Special Topics in Anthropology: Structure of African American English (AANT 197) This course provides an introduction to the study of linguistics through the specific lens of African American English (AAE). With an estimated 30 million speakers, AAE is a major dialect of English that is most frequently associated with African American people living in urban centers - although not all African American people speak AAE, nor are all AAE speakers African American. As is the case for all human languages, AAE is rule-governed and complex; however, it continues to be plagued by social stigma in many arenas. This course focuses on AAE's distinctive features in the areas of sound and sentence structure, as well as topics in linguistic anthropology, e.g. the impact of language ideology on AAE speaking communities. This course provides students with a basic understanding of the field of linguistics, specific structural knowledge about one variety of English, and an opportunity for reflection on mainstream attitudes towards a low prestige dialect, in light of linguistic evidence. There are no prerequisites for this course.
Introduction to Syntactic Theory (ALIN/AANT 321) This course provides an introduction the theoretical study of the syntactic structure of human language. Syntax is the level of linguistic structure that determines how words combine to form phrases and how phrases combine to form sentences. Syntacticians seek to uncover the hidden structure of linguistic data and to develop theories capable of explaining the set of rules that generate all the possible sentences of a linguistic system, while simultaneously ruling out all the impossible ones. We will be working within the context of generative grammar, the approach to syntactic theory pioneered by the linguist Noam Chomsky. Generative linguists believe that certain aspects of language are innate. In part, this means that you know the rules necessary to generate and understand an infinite number of sentences in your language(s), because a subset of those rules – Universal Grammar – are hardwired into your brain. Because English is the language of the classroom, we will look a lot at data from English. However, because we are interested in universal aspects of human language, we will also spend time with a variety of linguistic data. I hope that this course stimulates a great appreciation for the complexity of human language, a deeper understanding of your own native language, and a new curiosity for linguistic diversity in your community and around the world.
Advanced Syntax (ALIN/AANT 421) Advanced Syntax is a course designed for students who left Introduction to Syntax wanting to know even more about the syntax of human language. In comparison to Introduction to Syntax, Advanced Syntax requires even more abstract reasoning and theoretical modeling of syntactic structure. There are more “unanswered questions,” as we get closer to the state-of-the-art of syntactic analysis in areas such as ellipsis, raising and control, case theory. In this course we spend even more time looking at data from diverse languages in order to continue to develop your ability to analyze data from unfamiliar languages and to prepare you to succeed in courses like Field Methods and Linguistics Structures.
Linguistic Structures (ALIN/AANT 423) - The topic of this course changes from year to year In Spring 2017, this course provided an introduction to the structure of languages belonging to the Austronesian and Mayan families. The Austronesian language family is the world’s largest with approximately 1,200 members. Austronesian languages are spoken in many corners of the world. The Mayan language family is quite small in comparison, consisting of approximately 30 languages spoken primarily in Guatemala and Mexico. Considering that the languages in these two families are genetically unrelated and have never been in contact with each other, they have a surprising number of syntactic features in common. For example, these languages share a high occurrence of verb-initial (V1) word order, extraction restrictions, ergative case marking, and weak lexical class distinction. Determining whether these common attributes result from a single feature – e.g., V1 word order – is an active area of typological research. Over the course of this semester, students contribute actively to the progress of the course by studying, analyzing, and reporting on a specific language from either family. Students are provided with a reference grammar on the language, which will be the primary source for information about the phonological, morphological, and syntactic structure of each language. As the course progresses, we narrow in on those topics that pertain to the typology of verb-initial languages.
Field Methods (ALIN/AANT 429) - The language of study changes from year to year. The main objective of this course is for students to collect primary language data through direct work with a native speaker of a language they do not speak and probably have never even encountered. For Fall 2016, the language of instruction is Copala Triqui (Otomanguean), which is language indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico. Students primarily 'learn by doing,' which in this context means participating in classroom elicitation sessions and collecting data in small groups outside of class. In addition to learning elicitation and transcription techniques, students gain experience i) forming generalizations about the language data they collect, ii) using that data to test linguistic hypotheses, and ii) developing original linguistic analyses. Over the course of the semester, students have the opportunity to use all aspects of their previous linguistic training, e.g., phonology, morphology, and syntax; however, each student will eventually focus on a particular aspect of linguistic structure for the purposes of writing a final paper. In addition to hands on work with language data, students are encouraged to think critically about ethical engagement with minority speech communities. We discuss linguistic activism, language endangerment, and preservation, and make a lasting contribution to the documentation of Copala Triqui by creating a collaborative language database. At the end of the semester we present our findings to interested members of the Copala Triqui community of the Capital District.