Monday, August 29, 2016

Introducing .... the International Phonetic Alphabet!

One of the things that makes English so distinct from most of the other languages on the planet is its unusually inconsistent and unpredictable spelling. Due to changes in the sounds of English over time, many letters once pronounced are now silent -- particularly our old friend "silent e." Add to that the fact that, as our vowel system changed, many words that use the same vowel are pronounced completely differently, and you have a pretty difficult spelling "system." The spelling reformer and playwright George Bernard Shaw jested at this by claiming that "fish" should be spelled "ghoti" -- since gh spells 'f' in "laugh," o is pronounced 'i' in "women," and ti spells 'sh' in "notion!

To save us from all this, and to enable us to understand English's changing sounds, the powers that be sent us the International Phonetic Alphabet. It may look a bit daunting, but it has the great advantage that, within it, one letter indicates one, and precisely one sound, and is always consistent. We'll go over it in class with some care, and although at first it may seem daunting, it's fairly easy to get used to. Plus, you'll the advantage of being able to impress your friends at parties by saying things like" I really admire your labiodental fricatives"or "please pardon my voiceless glottal plosives!" Then again, be careful -- people might not understand!

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Welcome to our class blog for ENGL 433, Modern Grammar, Fall 2016, here at Rhode Island College. This course, despite its official name, is not strictly speaking a course on grammar, though grammar will not be neglected.  What it really is is an introduction to issues in the study and teaching of the English language to day, including (but not limited to) such matters as the acquisition of language, grammar, usage, the idea of the "standard," perceptions of "accent," the history of the language, and its inner mechanics (syntax, morphology, phonology). Throughout the course, by demonstrating that there is in fact a history to many aspects of our language -- particularly to the usage perceived as "correct" at different times and places -- we will be able to demystify some of its apparently arcane and troublesome features.  We will also pay particular attention to current issues in the teaching of English;  some attention will also be paid to the issues of language development, the psychodynamics of "correcting" student writing, and the ways in which new technologies of communication (satellite television, the Internet, the cell phone) have affected our patterns and perceptions about speech.

This blog will serve as a clearing-house many of our discussions, as well as a resource page where you'll find many useful links to language resources online. Make it yours! For, like the guests at a wedding, if we have anything to say about our language, we had best speak now, or forever hold our peace.