Curriculum Syllabi
Linguistics 114
A World of Words

Section 001     Fall Term 2001     Prof. John Lawler     M W F 10-11 AM     3527 Frieze

This course is about language, about words; we will work principally from a historical perspective, though we'll try not exclude any perspectives. Language is important stuff; everything in your education (and almost everything in your life beyond your education) comes through language.

(Think about that for a minute; Language is the central bottleneck for
all culture, all society, all knowledge, all communication.)
Everybody knows this. That's why you've been taking courses in language (even in "language arts") for years. However, the facts about how language actually works are usually not covered in these courses, and usually nobody has any idea what linguistics is or how you should study it; hence these notes.

Linguistics is a cross between humanities and sciences, and we linguists deal with very human phenomena in a very analytical way. Patterns are present in every aspect of language, and they affect and reflect how we think. All linguistics is pattern recognition, and familiarity with the range of patterns in human language. Familiarity comes from close attention over a long time, which you may or may not have paid so far; but you have to start sometime, and this class is intended to encourage the habit of close attention to language, and to give some familiarity with common patterns. In particular, we aim at familiarity with the historical patterns of English vocabulary. Start to pay attention to language, anywhere, carefully, and eventually it will pay dividends.

So you should know that this is not a course in "language arts"; rather, this is a course in language science, and it is a lab class. In this class we will both experience linguistic patterns consciously and learn some useful ways to talk about them. My method of teaching, like that of many linguists, is by example; that is, I will give you a lot of examples of linguistic phenomena to analyze. In a few words, we could call it data for you to analyze into patterns. As speakers of a language (i.e, as human beings) you already know most of the patterns (in one sense of ‘know'), but this knowledge is far from articulate. Nevertheless, it is generally recognizable, and in fact is very interesting to observe, and fun to discover. (The fact that linguistics is fun is one of the best-kept secrets in America.)

The data problem is the principal teaching tool of linguistics, like the homework set in calculus, or the experiment in chem lab. I append some examples. It may help you to think of them as n-dimensional crossword puzzles whose solution requires finding out, roughly, what the relevant dimensions are. This is done by making lists of data and comparing them, looking for patterns and systems, sames and differents. Lists of words, of sounds, of words containing sounds, of affixes, of whatever you notice as similarities and differences. We will pay particular attention to this topic in our class discussions of the problems. And we will consider what kinds of conclusion we can draw from analyses like this. The end result should be a concise analytic statement of the structures in the data; this analysis should occupy significantly less space than the raw data. Otherwise, it is not analysis, but merely restatement.

How do you do well in this class? Here are some suggestions:

The Class Home Page for Linguistics 114 on the World Wide Web contains a number of resources that you should get familiar with. You may consider this an assignment; after a while I will assume you are familiar with the class home page, and the resources that are on it, and how to use them to find things out -- this is another thing you can become an expert on. Suggestions for improvements in the page are welcome, and count as class participation. The URL is of the World of Words home page is:

There will be frequent (often daily) homework, and it will frequently not be collected; but sometimes it will be. Occasionally, individuals will be called on to present their findings, usually on the board, as in some math classes. If you're not prepared, this will be noted; if you're willing to take a crack at it, though, you will get credit for trying, at least. As for attendance generally, I usually don't take it; but if you're rarely here, this will be noted also. And of course if you're not here you won't have many opportunities to contribute to discussion, and you may miss something. Like a quiz. Or the opportunity to hand in your homework when I collect it. I do not accept late work, unless an arrangement has been made ahead of time; don't bother asking, please.

There will be several 10-minute in-class Quizzes, usually announced in advance, covering at least the topics of phonetics, Latin, Greek, and Indo-European, and maybe more; if we are dissatisfied with the performance on the quizzes, there may be extras as well. Since I throw out everyone's lowest quiz grade in calculating their final grade, the more quizzes you take the better. There are also two major exams, a Midterm and a Final. These are both takehome exams; you have a whole week for the Midterm, and longer for the Final. Each exam consists of a number of individual problems of the sort we solve in class, with a few essays thrown in. The Final will be due on the last day of class, so there will be no Exam for this class during Exam week. The Quizzes count for 15% of the grade, and so does the Homework, and so does Participation; that makes 45%. The Midterm counts 25%, and the Final 30%, which adds to 100%. Generally, 90-100% is an A, 80-90% is a B, and so forth; this is an estimate, not a contract.

The exams and the homework (though not the quizzes) can be done in groups, with group grades. That is, a group hands in one assignment (exam, whatever), and everybody in the group gets the same grade. My experience over 30 years of teaching this way is that group analytic work (essentially, a lab team) is of better quality, displays more understanding, and receives better grades. However, group participation is optional; you don't have to be in a group if you would rather not. Nor do you have to stick with the same group; you can change around to suit yourself. Details are up to you; but check with me before forming any groups with more than three (3) people in them, since 3 seems to be the maximum size for getting people together regularly. Exceptions can be made for people who live together, etc.

We're going to start the course with some basic morphology and phonology; after the introductory material, we'll have units, in some order (until we run out of time), on:

Because the subject of words is so vast that we can't do much more than touch on some highlights in a course like this, the main textbook is an Encyclopedia, and one goal of the course is to teach you how to use it (and other language reference works) intelligently, so you can find out what you need to know in later life about English and other languages. There will also be readings on some of the more obscure topics (like Indian history or Proto-Indo-European root families) in a Coursepak, in addition to the textbooks. You will be purchasing and using a Latin Dictionary; I also assume everybody has a good English college Dictionary (better, an unabridged dictionary; best, the OED), as well as a Thesaurus, and an Atlas of some sort (look for a historical atlas; they tell you more and don't have to be upgraded every decade or so, which means used ones are just as good -- ditto with dictionaries). These are all basic tools you can't do witho t, and you'll be referring to them the rest of your English-speaking life on earth, so you might as well get good at it.

Last change September 4, 2001       John Lawler       A World of Words home page
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