English Language and Linguistics

English Language and Linguistics Faculty

Students in the English Department may pursue an emphasis in English Language and Linguistics at the undergraduate as well as the graduate level  (MA only). The courses in this area of study offer a perspective on English that is rather distinct from that found elsewhere in the Department's courses. Students gain a greater appreciation for the English language by examining its structural complexities as well as its social functioning. Students also gain a set of analytical tools that will help them view language in a new light, whether that be the language of ordinary conversation, of literature, or of any other context.

The MU English faculty includes linguists who teach full-time in the English Language and Linguistics area as well as scholars in related fields who contribute breadth to our course offerings. In addition to undergraduate introductions to the field, we regularly offer courses for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in the structure and history of English as well as more specialized courses in phonology, syntax, and American dialectology. Students may also take courses in Old and Middle English language and literature. Other courses of interest are offered by faculty from across campus through the interdepartmental program in Linguistics. An emphasis in linguistics might be combined with a secondary area such as literature, rhetoric and composition, or folklore to produce a well-balanced degree that can open the door to a range of career opportunities.

Courses Regularly Offered

  • 1060: Human Language
  • 2601: Languages of Africa
  • 4200/7200: Introduction to Old English
  • 4600/7600: The Structure of American English
  • 4610/7610: The History of the English Language
  • 4620/7620: Regional and Social Dialects of American English
  • 4630/7630: Phonology
  • 4640/7640: Syntax
  • 4670/7670: Field Methods in Linguistics
  • 8600: Studies in the English Language

Human Language

Taught by Matthew Gordon

Language is a uniquely human achievement, a development that sets us apart from other animals. It is a powerful tool that we use during our every waking hour (and during much of our sleep). Still, we rarely stop to appreciate the complex role it plays in our everyday life. This course explores language from a variety of perspectives. We will consider the structure of language, looking at how sounds combine to form words and how words combine to form sentences. To gain a sense of the diversity of linguistic structures, we will consider examples from a variety of the world's languages. We will also investigate the social functioning of language. We will learn about American dialects and about differences in the speech of men and women. Along the way, we will take on a number of popular myths about "primitive" languages, grammar rules, the language of the media, etc. In sum, the course will teach you how to make nouns plural in Swahili, how to recognize St. Louisans by their dialect and, most importantly, how to think critically about language.

Languages of Africa

Taught by Michael Marlo

This course is an introduction to the 2000+ languages of Africa and an introduction to the field of linguistics through African languages. The course overviews the considerable diversity of African languages, surveying the social contexts in which African languages are used and the history of their development up to the present day. Core linguistic properties of African languages, including the types of sounds used and the structure of words and sentences, are also introduced and compared to English and other languages of the world. Students will also be exposed to specific African languages, as we will interview 2-3 speakers of African languages in class.

Introduction to Old English

taught by Johanna Kramer

This course is an intensive introduction to Old English, the earliest form of English recorded in writing and the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England from about the 5th to the later 11th century. While the focus of this class is the acquisition and practice of the Old English language, the course also introduces students to the fascinating literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England (including its art, archaeology, manuscript culture, and religious practices). As we gain knowledge of the language, we will first read prose texts and then move on to more complex verse texts, among them such famous and brilliant poems like “The Wanderer” and “The Dream of the Rood.” This course is intended to give students a solid grounding in Old English grammar, enabling them to read a wide range of Old English texts in the original with the help of a dictionary and to proceed to more advanced studies in early English language and literature. Another purpose of this course is to become acquainted with the rich culture of Anglo-Saxon England, which combines oral and written, early Germanic and Christian-Latin traditions. No prior knowledge of Old English or other languages is required to take this course, although previous language experience will prove helpful.

Structure of American English

Taught by Michael Marlo and Matthew Gordon

This course is an upper-level introduction to linguistics that investigates the core areas of the structure of American English: phonology (sound structure), morphology (word structure), and syntax (sentence structure). The main aims of the course are to develop students’ analytical and reasoning skills and to provide training on how to construct a linguistic argument, with English grammar constituting the primary object of study.

History of the English Language

Taught by Johanna Kramer

This course traces the history of the English language from its prehistoric but reconstructable roots in Indo-European through its earliest written records into the present and its spread across the globe. As we investigate the many fundamental changes that English has undergone in terms of morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics, graphics, and vocabulary, we will also explore the social, cultural, and historical forces that affect language transformation. As by nature the course has a strong linguistic component, you can expect to become familiar with some basic methodology and terminology of historical linguistics, and we will spend a good deal of time talking about grammar. The course emphasizes the pre-modern history of English. In addition to regular readings, homework assignments, and active class participation, requirements include two exams and two shorter essays.

Human Language

Taught by Matthew Gordon

Language is a uniquely human achievement, a development that sets us apart from other animals. It is a powerful tool that we use during our every waking hour (and during much of our sleep). Still, we rarely stop to appreciate the complex role it plays in our everyday life. This course explores language from a variety of perspectives. We will consider the structure of language, looking at how sounds combine to form words and how words combine to form sentences. To gain a sense of the diversity of linguistic structures, we will consider examples from a variety of the world's languages. We will also investigate the social functioning of language. We will learn about American dialects and about differences in the speech of men and women. Along the way, we will take on a number of popular myths about "primitive" languages, grammar rules, the language of the media, etc. In sum, the course will teach you how to make nouns plural in Swahili, how to recognize St. Louisans by their dialect and, most importantly, how to think critically about language.

Regional and Social Dialects of American English

Taught by Matthew Gordon

This course examines how the English language varies in the U.S. along regional and social lines. We will study differences in pronunciation, word choice, and grammar. You will learn how American dialects differ and also how linguists investigate these differences. Special attention is also given to the status of dialects in U.S. society as we consider the political and educational implications of linguistic variation. In addition to exams and regular homework assignments, students will conduct research projects involving the collection and analysis of linguistic data. Prerequisite: Engl/Ling 4600, 4610, or equivalent.

Phonology

Taught by Michael Marlo

This course introduces some of the essential topics in phonological theory through problem-solving and analysis. Students learn to construct phonological arguments by analyzing sound patterns of languages from around the world and will learn to write professional descriptions and analyses of phonological data following the appropriate stylistic and technical conventions.

Syntax

Taught by Michael Marlo

This course introduces some of the essential topics in morphology and syntax through problem-solving and analysis. Students will learn to construct linguistic arguments by analyzing morpho-syntactic patterns of languages from around the world.

Field Methods in Linguistics

Taught by Michael Marlo

At a time when minority languages are dwindling and becoming extinct, language documentation is more important than ever. This course has two main pedagogical goals, related to the documentation of understudied languages. The first goal is to train students on the methods of eliciting and evaluating data to construct a detailed linguistic description and analysis of an unknown language, essentially from scratch, by working with a native speaker of the language. One important aspect of this goal is training students in the practice of professional writing in linguistics. The second goal is for students to discover specific details of the structure of the language under investigation.

Virtually all of our class time will be spent as a ‘lab’, in which we interview a native speaker of this language, eliciting original linguistic data. Initially, we will concentrate on collecting vocabulary, learning how to transcribe the data, and investigating simple morphology and syntax. As we progress through the term and become more proficient in transcribing longer utterances, we will emphasize the structure of words and elementary syntax, and we will survey various aspects of the language to develop an outline of the grammar of the language and to see which areas may prove worthy of further investigation. In the final quarter of the term, we will focus on specific research projects in which students delve deeper into some aspect of the structure of the language.