It is sometimes said that every word has its own history. But there are also general factors affecting how words change over time. In this course, we explore both aspects of the history of words. On the one hand, we investigate the ways in which the saying is true, with reference to doublets, folk etymology, paradigm gaps, reanalysis, taboo words, euphemisms, and other word-specific processes. On the other hand, we explore the general factors, including famous sound changes like Grimm's Law and the Great Vowel Shift.
An additional goal of the course is to familiarize you with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). There is not the shadow of a doubt that the OED is the world's greatest lexicographic project, and as you will see, it is a treasure trove of information about English words and their history. Although we tend to think of crowdsourcing as a phenomenon of the Computer Age, the OED has published crowdsourcing appeals from its very beginning in the 1800s, and we will attempt to participate (see below).
Your grade will be based on the mean of the grades for about 10 written assignments (see below for details).
Please submit your assignments by email as .pdf attachments to email@example.com. Both the name of the attachment and the subject line of your email should include the class (Ling 110), the assignment number, and your last name.
- The first two written assignments are already posted on the syllabus; the rest will be posted in due course. They will be graded for content, usage, and adherence to the following style guidelines:
- When referencing online sources, follow Chapter 14 of the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (accessible online through Van Pelt Library).
- For print references, use the author-date system as described in Chapter 15 of the Chicago Manual of Style.
- For your reader's convenience, include relevant pages or page ranges where possible.
- In addition to the assignments just mentioned, you'll be keeping a journal for the class where you record phenomena related to the topic of the course. For instance, you might record ways that your use of words differs from that of speakers older (or younger) than you are, from other geographical regions, or from other social groups. You might also notice changes in usage that have taken place in the course of your lifetime.
You'll present your journal entries informally on a regular basis (in a "show and tell" format). At the end of the course, you'll submit a suitably edited version as one of the written assignments that figure into your grade. I encourage (but don't require) you to submit an interim version before Spring Break.
For an idea of what I have in mind as a final assignment, here's my own word journal for the course so far. Just to be clear, I'm not expecting you to submit an html document, though.
If you include entries from www.urbandictionary.com and similar sites, please include some "local color" - details about the circumstances under which you encountered the word - and relevant linguistic discussion. See my entry for unwich for a model of what I have in mind. In any event, your word journal shouldn't be restricted to such entries. Otherwise the word journal assignment becomes too easy.
- An important potential contribution of your journal, but listed separately here for clarity, is participating in the Oxford English Dictionary lexicographic crowdsourcing project (OED appeals) by being on the lookout for words that you encounter that are not (yet) included in the dictionary. This will likely (but not necessarily) include words used by young adults. Record your words in your journal, including any notes that would be helpful to a lexicographer.
In addition to new words, the OED is also always on the lookout for earlier citation dates for its already existing entries, and these are also fair game for your journal entries.
For the purposes of this class, all I'm interested in is your journal entries. I won't be keeping track of whether you actually submit the information to the OED, though of course I strongly encourage you to do so.
Finally, if you don't happen to come across any new words for the OED, that's OK. They're not a necessary component, just a desirable one.