 341-001 MWF 10:00-10:50
  • 341-090 TR 9:30-10:45 (writing enhanced)

*Used to be ENG 441.

Introduction to the core concepts of linguistic study, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics, and to the application of those concepts, such as language acquisition, language disorders, sociolinguistics, and language change.  Analyses of linguistic concepts and applications focus on data from languages spoken around the world (i.e., will not focus on or be limited to English).
Prerequisites: None

ENG 442-090: Topics in Linguistics: Linguistics of Invented Languages (TR 11:00-12:15)
(writing enhanced)
Examination of how language works and typical features of world languages in order to construct an invented language; also, examination of famous constructed languages (including Elvish, Na'vi, and Esperanto) in order to compare features of invented languages to those of natural languages. The final project of the course will involve students constructing their own languages to better understand the challenges of constructing a language and linguistic principles at work in natural languages.

ENG 442-002: Topics in Linguistics: Comparative Romance Linguistics (TR 9:30-10:45)
In this course we will begin with a look at the Latin language (no prior knowledge of Latin assumed) and its transformation into the Romance languages from a socio-historical perspective. We will then concentrate on selected linguistic phenomena of some of the Romance languages (mainly French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish) from a comparative standpoint. For example, how do French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish pluralize nouns? How does determiner, noun, and adjective agreement work? What options are available for past tense formation (e.g., simple (preterite), compound, or both)? How is negation accomplished? What are the sound correspondences between languages (e.g., the Latin ct in NOCTEM ‘night’ became tt  in Italian notte, ch in Spanish noche, and it in French ‘nuit < nueit’ and Portuguese noite)? How did the T/V (politeness) pronouns come about? One of the course assignments will deal with independently researching a less commonly researched Romance language (e.g., Romanian, Catalan, Occitan, Gascon, Corsican, or one of the so called “dialects” of Italian). Course materials will be provided by the instructor. There is no prerequisite; however, intermediate to advanced reading knowledge of a modern Romance language would be advantageous. The class will be taught in English. 
If you have any questions, let me or Chris know!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Language Fail via YouTube

Thanks to a student, I am sharing a video with you that I've now watched several times and laughed every one of them. The humor is based on misparsing words in a song--when you hear a string of sounds, you may hear something different than what was originally said. For instance, many kids grow up thinking the "Star Spangled Banner" starts out with "Jose, can you see?", and I was convinced that a donzerly was a type of light because of that song. Another famous mistaken lyric is in Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Bad Moon on the Rise"; many people think the chorus is saying "there's a bathroom on the right." While misparsings often lead to humorous results, I don't think I've ever seen one as humorous as this.

Challenge yourself to see if you can--without looking at the lyrics to the song--figure out what English words the singer is trying to sing. Can you tell where she is misparsing the words to create nonsense words?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Languages Still Being Found

Students often ask how many languages there are in the world, which is a trickier question to answer than you might guess at first. Several problems with identifying the number of languages revolve around varying definitions of language (as opposed to dialect) and language death; however, a more exciting issue with counting the number of languages is that linguists still haven't identified them all. A recent discovery of Koro, a language spoken in rural India, made the news last week, with stories about it in The New York Times and on CNN. Finding a new language is rather exciting and reminds us linguists that we still have more to discover about language.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Possible Awkward Construction

I was reading Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh the other day, and I came across a sentence that stopped me in the middle of my reading because it felt wrong as I read it:

Ole Golly, Harriet could tell, was deliberately making her face bright and cheery because she didn't want Harriet to ask her what the matter was. (p. 108)
 (Ole Golly is the name of a character.) Everything in the sentence was fine for me until I hit the ending: "she didn't want Harriet to ask her what the matter was." On the surface, the sentence follows all the grammatical sequence of words in English nominal clauses that begin with an interrogative pronoun:

She didn't want Harriet to ask her...
what the movie was.
where the cat was.
how the book ended. 
who the intruder kidnapped. 
The typical word order for these is INTERROGATIVE PRONOUN - NOUN PHRASE (subject) - VERB. The original sentence followed that word order:

what (IntPro) the matter (NP) was (V)
So why does the sentence sound awkward to me?

It sounds awkward because of the noun phrase in the construction: the matter. It is part of an idiomized question we often use in English: What is the matter? And yet, I think it's awkward (if not ungrammatical) to use the matter in that idiom reading in a sentence: *The matter was that she left early

So while it is entirely grammatical to say she didn't want Harriet to ask her what the matter was, it takes longer for my brain to process the sentence because it apparently doesn't like having the idiomatic the matter appearing before the verb. In a language that relies so heavily on word order, something so small as having what the matter was instead of what was the matter can make a sentence sound downright awkward.