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1.8: Problems

1.8.1 Describing and ExplainingPrescribing and Evaluating


This problem set assumes some basic knowledge of English dialects, so if you are not a native speaker of English, you will probably want to collaborate with somehow who is.

Each of the following includes two ways to say (at least roughly) the same thing. For at least some people, the first way (A) could be seen as "wrong" in some sense. We saw in these two sections of the book that there are various ways in which a particular linguistic form can be thought of as "wrong" (though not necessarily by linguists).

  1. The use is not grammatical or otherwise acceptable (in the case of the pronunciation of a word) in any dialect of the language.
  2. The use is grammatical or acceptable in some non-standard dialects, but not grammatical in the standard dialect.
  3. The use is grammatical or otherwise acceptable for most speakers of the standard dialect, but some speakers may find it "wrong" for one reason or another.
  4. The use is grammatical or acceptable but not appropriate in the context.
  5. The use is grammatical and appropriate but not effective.

For each of the following, decide which type of "mistake" is involved in A (as compared to B), and explain your answer in a sentence or two. There may not be a single right answer for some of the problems.

  1. A: nuclear pronounced noo-kyuh-lur
    B: nuclear pronounced noo-klee-ur
  2. A: yellow pronounced yell-uh
    B: yellow pronounced yell-oh
  3. A: Mr. President, what you're saying sucks.
    B: Mr. President, I can't accept what you're saying.
  4. A: I come back last night.
    B: I came back last night.
  5. A: Next shake the test tube that you dissolved the salt in.
    B: Next shake the test tube in which you dissolved the salt.
  6. A: Whoever it belongs to should claim it.
    B: Whomever it belongs to should claim it.
  7. A: He left glass water on table.
    B: He left a glass of water on the table.
  8. A: When I exited the bed this morning, my hair looked like rabbit ears. (an eight-year-old speaking to his mother; this is a real example)
    B: When I got out of bed this morning, my hair looked like rabbit ears.
  9. A: John ordered his meal from the waiter, and he brought it to him right away.
    B: John ordered his meal from the waiter, and the waiter brought it to him right away.
  10. A: How did y'all like the party?
    B: How did you like the party?
  11. A: I would be thankful if it could be let known to me whether taking a student under your fold and tutelage for a long and hopefully eventful partnership would be acceptable to you. (a real example from an e-mail to me)
    B: Please let me know if you can take on a new student.

You are a linguist studying the grammar of a particular dialect of English. You have recorded a stretch of speech between two men who are speakers of the dialect, and now you are taking examples from the recording to use as data. Included in the recording is the following statement by one of the speakers.

  • You don't even realizing it.

You are trying to decide whether your account of the grammar of this dialect should include this sentence. Unfortunately you no longer have access to the two speakers, so you can't ask them questions. For each of the following, say whether it would be a relevant thing for you to do in order to help make your decision. Explain each answer.

  1. You consult a book written by another linguist about the grammar of a closely related dialect.
  2. You listen for similar sentences in the rest of your recording.
  3. You ask more educated speakers from the same region as the two men whether they could say something like this.
  4. You listen to what immediately follows the example on the recording to see if the speaker corrected himself.

1.8.2 How We Study Language

In this section, we saw that ambiguity is an example of a phenomenon in language that can best be appreciated from the perspective of comprehension. Consider the English words that are written bank, meaning roughly 'side of a river,' 'kind of financial institution,' and 'tilt while making a turn' (there are other meanings as well). Because all of these are written (and pronounced) the same, a reader (or listener) has to disambiguate the form when it appears. But this can be done in different ways, using different kinds of information. For each of the following sentences, say what kind of information a reader could use to disambiguate the word bank, and rank the three for how difficult they would probably be for a computer program. Imagine that the person or program knows only the three meanings of bank given above.

  1. I don't have much my money in my account at the bank.
  2. Before landing, the plane will have to bank to the right.
  3. When I climbed out of the boat, all of my money fell onto the bank.

1.8.3 Two Themes

For each of the following facts about human language, say whether it derives from Speaker (or Learner) orientation or Hearer orientation, that is, whether it makes things easier for the Speaker, the Hearer, or the Learner. Explain your answer in a sentence. There may be more than one possible answer.

  1. Fos is a more likely word in a human language than zkt is.
  2. Languages tend not to have many homophones, that is, words that sound the same but have completely different meanings such as bear meaning the animal and bear meaning 'tolerate'.
  3. Languages do not have specific names for every object; instead they have names for categories of objects.
  4. In sign languages, signs are normally not made with unrelated movements of the two hands, for example, with one hand moving up and down while the other moves sideways.
  5. Apparently all human languages have a way of distinguishing statements from questions.
  6. Some languages have only three vowels. If so, these vowels tend to be pronounced quite differently from one another, usually similar to the vowels in hotheat, and hoot.