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ENGL 560 A: The Nature Of Language: History And Theory

The Nature of Language: or What Pops, Hums, Nasal Resonances and Precise Stuttering have Done to Make Human Civilization Possible

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
* *
John Webster Washington
John Webster

Syllabus Description:

The Nature of Language: or What Pops, Hums, Nasal Resonances and Precise Stuttering have Done to Make Human Civilization Possible 

Language is the most powerful and useful invention of the human species—even more important than learning to walk upright (which is still pretty amazing--see Bill Bryson's latest!) and oppose one’s thumb and forefinger. There are trillions of words spoken every day around the world (linguists have estimated that the average human being speaks 15-17 thousand words a day—do the math for 7+ billion of world population!) in more than a thousand languages, and whether they are words of cooperation or words of war, they are still the primary way by far with which we connect with others.  More to the point here, they are also what enables any form of literary discourse, which most of us in an English department will be working with all of our lives. 

To be sure, the fact that our linguistic knowledges are almost always unconscious enables us to ignore how language works even when we are teaching books that are rich in every kind of linguistic practice.  This course would thus like to play a significant role within any of the many kinds of language the English Departments of the word employ. 

That said, this will be a course in a range of different linguistic directions, some more deeply considered than others:

The Linguistics of Linguistics (an introduction of the field to those who don’t yet have much knowledge of the field, along with explanation of why these matters are especially helpful for literature teachers)

Social Linguistics (including gender, race and world Englishes)

Philosophical Linguistics (including Austin and Grice along with the social/political linguistics of Robin Lakoff and George Lakoff)

Pedagogical Linguistics in English Department Classrooms, including implications for Stylistics, Cognitive Science, and L1/L2 classrooms (which are not the same thing as TESOL classrooms.)


I’d be very happy to talk with anyone thinking of taking the course—my email is

More information is now available on my website:

Last updated: 
October 26, 2020 - 9:41am