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 LG 448: American Languages

Prof. Peter L. Patrick

Dept. of Language & Linguistics

University of Essex




Deadline: All essays are due on the Thursday of Week 11 (ie, Thurs 14 Dec 2017).

Please use WordCount to measure your essay. Include the length in words at end of the essay. Please turn in all assignments via the FASER system. See here for details.

The length requirement of essays is 3,000 words (not including references, assignment titles, or any appendices).


All students are strongly advised to come see me in office hours, or email me, after selecting an essay topic (or while trying to decide), in order to check your understanding of the work and ask any questions. For some essay choices, you will need time to gather sources. Students who do badly on assignments are invariably those who have not spoken to me about them!


For details of assessment, including general and specific criteria, rules, referencing, how to avoid plagiarism, etc., please look here. See course references on Talis for general works. For all questions below, remember to consider 12-20 appropriate works as a minimum number of references, making sure to consider earlier and later views in perspective. Some questions direct you to principal authors, but do not limit yourself to those and their references. Be appropriately critical of your sources. Do not reproduce tables, maps etc. from the textbook, or which I used in lectures, unless absolutely essential.



All students will do one exercise focusing on a selected American language variety. There are 8 choices, including 3 Native American, 2 English, 2 Spanish and 2 French varieties. The exercises are intended to be tasks that beginning linguistics students can do – though the authors differ in how simple their tasks are, and how much linguistic knowledge they assume. If you examine several, you will find one that you are able to do.

In each case you will begin by reading a chapter from the book below, Di Paolo & Spears (eds.) 2014 [link]. You will then answer the exercises in the chapter, and submit your answers on FASER. You have until the last Thursday of November (Week 8, i.e. Thurs 23 Nov 2017) to submit your exercise. Although each exercise and chapter is related to a particular week’s lecture, the exercises are self-contained – you do not need to hear the lecture before doing them – just read the chapter.

As the module progresses, I will ask whether anyone is doing the exercises related to each week’s topic. A good plan for you is to have read the relevant chapter for your exercise before that topic comes up (eg, if you select the one on African American English, read it by Week 5), so your work can benefit from taking part in the class discussion of that topic.

There is no length required for the exercises, as they differ in nature across the book (each chapter is written by a different author). Just use enough space to clearly answer each question; no need to go on at length if you have explained yourself.

·       Di Paolo, Marianna & Arthur K. Spears, eds. 2014. Languages and Dialects in the US: Focus on Diversity and Linguistics. New York: Routledge. Do one chapter, and its exercises:

o   Chap 3 “Navajo” by Keren Rice

o   Chap 4 “Shoshoni” by Dirk Elzinga & Marianna Di Paolo

o   Chap 5 “Mandan” by Maurício J. Mixco

§  These three chapters (3, 4 & 5) each relate to the topic of Week 2

o   Chap 7 “African American English” by Arthur K. Spears – relates to Week 5 topic

o   Chap 8 “Chicano English” by Carmen Fought

o   Chap 10 “Southwest Spanish” by Mary Ellen García

o   Chap 11 “Dominican Spanish” by Barbara E. Bullock & Almeida Jacqueline Toribio

§  These three chapters (8, 10 & 11) each relate to the topic of Week 9

o   Chap 14 “Cajun French and Louisiana Creole” by Michael D. Picone – relates to Week 10 topic


Essay Questions

1.     Identify the main issues in the Divergence controversy. What are the chief scenarios for convergence and divergence of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) from MUSE (=Mainstream US English) varieties, both Northern and Southern (SWVE, Southern White Vernacular English), in the 20th century? What kinds of evidence have been offered, and what kinds are needed to resolve it? In your view, has the controversy been largely resolved? If so, how? If not, why not? Be sure to cite at least 2 or 3 linguistic arguments, referring to several phonological and grammatical features, in appropriate detail. Use the references on this divergence webpage as basic readings – be sure to consult the principal authors identified there and to balance earlier and later views – but you may also read and cite further works mentioned in them.



2.     Describe and discuss one or more LOTEs (Languages Other Than English) spoken in North America (either the United States, Canada, or both). You MAY NOT choose French or Spanish! You may follow Potowski’s (2010) model as far as focusing on demographics, public presence, shift and maintenance. Your essay should both be appropriately critical of the view in Potowski, and be different enough from that chapter that it only constitutes one source among many. Additional sources will also be needed for structural description: you will need to describe and discuss which varieties of your language(s) are spoken in N America, what their principal distinctive features are (mainly phonology and grammar), and whether they show contact effects as a result of use in the N American context.  You may focus on a single LOTE, or compare two; if you focus on one, you may also have room to highlight a particular linguistic or sociolinguistic aspect of interest. [Non-linguists wishing to work on this topic should consult me by mid-February about the requirement for structural description.]



3.     Referring to ANAE (Atlas of North American English - Labov, Ash & Boberg 2006), describe the importance of specific linguistic features in defining the following N American English regions and dialects. You need not go into great details about ANAE’s methods, but must show that you understand them generally. Be sure to read and refer to Chap. 11 which gives an overview, as well as other relevant chapters of ANAE with more detailed descriptions. You will of course need further references beyond ANAE, so refer to analyses and controversies among earlier dialectologists (many of which are noted in ANAE). Choose two of the following regions to discuss:

a.     The North (including Inland North and New England, and commenting on the Mid-Atlantic States and New York City)

b.     The Midland (commenting on Western Pennsylvania and the St Louis corridor)

c.      The West and Canada



4.     Should English be made the official language of the USA?” Discuss at least 7 of the following 10 points:

                                i.            What exactly is an official language?

                              ii.            What is the role of national identity in the debate?

                            iii.            Consider some of the historical effects of English on native populations of North America over the past 350 years.

                            iv.            Consider some of the historical effects of English on immigrant populations of North America over the past 350 years.

                              v.            What do proponents of English as the official language of the United States (e.g. Official English, English First, ProEnglish) believe?

                            vi.            What do opponents of English as the official language of the United States (e.g. academics, educators, organizations representing different groups of US citizens and residents) believe?

                         vii.            What role do beliefs about bilingualism play? Discuss prevalent ideas about bilingualism, in the light of research on bilingualism, language acquisition and language loss in the USA.

                       viii.            Discuss US Census statistics critically – including age data, and immigration trends (i.e. what changes have happened, and are happening) – to illuminate the issue of not-speaking-English in the USA.

                            ix.            Would legal and constitutional rights be violated by official-English laws? Discuss one or two important examples.

                              x.            Are there economic and/or social costs of creating official-English laws? Discuss one or two important examples.

You must draw on Lynn Burley’s AAC&U STIRS case study as an essential resource, and the readings mentioned in it. You should also make adequate use of other readings from LG448 (e.g. Potowski 2010, Lippi-Green 2012, and relevant weekly readings from journals, readers, etc.) as appropriate. Since this question involves language policy (LPP), you may want to refer to notes on LPP from another module I teach, LG474: (though you will have to look in greater depth than what’s there), and items from that course’s bibliography:

Be sure to do 7 of the 10 points! As you’re deciding not to discuss one of the points listed above, be sure your choice works for your essay plan. For example, can you focus on ideology without discussing statistics (8)? Perhaps – but probably not if you also want to discuss economic/social costs (10), etc.


Other essay questions are possible – if you want to do something else, please formulate a question and approach me with it by the sixth week at the latest, as if accepted it will probably require adjusting.

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Page last updated on 12 September 2017