Ling 177


Term Paper Assignment


Shaping your report


During the semester we explored various dimensions of language variation. Chief among these were the ways in which the social factors social status, geography and gender shape the sounds, words and grammatical structure of language. Your term paper should demonstrate how you use what you have learned in class to analyze the dialect data that you and other students collect. You can demonstrate this best by providing a detailed discussion of the survey results that link your findings to the course readings. You will need to cite specific readings in your paper and provide a list of references at the end of your paper.


The Hypotheses


Start by deciding what you expect to find from the survey. You should state your expectations in the form of a hypothesis. For example, I have asked you to evaluate the role of social class in shaping the responses that you collect. You should phrase this expectation in the form of the hypothesis that you predict the results obtained from the -ing variable will indicate social class and cite the reference in Trudgill (2000:37). You can then use the results for -ing to test whether any of the other linguistic variables that you surveyed, e.g. the a/ɔ variable, vary in the same way that the pronunciation of -ing does. As you formulate your hypotheses, be sure to cite the readings that we used in class or any others that you find to support your expectations. If you cannot find a reference for the variable that you investigate, you should say so.


The Analyses


Once you formulate your hypotheses, you will need to decide how to tell if the data that you collect support the hypotheses or don’t support the hypotheses. For example, to test whether the pronunciation of the vowel in chalk is related to social class you should line up the data for the /a/ vowel with the data for -ing as shown in the following table.

 

Subject            -In       a

1                      x

2                      x          x

3                                  x

4                      x          x


You should then state the specific result, e.g. that only two of the four speakers (#2 and #4) produced the predicted result, and then state your conclusion that the data shown in the table do not support a social class basis for a/ɔ merger.


The Paper


Your paper should be at least 7 pages long (in standard format) with full references to the books, articles and web pages you use for your paper. The paper should begin by describing the hypotheses that you will test based on social status, geography and gender. You should examine the link between these social variables and the linguistic variables that you surveyed. You should provide a detailed description of the way you elicited data for each variable so that someone reading your paper would be able to repeat your study. You should add your survey questions to the end of the paper as an appendix. You should also discuss how you contacted people for your survey and how you described the purpose of the survey. The analysis section of your paper should contain summary tables like the table above that show the basis for your conclusions. Your discussion of the results should refer to your tables. Instead of using general descriptions such as “the results show a Midwestern pattern” you should cite specific results found in the literature, e.g. Gordon (2004b). Discuss the results from individual speakers that do not fit the general patterns in a separate section of your paper. You should send me the final version of your term paper in electronic form by 5 p.m., Friday, December 15th.


Your paper should include the following sections:

 

 

Points

I.

The hypotheses that you tested: social status, geography, gender

10

II.

Procedure

 

 

a. List the linguistic items you used and your predictions for each item

10

 

b. Describe the people you surveyed and how you contacted them

5

 

c. Describe the procedure you used to elicit the responses

5

III.

Results

 

 

a. Describe how you tested the effect of the social variables

5

 

b. Discuss the responses that support and don’t support the hypothesis

10

 

c. Discuss any items that produced problematic responses

5


Grading the paper


I will use the following rubric to assign a grade to the term papers and class presentations.


      1. Clarity of purpose statement

            What is the goal of your project? Do you have a clear thesis statement?

            What is interesting about your project?


      2. Literature review

            Do you discuss one or two journal articles or books related to your project?

            Did you identify old and new articles related to your project?

            Do you cite the articles in a reference section?

            Do you make original suggestions based on these articles?


      3. Clarity of method

            What methods did you use for your project?

            Do the methods support the goal of your project?

            Did you identify and attempt to control the variables associated with this method?

            Do the methods lead to clear predictions?

            Do you identify the weaknesses in your research methods?


      4. Clarity of results

            Do you clearly identify the specific results of your research?

            Do you discuss the significance of your results?


      5. Clarity of writing

Are the topics, literature review, methods and results presented in a clear, concise

                        manner?

            Is the presentation overly repetitive?

            Are there few mechanical errors in spelling, word choice and grammar?


      6. Clarity of presentation

            Do you clearly identify the goal of your research?

            Do you identify and discuss previous studies?

            Do you present your own conclusions?


Example 1


Tense is an important part of language, so important, in fact, that it is considered an aspect of universal grammar. But how universal is it? The clearest way to test this is to see how easily aspects of grammar carry over from a first language into a second, in this case, French to English. There are many factors that could influence this, but the most evident is the Aspect Hypothesis, which is still not completely comprehensive.


This paragraph confuses importance with language universals. It does not define a language universal or tense, or provide a reference to any articles on language universals or tense. A linguistic feature is either universal or not; there are no mostly universals. A universal feature should appear in all languages. A comparison between two languages will not establish that any feature is universal. A comparison of English and French is a poor choice for testing language universals since English and French have borrowed many features from one another. Borrowing must be ruled out before claiming that a feature is universal element of the linguistic capacity. A linguistic hypothesis will attempt to explain linguistic features. An hypothesis will not influence linguistic features. The Aspect Hypothesis is introduced without a description or references to the literature. This paper would be improved by focusing on a description of tense in English.


Example 2


The United States is a fairly new country in comparison to the rest of the world. Having a diverse range of ethnicities and backgrounds, it is surprising that America not only has one obvious dialect or accent, but many across the different regions of the states. When did Americans begin to drop their native accents and begin acquiring new ones? How did accents and dialects change in certain ways in one region and differently in another region? How did these dialects even begin and why are they still recognizable to the rest of the world as American? These are the questions that linguists ask and research today. It is important to first understand dialects, the history of the research, methods used to research, and the different regions before questions can start to be answered.


This paper begins with a flurry of questions without stating the primary thesis. It would take several dissertations to address all of the issues introduced in this paragraph. This paragraph does not define the key term ‘dialect’ or provide references to any articles on American dialects. The paper assumes that there was originally one American dialect that split into various dialects. The paper does not distinguish between regional dialects and ethnic dialects. The paper would be improved by identifying a single topic such as describing the linguistic features of Kansas English and describing its history.


Example 3


African American Vernacular English (AAVE), more commonly known as Ebonics, has been the center of much debate since the Oakland board of education raised a resolution to use AAVE in schools in 1996. After a nationwide debate ensued, the resolution was not passed until a revised version was drafted in 1997. The debate revealed valuable information about American language ideology and a large degree of misunderstanding about language dialects (Wolfram 1998:118). Though linguists have still not come to a consensus on whether AAVE is a dialect or a language, the Linguistic Society of America stated in 1977 that AAVE “is systematic and rule-governed like all natural speech varieties” (quoted in Wolfram 117). In this essay, I will discuss the origins, phonological and grammatical features of AAVE, as well as language prejudice and its role in the Ebonics debate.


This paper identifies its main topic immediately as well as its significance. A reference is provided to support the argument. The paper focuses on one English dialect and describes its linguistic features as well as what it reveals about attitudes towards ethnic dialects in the United States.


References

 

Bayley, Robert and Santa Ana, Otto. 2004. Chicano English: morphology and syntax. In Kortmann, Bernd, Burridge, Kate, Mesthrie, Rajend, Schneider, Edgar W. and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 2: Morphology and Syntax, pp. 374-390. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Gordon, Matthew J. 2004a. New York, Philadelphia, and other northern cities: phonology. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 282-299. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Gordon, Matthew J. 2004b. The West and Midwest: phonology. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 338-350. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kretzschmar, William A., Jr. 2004. Standard American English pronunciation. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 257-269. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Labov, William. 1972. Some principles of linguistic methodology. Language in Society 1: 97-120.

Milroy, Lesley. 1987. Observing and Analysing Natural Language: A Critical Account of Sociolinguistic Method. New York: Basil Blackwell.

Murray, Thomas E. and Simon, Beth Lee. Colloquial American English: grammatical features. In Kortmann, Bernd, Burridge, Kate, Mesthrie, Rajend, Schneider, Edgar W. and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 2: Morphology and Syntax, pp. 221-244. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Nagy, Naomi and Roberts, Julie. 2004. New England: phonology. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 270-282. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thomas, Erik R. 2004. Rural Southern white accents. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 300-324. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tillery, Jan and Bailey, Guy. 2004. The urban South: phonology. In Schneider, Edgar W., Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (Eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology, pp. 325-350. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Trudgill, Peter. 2000. Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. London: Penguin Books.