Theme: The purpose of the paper is to get you to reflect on your linguistic knowledge by
comparing your abilities in two languages. One of the languages will be English. The other
language will be a language that you have some personal experience with. If your ability is
weak in the second language, so much the better! It will make for a good comparison. The
second language could be any of the following:
Your native language, if you speak a language other than English as your first
A language that you have studied in school, even if only two years in high school.
A language in which you have some ability because of exposure to it through
relatives who speak it, having lived where it was spoken, or any other circumstance.
If none of these scenarios seems to fit your situation, talk to your TA for advice.
Research: This is not a research paper. Your only sources of information should be your
knowledge of the two languages you choose and the information you get in Linguistics 1 from
(i) lectures, and (ii) FRH Introduction to Language. If you choose a language that you studied
in school, you may want to consult your textbooks, but you do *not* need to do any library or
Length and form: The paper should be 4-6 pages, double-spaced in 12 point type, 1 inc.
margins all around. You will not need a bibliography other than listing a language text you
may have consulted, as just mentioned. Each of the parts below shoud be preceded by its
number, as specified in the outline below.
Outline of Paper
The paper must consist of 5 sections, exactly as outlined below. Please follow this format,
including headings and section numbers.
1. Introduction (1 points)
Describe your linguistic background as it relates to the paper. This should include information
on the context in which you learned each language—at home, in school (including where you
studied and the amount of time), living where the language is spoken, etc. If you learned one
of the languages in school, say a little about how it was taught: was the language spoken little
or much in class, was English used much or little during class, little or much emphasis on good
pronunciation, on memorizing grammar rules, etc.
2. Acquisition (2 points)
Compare your competence and performance in the two languages as related to the way you
learned them and the contexts where you use them. For example:
you create utterances spontaneously in your native language because you learned it
through the normal process of language acquisition, but you speak Spanish slowly and
falteringly because you put sentences together using grammar rules you memorized in
you speak English with an accent and/or make grammatical errors in English because
you learned it after the “critical age”, yet you find it easier to discuss technical subjects
in English than in your “home” language because you use the latter only in everyday
You have difficulty speaking the 2nd language but you can understand it very well
because you had an early exposure to the language but not much opportunity to
Give at least one concrete example of an error you have made (phonological, syntactic
or morphological) or an idea that you have had trouble expressing in your non-native
3. Comparison of sounds (5 points)
Select one point of comparison between sounds found in the two languages. Examples of
such comparison might be:
the pronunciation of Spanish vowels, which are “pure” vowels, and English vowels,
which tend to be “diphthongized” (compare the pronunciation of the vowel in Spanish
de ‘from’ with the pronunciation of the vowel in English day)
the presence of front rounded vowels in French, German, or Chinese and their
absence in English
the presence of palatal fricatives in English (the sounds symbolized by the underlined
letters in ash and azure) and their absence in Spanish
the presence of velar fricatives (“guttural sounds”) in German or Hebrew and their
absence in English
[Try to find a comparison other than the ones just given.]
The sound description need not be technical, but try to use terminology and concepts
introduced during the lectures on Phonetics. You should (1) write the sounds using
PHONETIC symbols, (2) provide an articulatory description of the sounds, and (3) give
sample words. Include some comments comparing the languages, for example, noting
what sounds you tend to substitute for the “hard” sounds of your nonnative language.
DO NOT CONFUSE THE ORTHOGRAPHY OF THE LANGUAGE WITH THE SOUNDS OF THE
LANGUAGE. TWO POINTS WILL AUTOMATICALLY BE DEDUCTED FOR THIS ERROR.
4. Comparison of grammar (5 points)
Select one point of “grammar” for comparison. This could either be a point of:
syntax, such as order of constituents in a sentence, order of elements in the NP, use of
endings that mark words for whether they are subject or object (case), rules for
forming questions or some other construction type, etc.
word formation, such as inflection on verbs, marking words for gender agreement,
formation of compound words, reduplication, etc.
The grammar description need not be technical, but try to use terminology and concepts
introduced during the lectures on Syntax and Morphology. Describe the way the two
languages mark a comparable structure, e.g. how each language marks past tense, what
the order of a noun and its modifiers are in each of the languages, how yes/no and wh
questions are formed, etc.
BE SURE TO INCLUDE EXAMPLES FROM BOTH LANGUAGES! MAKE SURE YOUR NONENGLISH
EXAMPLES HAVE GLOSSES AND TRANSLATIONS.
5. Language and thought (2 points)
Find an example of how the two languages express thoughts differently such that a
“Whorfian” view would argue that the languages CAUSE their speakers to think differently.
Some types of examples you might use are:
one language has several words to express what the other language expresses with
one word, e.g. wear (could have different words depending on the article of clothing),
break (could have different words depending on type of thing broken), snow (may be
expressed with different words depending on quality of the snow), color words may
break the spectrum up in different ways in the two languages, etc.
one language may require different forms of words when addressing older people
from the forms used when addressing friends of the same age
Then discuss whether arguments for “linguistic determinism” are cogent in this case.
You may reach any conclusion you want, as long as you provide clear arguments.
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