Courses

Courses that Professor Curzan has taught or is currently teaching at the University of Michigan include:

  • English 250: He Said, She Said: How Conversations Work (upcoming Winter 2011)
  • English 301: Language and Gender (Winter 2003)
  • English 303/Linguistics 394: Language and Gender (most recently Winter 2010)
  • English 305: Introduction to Modern English (most recently Fall 2009)
  • English 308: History of the English Language (upcoming Winter 2011)
  • English 406: Modern English Grammar (Winter 2009)
  • English 505: History of the English Language (most recently Winter 2010)
  • English 506: Structure of English (Fall 2010)
  • English 630: Standard English and the Politics of Language Authority (Fall 2008)
  • English 677: Language and Gender (Fall 2004)
  • English 695: The Practice of Pedagogy (most recently Fall 2003)

Courses that Professor Curzan taught at the University of Washington include:

  • English 370: Introduction to English Language Study (Fall 2001)
  • English 473: History of the English Language (Spring 2000)
  • English 490: French Influence in the History of English (Summer 2001, in Paris)
  • English 512: Introductory Reading in Old English (Fall 2000)
  • English 560: The Nature of Language (Fall 2001)
  • English 569: Language and Gender (Winter 2001)

Course Descriptions:

English 250: He Said, She Said: How Conversations Work (upcoming Winter 2011)

English 301: Language and Gender (Winter 2003)

The relationship of language and gender has fascinated speakers and scholars for centuries, from Protagoras—who is said to have created the labels masculine, feminine, and neuter for nouns—to authors of current popular literature such as Deborah Tannen. Do women and men use language differently? Do women speak more “properly” than men? Is the English language sexist? Are these, in fact, the questions we should be asking? Our explorations of the relationship of language and gender in this course will have a dual focus: constructions of gender in the structure (grammar and lexicon) of language, and of the English language specifically; and the ways in which gender plays out in patterns of discourse, especially in relation to other factors such as race, class, socioeconomic status, and age. In the process, we will address the complex relationship of language, identity, and power. As we read some of the most frequently cited articles in the field, we will outline the progression of language and gender research since 1975, when Robin Lakoff’s book Language and Women’s Place was published; by the end of the course we will be in the position to discuss the future of gender and language studies—what questions we think should be the focus of investigation. The work commitments will include short weekly written assignments, two papers (one of which will involve the transcription and analysis of a tape-recorded spoken conversation), and a final exam. No background in linguistics is required; a genuine interest in the workings and power of language is highly recommended.

English 303: Language and Gender (most recently Winter 2010)

The relationship between language and gender has been a widely researched and debated topic in sociolinguistics, English language studies, and linguistic anthropology since the early 1970s when Robin Lakoff published Language and Woman’s Place. And the topic sparks lively conversations outside the academy as well. At the most basic level, do men and women really speak differently? If so, why? Are men and women represented differently in the language itself? If so, is English sexist? We examine these questions in light of recent scholarly findings and a range of theoretical models about the relationship of language and gender, and we consider how patterns of language may be linked to our experience of gender. 

Discussions will also address how gender interacts with sexual identity, ethnicity, age, occupational and social/familial roles, social dynamics related to power, institutional settings, and other factors in terms of how we speak, as well as whether gender is connected to language change. As we unpack apparent gender biases in the language, we will think through the relationship of language and thought and what it means to advocate for conscious language change as part of socially situated political struggles. The work commitments will include short weekly written assignments, three papers (one of which will involve the transcription and analysis of a tape-recorded spoken conversation), and a final exam. No background in linguistics is required; a genuine interest in the workings and power of language is highly recommended.

English 305: Introduction to Modern English

The English language is a complex, rule-governed system that we use every day without having to think consciously about the intricacies of what we know when we “know how to speak English.” In this course, we will unpack that knowledge, from how sounds are strung together to make words to how we take turns in conversation, from where new words come from to why Americans speak different dialects. English 305 both introduces the systematic study of language in general and gives you entirely new ways to think about the English language you see and hear all around you. The course covers the many levels of structure working in language—from sounds to words to sentences to discourse—as well as the ways speakers learn and change language over time. Discussions also focus on the social and educational issues tied up in language, including attitudes toward dialects, the teaching of Standard English, language and gender, and bilingual education. We will address questions such as: Why isn’t ftagn a possible English word? Is it syllabi or syllabuses? When could boys be girls because girl meant ‘child’? How are some words so “bad” they are not allowed on network television? Course work will consist of frequent short assignments, three short papers, a midterm, and a final. No background in linguistics is required; the critical prerequisite for the course is genuine curiosity about the details of language.

English 308: History of the English Language

This course offers the opportunity to explore the dramatic ways in which the English language has changed over the past 1200 years—dramatic enough that we as Modern English speakers can barely understand those who first began to call their language “English” (and wrote texts such as Beowulf). In the broadest terms, this course will explore how English developed from a little-known west Germanic dialect spoken on an island off the coast of western Europe into a distinct, international language spoken as a native tongue by almost 400 million people. To this end, we will also consider a variety of more specific questions such as: Where did the pronoun she come from? (And why is it the Word of the Millennium?) When was double negation considered standard? How did English spelling become, according to linguist Mario Pei, the “world’s most awesome mess”? Why and how do “living” languages change? This course will examine the traditional stages in the “life” of English: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English. We will focus on the general sound, word, and grammar changes within the language, as well as related literary, cultural, and historical events. In the process, as we learn more about the language’s past, we will think about the meaning and implications of the language’s present and future. Course work will consist of frequent short assignments, two short papers, a midterm, and a final. The critical prerequisite for the course is genuine curiosity about the details of language and how language changes.

English 406: Modern English Grammar

Welcome to “grammar boot camp”! Much like the popular fitness boot camps that make the hard work of getting in shape an inspiring group activity, this course offers a rigorous yet fun exploration of how English grammar works. Many students, not to mention English speakers more generally, have a conflicted relationship with “grammar”: they want to understand the details of English grammar and sense that it will be useful; but they also may think of grammar as boring or scary (red pen marks come to mind) or “something they are not good at.” This course offers a different perspective on grammar: all speakers of English “know grammar” intuitively—it is what allows us to construct meaningful utterances every day. What we will be doing in this course is unpacking that grammatical knowledge, so that you can explain what you know using more precise terminology. What is the function of up in the verb call up? Why can we say I’m not tall, and she is, but not *I’m not tall, and she’s? Why do most one-syllable adjectives take –er in the comparative (slower, cuter), but funner is seen as incorrect? In conjunction with questions like the last one, we’ll critically examine prescriptions about what is “right” and “wrong” in written and spoken usage (e.g., don’t end a sentence with a preposition; don’t split infinitives). Where do these rules come from? Do they ever change? The course will involve almost daily homework assignments (like any boot camp, the key to success is consistent work every week), which often will ask you to explore electronic databases of spoken and written English to discover how English grammar is used by real people (including you!) in real contexts. No background in linguistics is required, but a genuine interest in the details of language is strongly recommended.

English 505: History of the English Language (most recently Winter 2010)

English 506: Structure of English (Fall 2010)

English 630: Standard English and the Politics of Language Authority

A robust part of today’s publishing industry relies on the British and American public’s appetite for language prescription—for language authorities to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad—from Lynn Truss’s best-selling punctuation guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) to the proliferation of style guides for writers at all levels. Just over four hundred years ago, when William Shakespeare was creating the works that made him the most quoted author in the Oxford English Dictionary, there had yet to be published an English dictionary or complete description of English grammar. At what point did English speakers come to see grammar books, style guides, and dictionaries as language authorities, and why do we tend to trust them so unquestioningly? In this course we will examine the rise of standardization and Standard English in the history of English, as well as the ways that morality—discourses of good and bad, right and wrong, pure and corrupt—has become entangled with grammar over the past two centuries. We will take nothing for granted about the standard language ideology now entrenched in the U.S. and elsewhere, as we unpack its impact on education, national language policy, and attitudes towards language change and diversity. The course will also tackle the nature of language authority, at both the theoretical and pragmatic level, from the relationship of language to identity and social power to the censorship of particular forms of language. As a group, we will create a reference handbook containing reviews of usage guides and histories of English usage rules/issues. Seminar participants should also expect to write shorter response papers and a final longer paper involving the collection and analysis of primary data. No background in linguistics is required.

English 677: Language and Gender

The relationship of language and gender has fascinated speakers and scholars for centuries, from Protagorus—who is said to have created the labels masculine, feminine, and neuter for nouns—to the etiquette books of the Victorian era to popular literature by authors such as Deborah Tannen. Do women and men use language differently? Is the English language sexist? Are these, in fact, the questions we should be asking? Drawing on more complex theoretical notions of gender, we will begin this course by examining the relationship of language and identity and the power of language to construct categories; in the process, we will set parameters for the kinds of questions we want to ask. Our explorations for the rest of the course will have a dual focus: constructions of gender in the structure of language (and in English specifically) and the ways in which gender plays out in patterns of discourse, especially in relation to other factors such as race, class, and communities of practice. Readings will cover a wide range of material, from sociolinguistic research to feminist theory, from discourse analysis to syntax and semantics. As we read, we will outline the progression of language and gender research since 1975, the year Robin Lakoff’s book Language and Woman’s Place was published. In a nontraditional move, this course will also frame recent theoretical work within a more historical perspective on expectations for women’s speech and on the development of grammatical and lexical constructions in the language itself. As a group, we will create a handbook capturing the conversation in the field. Participants should also expect to write shorter response papers and a final longer paper involving data collection and analysis.

English 695: The Practice of Pedagogy (Fall 2003)

This course is designed to provide guidance, support, and advice as you begin your teaching career at the University of Michigan—a challenging and exciting experience that can also be nerve-wracking for all but the most experienced instructors. The course aims to address both the practical questions that come with teaching and some of the broader theoretical issues involved in course design; our discussions should also help you develop a set of strategies for reflecting on your own development and practices as a teacher, now and in semesters to come. Throughout the term, the course will focus on many of the practical concerns of being a graduate student instructor: facilitating discussion, grading, negotiating your relationship with students and with professors, controlling your time, etc. These discussions will be complemented by selected readings from some of the thoughtful published material on teaching, often specifically within an English department. The second half of the course will turn more to issues of course goals and syllabus design (including specific writing assignments) to help you prepare for teaching 124 the following year. In addition, I will make regular visits to your classrooms so that I can give you specific feedback on your own strengths and weaknesses as well as the kinds of student interactions I can observe within the context of your class. One key to good teaching is collaboration, and in this course we will work together to talk through pedagogical questions and concerns, including how to apply pedagogical theory. Our weekly meetings as a community of professional teachers will be a forum where you can share teaching worries and successes, learn from each other’s experiences, and develop pedagogical strategies and skills that will guide you throughout your teaching career.

English 370: Introduction to English Language Study (Fall 2001)

This course introduces the systematic study of language and aims to help you step back and think about language in new ways. The course covers the many levels of structure working in language—from sounds to words to sentences to discourse—as well as the ways speakers learn and change language over time. Discussions will also focus on the social issues tied up in language, including attitudes to dialects, gender and language, Standard English, and national language policies. The focus of much of the course will be words—how they work structurally and socially. We will address questions such as: Why isn’t pfigr a possible English word? What is the difference between religiousness and religiosity? When could boys be girls because girl meant ‘child’? Words are one of the primary building blocks of language and by studying how they work, we can gain insight into the structure and meaning of language, and into the social and political power we wield with words.

English 473: History of the English Language (Spring 2000)

Tracing the history of a language is something like writing a biography—in this case, a biography of English. English used to be a little known west Germanic dialect spoken on a small island off the coast of western Europe. Today it has blossomed into a distinct, international language spoken as a native tongue by almost 400 million people. How did this happen? As we will discuss in this course, language always changes, no matter how we, as speakers, feel about that fact. This course offers the opportunity to explore the dramatic ways in which English has changed over the past 1500 years—dramatic enough that we as Modern English speakers can barely understand those who first began to call their language “English” (and wrote texts such as Beowulf). We will look at questions such as: Where did the pronoun she come from? (And why is it the word of the millennium?) When was double negation considered standard? How did English spelling become, according to Mario Pei, the “world’s most awesome mess”? This course will examine the traditional stages of the “life” of English: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English. We will focus on the general sound, word, grammar, and spelling changes within the language, as well as related cultural and historical events. In the process, as we learn more about the language’s past, we will think about the meaning and implications of the language’s present and future. A background in linguistics is helpful but not required.

English 490: French Influence in the History of English (Summer 2001 in Paris)

In 1066 A.D. the French-speaking Duke of Normandy, William I (or William the Conqueror), defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings and became King of England—and the face of English was forever changed. It was a French conquest of England—its land and its language. In this course, we will study the history of the English language with a special focus on the role of French (language, literature, and culture) on the development of English. Why did Chaucer mock the Wife of Bath for her provincial French? How did we borrow both warrantee and guarantee from French? To answer such questions, we will explore the richness of French borrowings into the English vocabulary, the influence of French scribes on English spelling, the French literature being written in the English court, and much more. A field trip will take us to Normandy, the home of William the Conqueror and many English kings and noblemen after him. Here we can also look at the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Norman Conquest In the process, as we learn more about the nature of language and the story of English, we will think about the role and implications of English in the world’s present and future.

Tracing the history of a language is something like writing a biography—in this case, a biography of English. English used to be a little known west Germanic dialect spoken on a small island off the coast of western Europe. Today it has blossomed into a distinct, international language spoken as a native tongue by almost 400 million people. How did this happen? In this course, we will examine the traditional stages of the “life” of English: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English. We will focus on the general sound, word, grammar, and spelling changes within the language, as well as related cultural and historical events. In the process, as we learn more about the language’s past, we will think about the meaning and implications of the language’s present and future.

English 512: Introductory Reading in Old English (Fall 2000)

English 512 is an introductory seminar to the language and culture of Anglo-Saxon England. The primary focus of the course is learning Old English grammar and vocabulary to the point where students will be able to translate Beowulf in the original. Along the way, students learn about the literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England and about the ways in which the language has changed over time.

In this course we will learn to read English in its earliest written form, at a time when the Latin alphabet was relatively new to English (and still contained runic letters) and when the lexicon was still primarily Germanic. As we study Old English grammar and vocabulary, you will discover such things as where the wer in werewolf originates, how wifmann (‘woman’) could be a masculine noun, and why we still have some nouns in English that form the plural with –en (e.g., oxen). As the quarter progresses, you will become proficient at reading, understanding, and translating Old English poetry and prose, to the point that you will be able to read Beowulf in the original the following quarter. We will devote much of our time to learning the fine points of Old English grammar; in the process, we will read selections from Old English poetry such as The Dream of the Rood and The Seafarer and from Old English prose such as biblical translations, historical chronicles, and medieval medical texts. We will come to a better understanding of what it means to translate Old English and the ways in which studying Old English can make you a more sensitive reader of Middle English and Renaissance literature. As importantly, we will discuss the historical, cultural, and literary context in which Old English was spoken and written. Along the way, we will also talk about the ways in which studying Old English provides a different perspective on language change and language diversity—and hence a new perspective on the language that you speak. This course will be valuable for students interested in both medieval and later periods of literature, as well as students interested in historical and modern language study.

English 560: The Nature of Language (Fall 2001)

English 560 is a graduate seminar with participants whose specialties range from studying literature (medieval through twentieth-century American) to writing literature, from teaching composition and rhetoric to teaching English as a second language. Through examining the structure and use of language as well as various theoretical models for conceptualizing language, we will attempt to begin to unravel the relationship between language, thought, and identity (personal, social, political).

In academia, we traffic in language—reading, writing, and talking in order to transmit knowledge. In fact, Robin Lakoff goes so far as to argue that the university’s only acts are speech acts. And yet we rarely step back to analyze the nature of the language in which we work. In this course, we will examine both the structure and use of language—focusing particularly on English—and in the process, we will try to unravel the relationship of language, thought, and identity (personal, social, and political). As we describe the system of language and our manipulation of it (from sound to syntax to semantics, from pragmatics to the political), we will consider various theoretical models for conceptualizing language, including those from structuralist, functionalist, generativist, and sociolinguistic schools of thought. This course will also focus on your refining (and defining) the research and writing skills valued in the profession of academia.

English 569: Language and Gender (Winter 2001)

The relationship of gender and language has fascinated speakers and scholars for centuries, from Protagorus—who is said to have created the labels masculine, feminine, and neuter for nouns—to the etiquette books of the Victorian era to popular literature by authors such as Deborah Tannen. Do women and men use language differently? Is the English language sexist? Are these, in fact, the questions we should be asking? Drawing on more complex theoretical notions of gender, we will begin this course by examining the relationship of language and identity and the power of language to construct categories; in the process, we will set parameters for the kinds of questions we want to ask. Our explorations for the rest of the course will have a dual focus: constructions of gender in the structure of language (and in English specifically) and the ways in which gender plays out in patterns of discourse, especially in relation to other factors such as race and class. Readings will cover a wide range of material, from sociolinguistic research to feminist theory, from discourse analysis to syntax and semantics. As we read, we will outline the progression of language and gender research since 1975 with Robin Lakoff’s book Language and Women’s Place. In a nontraditional move, this course will also frame recent theoretical work within a more historical perspective on expectations for women’s speech and on the development of grammatical and lexical constructions in the language itself. By the end of the course we will be in the position to discuss the future of gender and language studies—how feminist and linguistic theory could and should inform each other—as well as the pedagogical implications of the ways in which social constructions of gender play out in grammar and discourse in the academy. As a group, we will create a handbook capturing the conversation in the field; each member of the class will also pursue an individual project involving primary research that culminates in a significant written piece at the end of the quarter.

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