Spring Term 2017W


Instructors: Laurel Brinton (English), Laurel (Laurie) Fais (Psychology, Cognitive Systems)

Class hours: MWF 1–2

Classroom: TBA

Contact information:



Office and office hours:

L. Brinton: TBA, and by appointment – Buchanan Tower 617

L. Fais: TBA, and by appointment – Audain Art Centre 4037

Calendar description: Critical consideration of a broad range of commonly held beliefs about language and its relation to the brain and cognition, learning, society, change and evolution.

Course requirements:

2 midterm examinations 50%

(a combination of short answer and essay components)

Written project (done in pairs) 30%

Students will select one of the myths and will locate a discussion of this myth in popular media (online, newspaper, etc.). Following procedural guidelines outlined, students will read one or two of the supplemental readings (or other scholarly sources) concerning that myth and will use these readings as well as the material covered in class to argue for or against the point expressed in the popular source.

Due date for project: April 10, 2017

Attendance and “Language outside the Classroom” 10%

Attendance will be taken on Fridays.

Participation, based on 10 weekly written observations 10%

These are max. 200 words, will be submitted online, and are due Thursday noon of the week assigned.

Important dates

January 16: Last date for changes in registration (Add/Drop, Audit/Credit, Credit/D/Fail grading)

February 9: Last day for withdrawal with ‘W’ on your transcript

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

Tentative Syllabus for ENGL/LING 140 – Spring Term 2017W

Introduction to the Course


Jan. 3

Course introduction

Introduction to course instructors and course expectations


Jan. 5

Language myths: What are language myths? Why do they exist? What purpose do they serve? Are they dangerous? How do they reflect norms and ideology?

Reading for Jan. 3–65

Burton, Strang, Rose-Marie Déchaine, & Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson. 2012. Chapter 19: Ten myths about language busted by linguistics. Linguistics for dummies, 323–330. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley & Sons.

Myth 1: Texting and social media are ruining the language.


Jan. 8

Are texting and social media changing the language?


Jan. 10

Are young people responsible for damaging the language?


Jan. 12

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Jan. 8–12

Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2016. Chapter 12: Internet language: Everyone’s online. Teen Language, 205–255. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,.

Myth 2: Some people have “good grammar”.


Jan. 15

What is prescriptivism? What does it mean to say one has “good grammar”?


Jan. 17

Why does prescriptivism get such a bad rap? (What purposes does it serve?)


Jan. 19

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Jan. 17–19

Curzan, Anne. 2014. Chapter 1. Prescriptivism’s umbrella: Standards, style, restoration, and political intervention. Fixing English: Prescriptivism and language change, 12–40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Myth 3: Men and women speak differently.


Jan. 22

Do men and women speak differently? If so, why?


Jan. 24

Do men’s and women’s speaking styles reflect more fundamental differences between the sexes?


Jan. 26

Student–directed discussion

Reading for Jan. 22–26

Cameron, Deborah. 2007. Chapter 3: Partial truths: Why difference is not the whole story. The Myth of Mars and Venus, 41–58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Myth 4: Language change is bad.


Jan. 29

Why and how does language change?


Jan. 31

How are languages related?


Feb. 2

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Jan. 29–Feb. 2

Aitchison, Jean. 2001. Chapters 11–13. Language change: Progress or decay?, 3rd edn., 153–197. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Myth 5: Dialects are dying out.


Feb. 5

First midterm examination


Feb. 7

What are the roots of language variation? Regional variation and social variation


Feb. 9

How is language variation studied?

Reading for Feb. 5–9

Chambers, J. K. 2010. “Regional and social dialectology”. In Silvia Luragi & Vit Bubenik (eds.), Continuum companion to historical linguistics, 346–357. London: Continuum.


Feb. 12

HOLIDAY (Family Day)


Feb. 15

Session 1: Group projects

Meeting partner

Finding popular and scholarly articles; learning to identify potential myths in scientific and popular publications

Selecting your myth


Feb. 16

Session 2: Group projects

Myth-busting and myth-making tools: using science and common sense to explore and exploit beliefs about language

Paragraph describing myth selected due (by end of day)

Feb. 19 – Feb. 23


Myth 6: Our language shapes our thoughts, perceptions, and culture.


Feb. 26

Does language shape thought?


Feb. 28

How are language and culture connected?


Mar. 2

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Feb. 26–Mar. 2

Guy Deutscher, Does your language shape how you think? New York Times, 26 Aug. 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html

Casasanto, Daniel. 2008. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Whorf? Cross-linguistic differences in temporal language and thought. Language Learning 58(1 Suppl.). 63–79.

Myth 7: Language is uniquely human.


Mar. 5

How did human language arise?


Mar. 7

What distinguishes human language and animal communication systems?


Mar. 9

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Mar. 5–9

Jackendoff, Ray. 1999. “Possible stages in the evolution of the language capacity”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 3(7). 272-279.

Video: Okrent, Arika & Sam O’Neill. How did language begin? http://mentalfloss.com/article/69007/how-did-language-begin

Myth 8: Language is located in the left side of the brain.


Mar. 12

Where is language in the brain?


Mar. 14

What happens to your language when your brain gets scrambled?


Mar. 16

Student-directed discussion

Reading for Mar. 12–16

Burton, Strang, Rose-Marie Déchaine, & Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson. 2012. Chapter 16: Locating language in the brain: Neurolinguistics. Linguistics for dummies, 277–292. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley & Sons.

Myth 9: Language learning is easier for kids.


Mar. 19

Is learning language easier for kids? Is there a critical period for language learning?


Mar. 21

Can you ever become completely fluent in a second language? Is there an advantage to being bilingual?


Mar. 23

Second midterm examination

Reading for Mar. 22–24

  • Brown, Steven & Jenifer Larson-Hall. 2012. Myth 1: Children learn languages quickly and easily while adults are ineffective in comparison. Second language acquisition myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching, 1–20. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.

Myth 10: Our linguistic memory is reliable.


Mar. 26

Can you reliably recognize someone’s voice?


Mar. 28

How reliable are eye/ear-witness reports?


Mar. 30


Reading for Mar. 26-28

Kerstholt, José H., et al. 2006. Earwitnesses: effects of accent, retention and telephone. Applied Cognitive Psychology 20.2 (2006): 187–197.

Class Projects


Apr. 2



Apr. 5

5 minute presentation of class projects


Apr. 6

5 minute presentations of class projects

Apr. 9

Project due