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8/27/2009

What is Linguistics?
Introduction to Linguistics
Fall 2009 ~ Dr. Michael Getty Linguistics is the study of language and languages –
any or all of them – and how they function …
•In people’s mouths
Intro Lecture Part I •In people’s ears
•In people’s brains
This lecture is …
• A teaser tour, a taste of things we’ll talk about this •In people’s interactions with other people
semester and ways in which we’ll talk about them.
• A first pass at identifying and dismantling some •I’vebeen working my whole adult life to
common myths and misconceptions. communicate this, but when people find out
•A first pass at the syllabus and guidelines for a good I’m a linguist, here’s what I get most of the
experience with this course time…

What is Linguistics? What is Linguistics?
•“You’rea linguist! Oh, you must speak a lot of languages!” •Why? Because we can show without a doubt that all
ƒOkay, I’m fluent in two (German and English), can maybe the roughly six thousand languages spoken today are
get by in two others (French and Dutch), can sorta read reflections of a network of cognitive abilities that are
Spanish, Swedish, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, and know genetically endowed and shared by all neurologically
mostly useless expressions in a dozen or so others: typical human beings.
ƒ‘I flew’ in Jaqaru, an endagered Andean tribal language. • The
Th more languages
l you look
l k at,t the
th more you startt t
ƒ Irish Gaelic: “May I have permission to go to the bathroom?” to understand they are all variations on only a few
ƒ Japanese: ‘Don’t go into the bathtub with your glasses on!” common themes.
ƒ ‘Egg’ in Xhosa, one of the ‘click’ languages of Africa. •The differences between languages start to look even
ƒIn reality, most linguists, especially in the United smaller when held up against all the possible
States, speak at most a couple of languages. languages and language structures we can imagine
and never find.
ƒBut we study any and all languages.

What is Linguistics? What is Linguistics?
Things I Get All the Time
•“Oh, I’d better watch what I say around you! Wouldn’t want We study what is and what happens
you to know how much I butcher English!”
when people use language.
•The Reality: We study what is and what happens
when people use language – any language, however
theyy use it. ÆPure Structure:
•We are not in the business of telling anyone what
they should or should not say or write. People who do ÆWhich sounds, pieces of words, words, and
that are not linguists. They are grammarians, stylists, groups of words occur under which conditions?
or, in some cases, just tiresome people.
•I will spend considerable time convincing you that
ÆWhich sounds, pieces of words, words, and
common sorts of ‘grammar policing’ are wrongheaded, groups of words never occur?
illogical, and, at their worst, a way of masking social
bias behind objective-sounding pseudo-observations.

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8/27/2009

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Look at this list of words. Going just on the sounds suggested Look at this list of words. Going just on the sounds suggested
by the letters you see, which of them are English? by the letters you see, which of them are English?
bilk iblk libk kilb bilk iblk libk kilb
bikl ibkl likb kibl bikl ibkl likb kibl
bkil ilbk lbik kbli bkil ilbk lbik kbli
bkli ilkb lbki kbil bkli ilkb lbki kbil
blik ilkb lkbi klib blik ilkb lkbi klib
blki iklb lkib kbli blki iklb lkib kbli

•bilk – to cheat someone out of something
•kibble – round food pellets, mostly for pets

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Now look at the list again.Which of them could be English? Now look at the list again.Which of them could be English?

bilk iblk libk kilb bilk iblk libk kilb
bikl ibkl likb kibl bikl ibkl likb kibl
bkil ilbk lbik kbli bkil ilbk lbik kbli
bkli ilkb lbki kbil bkli ilkb lbki kbil
blik ilkb lkbi klib blik ilkb lkbi klib
blki iklb lkib kbli blki iklb lkib kbli

• “ I bought a blik today!” -- “What’s a blik?”
• “I bought a kbli today!” -- “Huh?”

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Now look at the list again.Which of them could be English? •Put your fingers or a thin piece of paper up close to your lips.
•Now say these words, slowly and with a little emphasis:
bilk iblk libk kilb •T a k e
bikl ibkl likb kibl •S t e a k
bkil ilbk lbik kbli •You should feel or see a puff of air after the sound cued by the
letter T in take but not as much in steak.
bkli ilkb lbki kbil
•Try other pairs: pair-spare, Pam-Spam, kin-skin, kit-skit
blik ilkb lkbi klib •If you’re a native speaker of English, you’ve been getting this
Blki iklb lkib kbli right with almost 100% predictability every day since you were
I could give you millions of random combinations of sounds, and about five years old.
as a native speaker, you would know, with a level of certainty
approaching 100%, which of them are potential English words.

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8/27/2009

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
•Put a finger directly under your nostrils and then say these •Suppose I teach you a new word, blim, which means to
words very slowly: touch your elbows together. How would I say I did this
•S e e d yesterday?
•S e e n •I blimmed.
•You
Y should
h ld feel
f l warm, moist
i t air
i on your finger
fi when
h you hit •Suppose
S I teach
h you a new word,
d skrid,
k d which
hi h means a
the vowel sound in seen but not in seed. piece of hardened belly button lint. How would I tell
•Congratulations! You just manipulated your velum. you I have two of them?
•Your velum: A fleshy muscle in the middle of your head •Skrids.
between your oral and nasal cavities. When it’s relaxed, air
•How do you know how to say blimmed and skrids if
comes out of your nose. When it’s flexed, the air only comes
out of your mouth. you’d never heard these words before? Why not blum
•If you’re a native speaker of English, you’ve been doing this
and skridden?
with almost 100% accuracy since you were about five years old.

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Maybe you recall this Not long after Why
book, which explored Cats Paint, there was
the instinct some this …
common house cats
have to dip their
paws in paint and go
wild …

Source: Amazon.com Source: Amazon.com

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Why is this funny? •Itdoesn’t have to be this way!
•Because everyone knows •Consider Latin, commonly spoken from about 500
that now it’s the cats that BCE to about 500 CE, the parent language of present-
are being painted, and day Portugese, Spanish, French, Catalan, Italian, and
Romanian (but not English!)
we’re not used to that sort
•All of these sentences mean ‘Marc
Marc loves Anna.’
Anna.
off thing
thi happening
h i to
t live
li
animals. •Marcusamat Annam.
•All that just from flipping •Marcus Annam amat.
two words around? •Amat Marcus Annam.
Cats Paint Æ Paint Cats •Amat Annam Marcus.
•Annam amat Marcus.
•Annam Marcus amat.

Source: Amazon.com Source: Amazon.com

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8/27/2009

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
But what if the relationship is different? What if it’s But what if the relationship is different? What if it’s
Anna who loves Marc? Anna who loves Marc?
‘Marc loves Anna’ ‘Anna loves Marc’ ‘Marc loves Anna’ ‘Anna loves Marc’
Marcus amat Annam. Marcum amat Anna. Marcus amat Annam. Marcum amat Anna.
M
Marcus Annam
A amat.
t M
Marcum Anna
A amat.
t M
Marcus A
Annam amat.
t M
Marcum A
Anna amat.
t
Amat Marcus Annam. Amat Marcum Anna. Amat Marcus Annam. Amat Marcum Anna.
Amat Annam Marcus. Anna asinus Marcum. Amat Annam Marcus . Anna asinus Marcum.
Annam amat Marcus. Anna amat Marcum. Annam amat Marcus . Anna amat Marcum.
Annam Marcus amat. Anna Marcum amat. Annam Marcus amat. Anna Marcum amat.

So in Latin, the shape of a word – and not its So in Latin, the shape of a word – and not its
position – tells you who’s doing what to position – tells you who’s doing what to
whom… whom…

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
Why doesn't English work this way? Look at these sentences…

Spoiler: It used to, as recently as about 1000 years ago.
We see the remnant in phrases like ‘… who loves whom.’ John showed Mark a portrait of himself.
Who’s looking at the portrait? Æ Mark
Butt when
B h people l lament
l t the
th decline
d li off English,
E li h Who’s
Wh ’s in the portrait
rtrait Æ Mark OR John
which they do with alarming regularity, hardly John asked Mark to look at a portrait of himself.
anyone brings this up. Who’s looking at the portrait? Æ Mark
Who’s in the portrait? Æ Only Mark
The truth is, languages do decline and die off, but for reasons
that have nothing to do with the many factors influencing the
development of English today…

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
People often criticize redundancy in other people’s speech People often criticize redundancy in other people’s speech
and writing – usage like irregardless or continue on… and writing – usage like irregardless or continue on…
But the truth is, language is filled with necessary But the truth is, language is filled with necessary
redundancy. redundancy.

Y DS TXTNG WRK? IT SMS LK U CAN TK OUT HLF THE
LTRS IN A SNTNS & STL B UNDRSTD MST OF THE TM. SO
SAME HAPPENED IN LANGUAGE OF
Y WRT THEM AT ALL? TELEGRAPH AND HEADLINES. WHEN
PAYING BY WORD, MUST LEAVE OUT
Spoiler: What you see here has much in common with a
MUCH. STILL UNDERSTOOD.
number of the world’s major writing systems, including Arabic
and Hebrew.

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8/27/2009

What You Already Sorta Know What You Already Sorta Know
People often criticize redundancy in other people’s speech People often criticize redundancy in other people’s speech
and writing – usage like irregardless or continue on… and writing – usage like irregardless or continue on…
But the truth is, language is filled with necessary But the truth is, language is filled with necessary
redundancy. redundancy.
Try to read the sentence I’m
I m about to flash on the
screen… Your brain filled in words that weren’t there…

John and Mary tried convince Mark John and Mary tried to convince Mark
that should leave, but Mark said that he should leave, but Mark said he
couldn't. couldn't.

What You Don’t Know You Know What You Don’t Know You Know
Just like you can identify words you've never heard as
either consistent or not consistent with the English
language, you can do the same for sentences you've Screw you!
never heard ... and probably never will again.
Go screw yourself!
* = This is not English
?? = This is weird English Y go screw yourself!
You lf!

WARNING: *Go screw you.
For linguists, dirty words are just words. I’m going
to show you a bunch of them now to illustrate *You go screw you!
something important.

What You Don’t Know You Know What You Don’t Know You Know
We're familiar with prefixes and suffixes in English. *Ab-fuckin-solutely *Absolute-fuckin-ly
Like un + friendly or absolute + ly. *Min-fuckin-nesota *Minneso-fuckin-ta
Lots of other languages have 'infixes,' little pieces that go So maybe the rule is that you have to have two syllables before the
inside a word to change its meaning. infix?
English has only one of these. We use it to communicate S
Sorry...
heavy emphasis: Incredible Æ In-fuckin-credible!
Absolutely Æ Abso-fuckin-lutely! Preapproved Æ Pre-fuckin-approved!
Minnesota Æ Minne-fuckin-sota! Unreal Æ Un-fuckin-real!
But ...
But not every imaginable combination works… Extreme Æ *Ex-fuckin-treme!
Important Æ *Im-fuckin-portant!

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8/27/2009

What You Don’t Know You Know What You Don’t Know You Know
Here are some patterns you’ll hear often in non-native speech, Native speakers of English apply all sorts of rules to compress
especially from speakers of Germanic and Slavic languages. casual speech, but they're sensitive to context in ways that
people would be hard-pressed to explain:
•Sorry, I can't talk now. *I drive.
•Æ I'm driving.
g I'm going to go shopping. Æ I'm gonna go shopping.
•I understand a little Russian. *I've taken a class last year. I'm going to a party. Æ *I'm gonna a party.
•Æ I took a class last year. I've got to get going. Æ I gotta get going.
•I’ll drop by your place on the way home. *I'm there at five. I've got two tickets. Æ *I gotta tickets.
•Æ I'll be there at five. I should have slept in. Æ I shoulda slept in.
•*Sorry I didn't answer the phone! *I went to the bathroom I should have breakfast. Æ *I shoulda breakfast.
when you called.
•Æ I was going to the bathroom

What You Don’t Know You Know What Is This Course Good For?
If you had to right now, could you explain any of these patterns in
clear, consistent, and context-independent ways? Okay. Does the world really need more people schooled in
Probably not yet, despite the fact that as a native speaker, you get linguistic analysis?
them right virtually 100% of the time. Maybe, maybe not. But understanding how language works at
Understanding the systems at play in all these examples is going to a deep level will nourish your understanding of what it means
b a diffi
be difficultl game off abstract
b concepts andd structures. B
But iin to be human.
principle, you won’t be learning anything you don’t already know. Hint: It’s all language.
You acquired all of this, your knowledge of the complex, interacting Every other characteristic we've thought of as distinguishing us
systems of your native language, in roughly the first five years of from other beasts has fallen by the wayside in recent decades.
your life. And you did it without formal instruction or the kind of
training in linguistic analysis you’re going to receive in this course. Other primates can use tools, scheme, lie, and learn sign language.
Birds have regional accents. Dogs can do basic math. Smart birds
How amazing is that? can reason abstractly. Only humans have language.

What Is This Course Good For? What Is This Course Good For?
Understanding how language works at a deep level can help Here’s the kicker.
you become a better citizen and neighbor. I’m going to give you a live reading of what William Caxton, owner of the
People often decry variation and change in language as sure first English printing press in 1490, had to say about the language of his day.
signs of chaos and decay. Ignore the weird spellings. English spelling wasn’t systematized until well
Linguists understand that variation and change in language into the 17th and 18th centuries.
just are – they are neither intrinsically good or intrinsically bad. I’ll be using the results of decades of scholarship in language change and
What matters is how we act towards one another.
another English history to model late fifteenth-century English for you, which is
Decades, perhaps centuries ago, African-American varieties of going to sound a little like pirate speak, for reasons we’ll explore later.
English adopted a version of the word ask that puts the two The vowels are going to sound very strange to you. Caxton lived in the
consonants in a different order, ax.
first decades of a massive reorganization of the English vowel system that
In formal and informal studies, property owners screening potential didn’t really end until the 18th century.
renters over the phone have been observed steering conversations
in such a way as to get applicants to use that word. When the ax Listen for what Caxton has to say about the fact that English speakers of
pronunciation comes out, renters are disproportionately told that his time had two words for the tasty thing that comes out of a chicken: egg,
properties are no longer available or have become more expensive. which was used in roughly the North of England, and ey in the South.
Link And above all, listen for Caxton’s version of present-day ask.

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William Caxton, ca. 1490 What Is This Course Good For?
And certaynly our langage now used varyeth ferre from What should you take away from this?
that whiche was used and spoken whan I was borne ... And mercer = salesman Both ask and ax were around in Caxton’s time and in the
that comyn englysshe that is spoken in one shyre varyeth mete = food centuries after. In 1490, though, ax was a perfectly good
Ferre from a nother. In so much that in my dayes happened wyf = woman
That certayn marchauntes were in a shippe in Thames for to
choice for an esteemed gentleman such as Mr. Caxton.
Have sayled ouer the see ... and for lacke of wynde thei ...
Over the centuries, one of them became associated -- for
wente to lande for to refreshe them. no good reason -- with lower socioeconomic statusstatus.
And one of theym named Sheffelde, a mercer, cam into an In a little over 500 years, English has changed in ways so
eyren = plural
hows and axed for mete, and specyally he axyd after egg[e]s. of ey profound that Caxton, given how much he worried about
And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. having two words for ‘egg,’ would find very distressing.
And the marchaunt was angry, for he also coude speke no Was he wrong? We would have to say he was; otherwise
frenshe, but wold have hadde egges, and she understode hym not. we’d be holding ourselves in very low esteem. By
And thenne at last a nother sayd that he wolde have eyren. extension, anyone who lives in the present and sees
Then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym wel. Loo, what sholde change as decline would also be wrong, or at the very
a man in thyse days now wryte, egges or eyren?
least, bear the burden of proof.

What Is This Course Good For? About the Course
Understanding how language works at a deep level will •Getting to Know the Course Web Site
make you a better citizen and a better professional. If
you go on to work in any of these fields, you’re eventually http://ling170d.wordpress.com
going to run into a big, thorny issue that has language at •Details of the Course Design:
its core:
•Law Best 4 of 5 tests at 20% each
•Best
•Public Health •Cumulative final on Dec 17 – 20%
•Government & Public Policy
•Primary & Emergency Medical Care
•Finally: Is This Course Right for You?
•Education (!)
•Advertising & Marketing, Anthropology, Archaeology, Cognitive
Science, Library Science, Public Relations, etc. etc. etc.

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