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Updated on:
11/4/16

 

E 412: HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Notes

 

09.IV.09 Make-up assignments. Make-up for a quiz missed after the midterm is here. Make-up for a quiz missed before the midterm is here. Permission required to make up a quiz. Not applicable to Fall 2016.


09.IV.09 Final exam/project. As described in class, if you recieve a B or better on your midterm, you can substitute a final paper for your final exam. The paper is due on the last day of classes by 4pm.


09.IV.09 Final Paper Topics. If you opt to do a final paper, and if you do not have a topic of your own devising that I confirmed, then please pick one of the following. Your paper only needs to be about 7 to 10 pages long, but it needs to burn with a gem-like flame of intellectual intensity. Grads and Independent Studies: papers 15pp. to 20pp. Also, Grads and Independent Studies may choose any topic, even though some are recommended for you.

1. Dialect Map. Collect and assess data for a dialect map. You will need at least 25 local responses. Pick a word or phrase used in the Dialect Atlas of the United States, select for Massachusetts, and use this as a gauge by which to measure isoglosses and variation. See me for more details.

2. Teaching Grammar. What are some of the issues involved in teaching grammar to children and adolescents? What are the arguments for and against? How do you respond? Do you have a proposal for how best to make students aware of the structure of language? If so, what is it? You can include lesson plans or course descriptions. See me for more details. (Especially recommended for M.A., Ed. students.)

3. Thinking Grammatically. How are thought and language related? What are some of the main perspectives on this topic? How do you respond?

For example, if language is thought, does thought change as language changes? How then can we access the writing of the past, like Shakespeare or Beowulf? (Offer examples.) How significant must language changes be before we cease to recognize a given thought as familiar. If thought is beyond language, do we lose our abilities to express thoughts as language changes? Ruminate on these questions and address one. (Especially recommended for grad students and independent studies.)

4. Origins. Where does language come from? If language is an instinct, as Steven Pinker suggests, then was our species ever without language? What evidence do we have for the beginnings of language? How does this evidence support a primitivist view of the past as simple and uncomplicated? Does it imply that language is getting more complex (are we getting more complex, too)? Where are we going? Will we develop language until it becomes debilitating, as the saber-toothed tiger's fangs grew too long to allow it to eat enough? Ruminate on these questions and address one. For this paper, think about language in terms of evolution.

5. Babel. For eons, humans have had stories about an originary language. Whether it's the Hebrew of the Garden of Eden or the German of the Garden of Eden, one language was considered best evocative of Nature. Discuss the story of an originary language, and consider its implications in the assumption about a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language. See me for more details. (Especially recommended for grad students and independent studies.)

6. Piers Plowman. Of the eight major manuscripts of Piers, which are from where? How can you tell? How many manuscripts in total? Consider the dialect distribution of the manuscipts and suggest ways that the various editions of the text either disguise its diverse dialect origins or reflect them.

7. Shakespeare. All Englishes are historically and geographically specific. Using the Oxford English dictionary and a dictionary of slang, outline the various ambiguities of a Shakespearean sonnet based entirely on its lexicon. Then, consider two major interpretations of the sonnet, and discuss how your linguistic research supports or contradicts these interpretations.

8. e. e. cummings. From capitalization to punctuation, e sure did bust up language good i guess. Using one or more of his poems, describe a linguisic phenomenon that cummings plays with. Consider well how its effect as language affects your interpretation of the poem as a whole.

9. Germanic languages. Why didn't German lose its inflections? Beginning with Proto-Germanic, describe the phenomena that led to the simultaneous development of Old High German and English. What accounts for their major inflectional, syntactic, and lexical deviations from PGmc?

10. Celts and Germans. The Celtic languages have always been left out of the equation in describing the development of Germanic languages. But Celts and Germans were sometimes considered the same peoples by Roman ethnographers, and often inhabited the same lands. In the first few centuries of the first millennium, what were the linguistic barriers between Celts and Germans, and how do we know they existed?

11. Modern English. Language around us is constantly changing, and certain dialects are taking precedence over others. Describe some of the major language changes in English in the United States today: consider dialects, urban environments, class, the role of universities and a mobile work force, population shifts, and so forth. Narrow your focus as much as possible.

12. Narratives. Narratives of actual events are the primary medium through which we communicate information to one another (see Labov). How does the structure of narrative affect the way we interact linguistically? Consider, for example, the question, "What did you do today?" How true-to-fact are the responses you get? What do they tend to include? How does the need for a beginning, middle, and end; the demand for a plot which accounts for cause and effect; and the need for conversational relevance edit the real? Ask the same, everyday question of a number of people and describe common narrative structures (did they all start at the same point? what details did they all include? and so forth).

13. The Great Vowel Shift. Describe it and the controversy surrounding it. Be sure to include the work of Donka Minkova.

14. Philology. Pick a significant word from an Old English poem, describe its semantic field, and discuss the literary ramifications of its semantics. You may also choose a Middle English, Middle High German, or Anglo-French work.

15. Computers. Write a computer program that analyzes a very specific matter of syntax. For example, look for the number of prepositional phrases in an author's work. (Tagged corpora are available on the internet. Check Linguist List.)