English Language Study, or,
What Do We Do When We Speak English?
Instructor: John Webster
Schedule: TTH 9:30 - 11:20
English Language Study introduces students to the most extraordinary thing we human beings do: speak. Indeed, this fact of human behavior is so central to our lives that we take it for granted. We speak our words so much, so easily, and so automatically that we hardly even think about what we are doing when we do it.
But even if we are not thinking much about what we do when we speak English, in fact we are doing a lot. We look for words to fit our thoughts, and we judge them for how well they fit the context in which we use them. We put together the sounds of the words we select in carefully articulated ways, and we slot the resulting words into different structures, each of which creates different meanings even when we are using the very same words. And we do all these things at speed, not even noticing our actions.
How do we do it? How can all the tweaks, moans and pops that human beings so easily cast out into the air cause others to laugh or grow angry or reach out to take a hand?
It is actually all pretty amazing, and it sets us the problem: how can we capture even the basic facts of this extraordinary ability to communicate?
All of which means: this class will introduce you to a range of language issues, like why grammar is your friend (and not boring at all), or how in spite of the fact that all the words we say in English are made up of only about 40 distinct sounds, speakers can nevertheless say millions of completely different things. You will find out, too, why English spelling is so confusing, and how language change has caused enmity and war, or (with Shakespeare) how making language into poetry is often to take a first step towards making love.
Most important, you will learn something about yourself—about the ways language can control you much more than you control it, and about how knowing more about that control can give you at least some of the power you will need to have in order to fight back.
Text: See Course website at: http://faculty.washington.edu/cicero/Eng370.htm