Freshman WATU Writing Seminar:
Language and Popular Culture, LING 057.

Fall Semester, 1998
H. Schiffman, Instructor


    This is a WATU course, so students will be expected to do a number of writing projects and other assignments concerned with language. The focus of this course is expository writing (in contrast to other genres such as poetry, personal writing, mysteries, novels, technical writing, satire, etc.) This means that a research methodology must be followed, and a topic explored in a systematic way. The content of the course is as important as the writing about it. (In case you are unsure about what expository writing is, or don't trust my definition of it, check this linked document, a syllabus for a similar kind of writing course given at the University of Delaware. For further insights into the distinctions between different genres see this document also borrowed from a course elsewhere.

    1. Response Papers

      Throughout the course there will be opportunities for writing both in class and before class that will not be graded for form but for content.

      1. Response papers will be assigned on the readings required for this course. They can be submitted by email to the listserv for this class, but must be completed before the class period during which they will be discussed.

      2. In-class writing about particular issues will be assigned on the spur of the moment, and will be graded for content (ideas, issues) not on their form. This will usually happen during the last 7 minutes of class, and will involve writing something about an issue discussed that day or of the instructor's choosing.

      3. See the following general statement about students' responsibilities in this class.

    2. First Assignment

      1. The first mini-task is to bring to class (due-date Thursday of second week) three examples of new words found in popular culture but not yet in any dictionary. Look for examples that involve 'acronyms' or 'blends' such as brand-names like kleenex (clean + ?ex) or drano (drain + ?o) or drorganizer (dr[awer] + organizer). A good place to look is in advertisements and in popular journalism such as tabloid magazines, People Magazine etc. For background on this word-formation process, consult something I have prepared on this: Lexical Change

      2. Please write a short paragraph for each item, showing what the origin of it is, e.g. the pieces, or the initials, or whatever; if there are recognizable pieces (like the -oid of 'android') look it up in a dictionary; some dictionaries will give these `pieces' of meaning, even though they're not full `words', since they're used in chemistry etc. Tell me why you think the originator picked the pieces they did, or formed it the way they did. If you want an example of what I'm looking for, look at this example of some previously submitted papers that admirably fills the bill.

      3. Please use no more than one brand name in your inventory of new words. Brand names are useful and interesting, but they do not immediately qualify for status as 'words' in the language, unless they become a sort of generic term like 'kleenex' or some others.

      4. If using acronyms, do not choose them unless they are pronounceable in the way that NATO or AIDS are pronounced ('naytoe, ayds') but HIV is not. Pronounceable acronyms often enter the language and people don't even know what the letters stand for, as in radar or scuba (diving).

    3. Second Project

      There will be one (1) smaller project involving a print-medium conception of (foreign or non-standard) language (such as print advertising or cartoons). This will be 3 to 5 pages in length, not counting illustrations. If time permits, some of these projects can be presented in class for extra credit.

      See the following handout for more ideas about this. For resources specifically on comics, comic books, funny papers, etc. see Comics I will post more resources on this genre as I find them. One example is a series dealing with communication among the "Borks" (a.k.a. Neanderthals) in a recent (1997) strip. See Honor and the Borks.

    4. Final Project

      There will be one MAJOR project, based on linguistic material (standard or non-standard, human or non-human) depicted or represented in electronic visual media such as movies or television. (Science fiction representations of human and non-human language as well as pseudo-scientific representations of animal communication are especially germane here.) This assignment will consist of work in stages, with proposals, outlines, consultation, review, rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. It will be due in stages, the final product due the last week of class.

      • To understand the requirements for this writing project, see Helpful Hints.

      • For the format of writing assignments (papers) see this page.

      • For an example of a good paper from a previous year of this course.

      A WATU Assistant will be available to work with you in the preparation of your written projects, and I will also consult with you on occasion. The WATU office also has people available on a drop-in basis, and other resources are available to help students learn how to do expository writing.

    5. Deadlines

      There will be DEADLINES for these various projects, and schedules to be adhered to. See quick summary of deadlines here., last modified April 24, 1998.
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