Map. Collect and assess data for a dialect map. You will
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
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.
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.)
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.
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
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
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.
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
Describe it and the controversy surrounding it. Be sure to include
the work of Donka Minkova.
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
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.)