Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Discussion Starter: Harvey Daniels

In his essay "Nine Ideas about Language," Harvey Daniels writes:  "Given our affection for [classic masterpieces of literature], we quite naturally admire not only their content but their form.  We find ourselves feelings that only in the nineteenth or sixteenth century could writers 'really use the language' correctly and beautifully.  Frequently, we teach this notion in our schools, encouraging students to see the language of written literature as the only true and correct style of English. . . .The study, occasionally the official worship, of language forms that are both old and formal may retard linguistic changes currently in progress, as well as reinforce our mistaken belief that one style of language is always and truly the best" (17). 

Do you have any experiences that support Harvey's claim that literature classes in school that focus on "literary masterpieces" sometimes encourage "worship of language forms that are old and formal" at the expense of other artful or effective styles of language that are more casual?  Do you agree with his suggestion that this kind of activity is misguided and possibly harmful?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Piraha!

According to,
The language with the fewest sounds (phonemes) is Rotokas (11 phonemes)

The language with the most sounds (phonemes): !Xóõ (112 phonemes). Approx. 4200 speak !Xóõ, the vast majority of whom live in the African country of Botswana.

John Simon on the Decline of the English Language

Click here for a rant on the decline of the English language.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spring 2012 Syllabus: Introduction to Linguistics (Benton)

Instructor: Dr. Steve Benton Office: 316A, ext. 448
E-mail: Office Hours: M-R 3:20-4:20 and by appointment
Course website:

Required Materials:Language: Introductory Readings. 7th edition. Eds. Virginia Clark, Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Beth Lee Simon. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008)
One plain-colored two-pocket folder with brads.

Evaluation:75% Daily assignments (reading summaries/responses, etc.)
25% Academic Paper plus in-class presentation (5-6 pages on an assigned text plus a 10-15 minute in-class presentation to be given on an assigned day some time after Spring Break)

Midterm and Final Exams:To pass the class, you must take both the Midterm and Final exams. The score on each exam will have the same weight as other daily assignments.

Attendance:To get an “A” or a “B” in this class, you must have an attendance score of 80% or better; to get a “C” in this class, you must have an attendance score of 70% or better; to pass this class, you must have an attendance score of 60% or better.

Absences:I always appreciate it when students let me know in advance if they will not be able to attend class or turn in an assignment on time. But do not ask me for permission to miss a class or turn an assignment in late. It’s not that I don’t think some absences or delays are unavoidable; I just don’t want to have to make isolated, on-the-spot judgments throughout the semester about which absences and extensions are justifiable. I would rather make that judgment at the end of the term with the big picture in view.

So at the end of the course, if your absences or the number of assignments you turned in late will negatively your grade and you feel that some of those delays were unavoidable, send me an e-mail explaining your case and I will consider granting you whatever retroactive “extensions” and “excuses” I judge to be fair.