Linguistics 103

Language structure and verbal art

fall 2009


­prospectustopicscourse infocourse materialsresources





The purpose of this course is to explore the relationship between the largely unconscious knowledge that humans have about language and the use of language for artistic purposes.


The first half of the course is concerned primarily with how the sounds of language are manipulated artistically through meter and rhyme in English and elsewhere.


The second half of the course focuses on various other aspects of language, including  the meaning and structure of sentences, conversations, and narratives.


This course fulfills Arts & Letters general requirement.


some of the course topics


¥ Form vs. content in language: what does it mean for something to be English?

¥ What is translation?

¥ Is iambic pentameter more than da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM?

¥ What did Chaucer's Middle English really sound like?

¥ What is a syllable really?

¥ What is rhyme really? where did it come from? how is it used now?

¥ How was 'literature' in pre-literate societies different from that of today?

¥ What rules do people unconsciously obey in conversation?

¥ What do these rules, and breaking them, tell us about why jokes are funny?

¥ What is a "story"?

¥ How do we use language to talk about time? 

¥ What rules do people unconsciously obey when constructing narratives about their own personal experiences?



essential course information

professor: Rolf Noyer

email: rnoyer AT

office:  Williams 603

mailbox: Williams 619

office hours: M 12:30-2:00 and Th 11:00-12:30


teaching assistant: Jon Stevens

email: jonsteve AT

office hours:  Tu 1:00-3:00 in Williams Hall 401


class meeting time & place:  MW 3:30-5:00 Meyerson Hall B4


All course reading materials will be provided electronically.



links to course materials




lecture materials and discussion problems




written assignments



useful resources



Modern and Early Modern English


Oxford English Dictionary


Search engine for words in Shakespeare




Middle English


Middle English Dictionary


Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (with word search engine)


Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales (scroll down to "Chaucer")


         Ellesworth ms.

         Cambridge ms.

         Hengwrt ms.

         Petworth ms.

         Images of the corpus Christi ms.





Old English text of Beowulf (Perseus Project)


Old English text of Beowulf (Project Gutenberg)


Glossary of words occurring in Beowulf (Project Gutenberg)


Modern English text of Beowulf (tr. Hall, Project Gutenberg)


Modern English text of Beowulf (tr. Garnett, Perseus Project)





The Iliad of Homer (Perseus Project)





The Divine Comedy (Princeton Dante Project: trans. by Robert and Jean Hollander)


The Divine Comedy (trans. H F Cary)


The Divine Comedy (comparison of translations by H F Cary, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Allen Mandelbaum)


Manuscript of the Divine Comedy (Biblioteca del Centro Dantesco)




La Chanson de Roland


The Song of Roland (Project Gutenberg, trans. C Moncrieff)


The Song of Roland (e-text of MoncrieffÕs translation)


La Chanson de Roland (unedited Old French text)


La Chanson de Roland (images of the Oxford manuscript)



Gormont et Isembart


photocopy of the 1906 edition of A Bayot


On the Sonnet


If by dull rhymes our English must be chainÕd,

And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet

FetterÕd, in spite of pained loveliness,

Let us find, if we must be constrain'd,

Sandals more interwoven and complete

To fit the naked foot of Poesy:

Let us inspect the Lyre, and weigh the stress

Of every chord, and see what may be gainÕd

By ear industrious, and attention meet;

Misers of sound and syllable, no less

Than Midas of his coinage, let us be

Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;

So, if we may not let the Muse be free,

She will be bound with garlands of her own.


— John Keats