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LG 448: American Languages

Prof. Peter L. Patrick

Dept. of Language & Linguistics

University of Essex




On this page:


Assessment in brief

The deadline for the exercise about your chosen N American language is Thursday of Week 8 (ie, 23 Nov 2017). The deadline for the essay is Thursday of Week 11 (ie, 14 Dec 2017). Please notice that you may do the exercise earlier as it does not depend on class lectures.

Assessment will be 50% exam (2-hour exam in Term 3) and 50% coursework (of which 10% is for the exercise, 40% for the essay).


The coursework is divided into two components: an essay, and an exercise.


For essay titles, please see the Assignments webpage. Essays will be 3,000 words in length.


Each student is also required to do one exercise. This will consist of reading one chapter, and doing the exercises it contains, related to a particular American language variety, from Di Paolo & Spears (eds.) 2014. See here. The exercises may relate to one of the lectures, but you do not need to hear the lecture before doing the exercises.


The Rules

This section assumes you are an undergraduate student in the Dept of Language & Linguistics. As far as assessment goes, students from other programmes or Depts. (e.g. American Studies) should follow the rules and advice on assessment for the Dept. of Language & Linguistics (bearing in mind that the topic is interdisciplinary, and thus will not have a typical linguistics assignment or exam).

Please see the Language & Linguistics department's

o      Undergraduate Student Handbook


These contain important information on how we judge your work, assignment writing skills, guidelines for citing references and avoiding plagiarism, coursework requirements, including lateness penalties, coping with exams and cheating. I will assume you are completely familiar with this material; unless noted below, these rules apply.

If you are a student from another Dept., welcome! You should be aware of your own Dept.’s rules and handbook, but please note that as this is a Lang & Ling course, it is governed by the rules of our Dept.

·       It is ESSENTIAL TO SUBMIT ALL COURSEWORK via FASER. Direct any questions about this to the Administrators in the Main Language & Linguistics Office.

·       The arrival dates and times of assignments are logged.

·       It makes life much easier for me if your assignment is submitted online as either a Word document or a PDF file. If you are working on a system such as Apple or using another word processor such as OpenOffice, you should still save and submit your file as a Word or PDF document. Otherwise I will not be able to give you online feedback. It also helps if you fill out and submit the Dept. standard coversheet (located here).

·       Your feedback will be recorded online using FASER. Your feedback may be available before your mark is finalised (this is because of moderating coursework, meaning someone else has to look it over before the marks are recorded).

·       LATE COURSEWORK MAY RECEIVE A MARK OF ZERO under the current course deadline policy. Details are in the Handbook, under “Coursework”. Department admin staff apply the late policy in a uniform manner. Please don’t ask me to give extensions, etc. – it is not up to me.



Teaching methods

The course involves a mixture of lecture, discussion, and student oral presentations. Attendance is expected every week, and it is your responsibility to participate as fully as you are able. Please complete the main readings for each week (except the first) before class, if possible. In some weeks I will make available materials before class and ask you to respond to them in class.

Basic knowledge of descriptive linguistics & sociolinguistics is assumed, but if you don’t have it please let me know. This course is designed to accommodate students from other disciplines, with a small amount of extra effort on your part. Extra readings in the first 3 weeks are designed to give non-linguists enough working knowledge of basic sociolinguistic principles and concepts to achieve the module aims. Essays/topics will be available which do not require advanced technical linguistic knowledge on the part of students from outside Lang & Ling (e.g., focus on language attitudes, history, conflict and/or policy).




·      There is a 2-hour final exam at years' end, containing a selection of questions, from which you will answer one question.

·      You will also do coursework: generally one essay amounting to 3,000 words on an assigned topic, and one set of exercises on a language you choose.

·      Exam marks are averaged with coursework marks; each contributes 50% to an overall final mark. So, 50% for coursework (i.e., essay 40% + exercise 10%), 50% for the exam.

·      It is my policy NOT to make previous years’ exam papers available to students. You will not find them on the Course Materials Repository. My view is that you will prepare better by participating in class, asking questions, and studying the materials assigned this year, than by taking previous exam questions as your guide for preparation.

·       Linguistics Dept advice on writing assignments is available at this link – obviously this was designed for typical Linguistics assignments, which yours may not be! But some of it will still be useful…

·       My personal advice on writing exams, papers etc. for my courses (again, other staff may not agree) is available from this webpage:

·       Students who have not had previous linguistic training are encouraged to register for this course. Extra readings are listed in the first month to help give you a general background in sociolinguistics. The requirement of most assignment topics that you address structural descriptive aspects of the languages you choose to write about remains; however, I will expect a different (lower) level of information on language structure from you than from those who have studied linguistics. In addition, you will have the option of writing assignment topics which do not focus on language structure. Please come talk to me about this issue before selecting a topic.


General Criteria for Assessment

Please see the relevant Handbook pages titled e.g. “Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria on LG modules” (UG Hbk p93-96; you can download it directly here), which shows the scale according to which your work will be marked.

In addition, your work will be assessed in relation to the following general criteria which are my own for all my modules. You must be able to:

·       Summarise: Demonstrate your understanding by clear, concise summary of assigned research. Be able to gather original-source information independently and show understanding of it. Be able to accurately summarise facts (both in detail, and at a general level), crucial concepts, argumentation, and theoretical claims, and to explain or paraphrase technical terminology.

·       Analyse: Make and explain distinctions; identify similarities and contrasts; create and take readers through an argument, step by logical step; and generally, use appropriate terminology precisely in analysis of the relevant data.

·       Evaluate: Identify and assess the underlying methods, assumptions and goals of a piece of research or policy; appraise the strength or weakness of a position, a theory, or a set of recommendations or principles. Are the conclusions supported by the arguments? the data? Are the findings significant, and why? Are policy and practice recommendations coherent, consistent with sociolinguistic knowledge, and practical? When you make evaluative claims, you must be able to cite specific evidence to back them up.

·       Present your work effectively: Communicate your (and others’) ideas with clarity, in a logical and transparent structure, in a coherent fashion and appropriate style, drawing on technical terminology as needed. You must be lucid, precise, and original, while demonstrating a sense of balance among the parts, controlling length to meet requirements, and attributing ideas to their authors through good citation and reference practice. You must demonstrate that you are able to refer effectively both to material in sociolinguistics and other areas relevant to your topic as needed.

In addition to satisfying these general criteria, you are expected to consult advice on essays, referencing and good academic practice in the Dept. Handbooks (above), and to observe the criteria below which are specifically for LG448.



Specific Criteria for LG448 Assessment

Please also attend to these expectations which are specifically for Lg448 work:

o      Locate and use multiple appropriate sources for each main point.

o      Do not rely solely on sources aimed at a general audience; use specialist linguistic works and terminology.

o      Be critical of the arguments presented in the readings – especially in works aimed at a general audience, which can be expected to ignore some complexity or detail, and might favour impact over subtlety, and colour over rigorous argumentation.

o      Make sure your paper isn't just a descriptive case study, but provides linguistic/historical/social context, argumentation, analysis and evaluation, as appropriate to the topic.

o      Make examples detailed, and relate them clearly to your arguments. For example, linguistic arguments should not be limited to surface phenomena (such as vocabulary), or naively equate language with cultural diversity; in general, your arguments are expected to be more complex, pragmatic and critical.

o      If appropriate to the topic, comment on policy and practice, referring to actual outcomes, and using specific measures, if available.

o      Do make active use of concepts developed in class, including definitions, oppositions, and principles.

o      Do go into appropriate technical linguistic depth for your topic, using scientific terminology and analysis and demonstrating mastery of the research literature.



Learning Outcomes

By the end of term students should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Be aware of the linguistic diversity of Native American languages, their decline under pressure, and their contributions to mixed languages;
  • Be familiar with evidence concerning the origins, structure and development of North American English varieties;
  • Understand some of the major developments and findings in regional and social dialectology of North American English;
  • Be conversant with the distribution and ecology of other major vernacular languages coexisting in North America, including French and Spanish varieties;
  • Be familiar with aspects of the development, variation, attitudes, conflicts and policies concerning discriminated contact varieties (AAE and ASL);

o   Have developed awareness of language conflicts, shifts, changes and developments arising from linguistic diversity in the USA (& Canada*); and

o   Gain a critical understanding of the facts and attitudes underlying ideological battles over national language status and rights in the USA (& Canada*).

*Canada is covered to a lesser degree, and as time allows


Length Limits

Part of the skill of writing an assignment is learning to say what you want to say within the word limit you are given.

·       The required length of the assignment should be 3000 words, plus or minus 10% (ie, +/- 300 words) - not counting References, Appendices or instructions; do not repeat the assignment instructions.

·       You will be penalised if you write too much (see the Dept. policy on length limits in the UG Handbook p116), i.e. if you write more than 3300 words. If you write too little, i.e. less than 2700 words, it is likely that you will fail to cover the topic in sufficient depth or detail and you will be marked accordingly. Relevant material in appendices of appropriate length will not be penalised.

·       Please indicate the length of your assignment at the end of the main text or on the FASER cover sheet (the number of words). Use WordCount to get this.



Proper Referencing

You should remember at all times to refer explicitly to the work of any scholar whose work you make use of, citing the surname, year of publication and page number of any references.

·      Whenever you use someone else's words, they must be enclosed in quotation marks and clearly identified, with a page reference.

·      When you cite specific facts or points from published work, you must give a detailed citation and page reference even if you do not quote directly.

·      You will be penalised for poorly structured work and inadequate bibliographical referencing.

·      This may seem picky or pointless to you, but it’s considered an important skill in academia – i.e., we require you to learn it! All you have to do is follow a set of guidelines carefully and be consistent.

·      The Dept. student handbooks contain just such a set of guidelines and advice, in a section called “Referencing…”. Please leave an hour to check every assignment against this advice.

·      Every work referred to in the body of the text must be given a complete reference in the bibliographical list at the end of the essay. There is no magic number of references for a good essay, but consider 12 to 20 references a minimum number, and be sure they are all used appropriately (not just tacked on to make up the numbers).



Plagiarism and Cheating

It is crucial that you understand and observe University rules in this area. What may seem perfectly alright to you could be seen by academic staff as a serious academic violation, punishable by penalties including expulsion.

·          Please, for your own sake, refer to the general rules and guidelines on this page (from LG218, but it applies generally).

·          Since most undergraduate linguistics students will have taken LG218 with me, I will not address these during class time. They are treated in depth in the student handbooks under the headings “How to avoid plagiarism” and “Academic offences” – you are expected to be familiar with those sections.

·          I will assume that students from uman ights and other areas are familiar other areas of study are also familiar with such general rules and guidelines.

o      However, if you have any questions or doubts, please take the time to see me in office hours before you hand in your assignment. I’ll be glad to address issues of proper referencing and how to avoid plagiarism then if needed.



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Page last updated on 16 October 2017