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Study Guide


1. Most people think of English language study in terms of the identification of “correct”

English, and the elimination of “incorrect.” Your goal is to explain and give clear

examples of the difference between a descriptive approach and prescriptive approach

to the study of language. In doing so, also contrast the approach to language in the

field of linguistics with the approach to language in a traditional elementary, middle

or high school language arts curriculum.

2. Most people think of “grammar” in terms of “rules and exceptions.” Explain and give

a clear example of the concepts of Mental Grammar and Mental Dictionary (Lexicon).

In doing so be sure to explain how these concepts differ from the common notions of

“grammar” and “dictionary,” and why the concepts are essential for understanding

human language.

3. Most people think of English past tense as ‘-ed’. Using clear examples of the three

regular endings of the English past tense [t], [d] and [əd], explain the concept of a

phonological rule. As part of your explanation, be sure to define and refer to the

concept of natural class as it is used in phonetics.

4. The conventional statement that the English vowels are “A,E,I,O,U and sometimes Y”

is misleading and false. Explain why. In doing so, explain why it’s necessary to

distinguish English vowel phonemes from the “letters,” and which phonetic

parameters best describe the vowels of English.

5. Using English examples of phonetic features associated with the phoneme /t/,

specifically [t], [th

], [ɾ], [ʔ] and [č], explain clearly the concepts of allophone,

phoneme and minimal pair.

6. Using the English and Kathmandu Newar data, explain the concepts of minimal pair,

contrastive vs. complementary distribution with regard to [s] vs. [š].

7. Using the English and Spanish data, explain the concepts of minimal pair, contrastive

vs. complementary distribution with regard to [s] vs. [z].

8. Explain and give clear examples (of your own invention, not ones from the book)

of three different word formation processes from the following list: blend,

compounding, eponym, retronym, acronym, clipping.

9. Explain why the simplistic notion of noun as “person, place, thing or abstract idea,”

or verb as “action word” is inaccurate and misleading. What is a more accurate way

to characterize and identify the class of nouns and verbs?

10. Using well-chosen data from class for Mende, Ganda, Toba Batak, and Turkish

explain how the data illustrates the concepts of morpheme, prefix, suffix and infix, and 

how these patterns exemplify both linguistic diversity and linguistic commonality

across languages.

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