Linguistics 001      Fall 2000      Homework 2     Due Mo 9/25

Fromkin & Rodman p. 31, number 9:

State some rule of grammar that you have learned is the correct way to say something, but that you do not generally use in speaking. For example, you may have heard that it's me is incorrect and that the correct form is It's I. nevertheless you always use me in such sentences; your friends do also, and in fact, It's I sounds odd to you.

Write a short essay presenting arguments against someone who tells you that you are wrong. Discuss how this disagreement demonstrates the difference between descriptive and prescriptive grammars.

We will make this assignment symmetrical. If you prefer, you can take the prescriptive side: specify a grammatical principle that you (believe that) you follow in your own speech and writing, and whose violation sounds wrong to you in the speech or writing of others. If you take the prescriptive side, please try to diagnose your feelings accurately: is the annoying usage genuinely mistaken, incoherent or degraded, or is it just different from what you expect, or perhaps associated with people that you don't like?

If you have trouble thinking of interesting cases, you can consult a prescriptive text for lists of putative rules to react to. An excellent on-line resource is Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes. Dr. Lynch does not always side with the traditional prescriptions (as for instance in the case of split infinitives), and you too should feel free to take either side.

In the case of this particular assignment, do not hand in group work -- each student should write his or her own mini-essay, though of course it is entirely appropriate for you to discuss the contents among yourselves.

Q: How long is a "short essay"?

A: Pretend it's an op-ed piece for the DP.

To be most effective, your essay should be both specific and general: you should give specific examples, and you should analyze accurately what general linguistic principles are involved.

If your native language is not English, you may address the differences between what you have been taught in English classes, and the way that you hear people around you talking. In this case, discuss how you feel about making the choice between classroom English and everyday English.

Alternatively, you may do the assignment with respect to a prescriptive rule in another language. In this case, however, you will have to give enough background information for us to be able to understand the issues, assuming that we do not know the language under discussion.

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