ENG 170 The English Language

Douglas Patey, MWF 11:00 AM-12:10 PM

What is a language?  How did the field of "linguistics" come into being (and what is it)?  When did English develop its modern rules and conventions?  (When did people start to think there ought to be a single spelling for each English word?)  When (and why) did people start to punctuate as we do?  What do editors do?  How did the modern publishing industry come into being?

These are some of the questions that will guide our introductory exploration into the English language--into its history and current use.  During the semester, we'll think about where English has been (its history through Old English, Middle English, and Modern English), as well as how it is changing even now; about differences between American and British English; and about specific problems such as language and gender.  We'll also think about the changing physical formats in which English has been presented--manuscripts, books, magazines, newspapers.  One day we'll visit the Rare Books Room in Neilson to see and touch some of the earliest products of printing; later we'll hear from a practitioner about how the publishing business now works.


Readings will comprise short essays and one novel (to explore the ways linguistics can help us in literary interpretation); writing assignments will include a project on etymology, and another on modern dictionary of English (to explain what makes it different from others), and a linguistic autobiography.  During the term, too, we'll do a series of exercises in editing and proofreading, and undertake a comprehensive review of English grammar.  This course should be useful to anyone going on to take further English courses, anyone interested in how her language came into being and where it's going, and anyone who wants a thorough review of English grammar.