Words in English:
Structure, History, Use

Linguistics/English 215
Fall 2004
Prof. Suzanne Kemmer

Course Information Page

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. --James D. Nicoll

Meetings Tues/Thurs 1:00-2:15
Permanent room Herring Hall 100
Instructor contact Office, Herring Hall 209; Tel. 348-6225; email, kemmer@rice.edu
Instructor office hours Tues/Thurs 10:45-11:50
TA contact Andrew Harrison, Hanszen College, andrewh@rice.edu

Course description

This course applies linguistic principles to the study of the English vocabulary. We will examine the rich stock of morphemes, or meaningful elements, in English words, and observe how these combine to derive much of the vocabulary of English. Other topics include the development of the English vocabulary, derivational processes, articulatory (i.e. pronunciation) processes, etymology (word histories), sound change and meaning change, the linguistic relations of English, sources of new words, usage and variation, and slang. No previous experience with Linguistics is required.

As far as possible, students will be encouraged to make their own investigations and discuss their findings and questions about words in class. Students will work to increase their mastery of English vocabulary from the technical, literary, scientific and other domains by acquiring recurrent morphemes and words incorporating them; and by generally increasing their awareness of the structure, history, and use of English words.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, the student should
  • have an awareness of the internal structure of words and of the systematic relationships among words in English

  • have a basic understanding of the history of the English language, with particular reference to the major periods of vocabulary expansion that it has undergone and how those periods are reflected in the modern lexicon

  • understand some basic principles of language change that have affected the English language, including principles of sound change and meaning change

  • know the basic stock of Classical roots and affixes that recurrently appear in English words; be able to interpret newly encountered words incorporating elements of that stock

  • be familiar with a wide range of words and their origins, meanings, and domains of use; be able to apply the knowledge gained so as to be able to say something about the origin and/or meaning of unfamiliar words

  • understand how the study of words can be used as an access point into knowledge and history of an entire culture, and be able to further pursue such knowledge via the study of words

  • have a good working knowledge of the incredibly rich lexical resources available in the English language, providing a basis for increased mastery of the spoken and written language

  • Course requirements

    Midterm #1 20%
    Midterm #2 20%
    1 final exam 30%
    ca. 10 vocab quizzes 5%
    Word Journal 20%
    Participation 5%

    In addition to assigned readings specified on the syllabus, students are responsible for reading class materials on the web (below) as they become activated. Exams will cover readings, class discussions, and these class web materials. Quizzes (total 10) will cover the Morpheme Sets contained in an Appendix of the Denning and Leben textbook.

    See the Course Schedule for the 'do-by' dates for readings and assignments, and dates for quizzes and exams.

    Jan. 10, 2005 Announcements

    Happy New Year!

    You should be able to see your final points total for the class as well as your scores on the quizzes and exams and the Word Journal. Hopefully you will have received your final grade reports already, if not, send me email and I'll tell you your grade.

    The WebCT staff tells me that they are taking down the Fall 2004 classes from the web. I asked to keep ours up for a while so that you could all look at your grade details. I don't know how long it will stay up on the web though.

    The nine morpheme sets are posted to the WebCT page. They are the same as the morpheme sets in the textbook. The textbook has a big general glossary for all the morphemes in the morpheme sets.

    Text and reference materials


    Keith Denning and William Leben, English Vocabulary Elements, New York: Oxford Unversity Press, 1995. (First and only edition.)

    Desk reference dictionary

    The American Heritage Dictionary or other good college-level desk dictionary (not pocket dictionary). I recommend you have such a dictionary in your room, for this course and all other reference purposes.

    Comprehensive on-line dictionary

    Two online versions of the Oxford English Dictionary. I have no idea why there are two online versions, in slightly different formats. I prefer the first one. You have to be using an on-campus computer to access them.
    OED Online. Accessible to the Rice community.

    Oxford English Dictionary, Online Edition. Accessible to the Rice community.

    Basic on-line dictionary

    WWWebster's Online Dictionary. Guide to using this dictionary is at Using the Dictionary. Includes things like how to do wild-card searches, using search results, etc.

    Note: On-line dictionaries do not give sufficient information on etymologies to be used as the source for etymologies presented in class. Use the American Heritage or other large desk dictionary for this purpose. See also Online and Other References.

    Course organization and guide links

    Course schedule

    Questions about words in English

    Word Journal project

    Midterm #1 Review

    Midterm #2 Review

    Final exam review

    Honor Code issues
    All quizzes and exams in the course are closed book, closed notes, closed mouths, and no internet surfing during exam.

    Students are welcome, in fact encouraged, to talk about their Word Journals with classmates, as long as they don't use for their journals words collected from other Ling 215 students (current or former). Some people will come up with some of the same words independently, but that's OK if you caught the word yourself. Your own journal entry for the word should be original of course.

    To avoid unclarity about academic standards relating to use of the World Wide Web, these standards are posted on the following links:

  • New words guidelines
  • Using Web Sources: Basic Academic Standards
  • Creating Web Materials: Basic Academic Standards; Copyright Issues
  • Students should consult these before using the web to produce coursework (in this or any course!!)

    Any student with a disability requiring accommodations in this class is encouraged to contact me after class or in my office. Contact also the Disabled Student Services office in the Ley Student Center to find out how they can be of further assistance.

    Course content links

    The other web materials for this course have been organized into a new website, Words in English. The relevant pages from this site will be linked below as we come to them. You can also surf around on the new site, which is available to the world as a stand-alone website with an organizational logic independent of this course. See the site map.

    English as a World Language Some Dialects of English Chronology of the History of English The Lord's Prayer in English Through Time Excerpt: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

    Viking Invasions in Europe The Bayeux Tapestry The Canterbury Tales Caxton, First Printed Book in English William Shakespeare
    Some Loanwords in English Morphemes Roots and Affixes Parsing

    Some Affixes of English, Native and Borrowed
    Sound Terminology Word Stories Classical morphology The Latin Language The Story of the Shibboleth
    Sir William Jones Quote Indo-European Family Tree Genetic Relationships of Languages Semantic Change Jargon and Slang

    Additional class links

    Flashcards As an additional resource, you can test yourself on the morphemes in each set by using Jenn Drummond's Morpheme Flashcards.

    Harold, King of the English A short essay on a novel interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry, by Mathias Ricken.

    Class collections of neologisms

    Neologisms, Fall 2003. The most recent collection. Your Word Journals will have this format.

    New Word Journal Interactive, 1998-2002 Web interface. Designed by Jenn Drummond. Click on the link under Output near the bottom, "View a list of existing entries", to see the collection of words.

    New Words in English, 1996-97 A collection of new words (neologisms) begun in Fall 1996 from Word Journal entries by students in this class.

    Outside links

    (for a fuller list, see the Online and Other References Link above):

    World Wide Words Word.A.Day Word Detective Word Play
    Neologisms from The Independent Turns of Phrase Old English Links Parody: Hrodulf Hrandeor
    The Anagram Genius Server

    © 2004 Suzanne Kemmer
    Last modified 10 Jan 05