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Following is a list of suggested topics for the first essay assignment. Answer any one of these questions, which relate to the material presented in Units 1 through 5.

  1. Descriptive grammarians ask, “What is English (or any other language) like, that is, what are its forms, and how do these forms function in various situations?” By contrast, prescriptive grammarians ask, “What should English (or any other language) be like, that is, what forms should people use, and what functions should these forms serve?” In language, who is right and who is wrong, and who decides?
  2. Speech errors that move, substitute, add, or delete sounds, words, or phrases indicate the existence of units of speech. Speech errors also tell us a great deal about the structure and organization of a person’s mental dictionary—the warehouse of all the words a speaker of a language knows. Discuss the usefulness of speech errors for research purposes. Include examples of speech errors; describe the phonological, lexical, or developmental problem that each error illustrates; and explain what each error reveals about correct speech.
  3. Comparisons of different languages cause us to pay attention to language “universals”—the ways in which all languages are similar, and to language “particulars”—the ways in which each language (or type of language) is special or unique. Linguists and anthropologists who study language universals have formulated theories to describe and explain human language and human language behaviour in general terms as the “species-specific capacities of humans.” However, the idea that different languages may influence thinking in different ways is present in many cultures, and the concept has given rise to various philosophical treatises. The issue remains unresolved, largely because of the difficulty in pinning down the effects of a particular language on a particular thought pattern. Nevertheless, this concept goes in and out of fashion and often, considerable energy is spent on efforts to either confirm or refute it. Discuss or argue the case either for or against the idea that language influences thinking.
  4. Language change inevitably leads to variation, and variation within a speech community often leads to placing a social value, such as “good” or “bad”, on the change. “Good” variants are generally considered to be superior, venerable, or both, while “bad” variants are considered illogical and/or recent inventions by the vulgar. Discuss these assumptions as well as the political implications of placing values within language.
Essay Assignment 1
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