This course explores a number of widespread myths and
misconceptions about language, and aims to shed light on questions of
broad, general interest. Topics include how children and adults learn
languages, whether language equals thought, whether some languages are
harder than others, whether English is getting worse (or better),
whether some languages are more primitive than others, the differences
between men's and women's speech, sign languages, animal communication
systems, feral children's language, language disorders, language
savants, and language and politics.
The class will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays except
for July 4; this class will be made up on Friday, July 6. The first
part of the class will be primarily devoted to lecture (though
discussion is encouraged!); we will then take a break and the second
part will be devoted to discussion of the issues brought up in the first
Seven 1-page (maximum) reaction papers, which should pick out a single
issue or question from one of the readings, explain why it is
interesting and important, and provided an informed assessment of it
based on what you have learned from the readings or in class. Reaction
papers are due at the beginning of class on June 27, July 2, 6, 9, 11,
16 and 18. (50%)
Participation: Students are expected to
participate in the discussion, and each student will also take partial
responsibility for leading one discussion session. (25%)
Final paper: For the final paper, students will choose one of
their earlier reaction papers and revise and expand it, turning it into
a three-page essay that addreses the topic in more detail. The final
paper is due on Monday, July 30, and should be sent as email attachments
(in pdf format) to Chris Kennedy and Jackie Bunting. (25%)
Readings and syllabus
The text for the course is Bauer, Laurie and Peter
Trudgill (eds.), 1998, Language Myths, Penguin, New York. In
addition, there will be a number of auxiliary readings, all of which can
be downloaded from this website via the links posted below.
What is a language? Human vs. animal communication
Bauer and Trudgill, ch. 2.
Anderson, Stephen (2004) Doctor Dolittle's Delusion: Animals
and the uniqueness of human language, Yale University Press. Ch 2 (pp. 15-37).
Lecture 1 slides
June 27: Language learning and loss
Smith, Neil and Ianthi Tsimpli (1995) Chapter 1 of The Mind of a
Jackendoff, Ray (1994) Patterns in the mind: Language and human nature.
Basic Books: New York. Ch. 9 'Language acquisition in unusual circumstances.
Lecture 2 slides
July 2: Language change (and decay?)
Bauer and Trudgill, chapters 1 and 12.
Simon, John (1981) Paradigms Lost, ch. 3. 1981. Penguin: New York.
(Chapters 1 and 2 are also available.)
Lecture 3 slides
July 6: Language and gender
Bauer and Trudgill, ch. 6.
Napoli, Donna Jo (2003) Language Matters. Chapter 9: Do men and women speak
differently? And who cares? pp. 135-145.
Lecture 4 slides
July 8: Language, culture, and thought
Napoli, Donna Jo (2003) Language Matters. Chapter 3: Does language equal thought?.
Pullum, Geoffrey (1989) Topic É Comment: The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax.
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 7.2:275-281.
Lecture 5 slides
July 11: Are some languages more primitive than others?
Bauer and Trudgill, chapters 10 and 19.
Colapinto, John (2007) The Interpreter
Lecture 6 slides
July 18: Are non-standard dialects deficient?
Bauer and Trudgill, chapters 13 and 17.
Pullum, Geoffrey, 'Language that dare not speak its name'
Rickford, John, 'Suite for ebony and phonics
Lecture 7 slides
July 16: Are signed languages real languages?
Perlmutter, David, 'The language of the deaf'
Senghas et al., 'Children creating core properties
of language: Evidence from an emerging sign language in Nicaragua'
Lecture 8 slides
July 23: Multilingualism
Meyerhoff, Miriam (2006) Introducing Sociolinguistics, ch. 6.
July 25: Pidgins and creoles
Arends, Jacques, Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles, chs. 1-2