ENGL 326

English Usage and Usage Guides (3 credits)

H.W. Fowler, the great English usage specialist, once said of the “split infinitive”:
The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish.
Concerning this supposed “shibboleth” of English usage, which group do you belong to? (Or should that be: To which group do you belong?)

This course will examine questions of usage, attitudes towards usage, and practices of writing usage guides in English.

We will begin with a discussion of the types of usage manuals. We will compare the treatment of selected topics in a number of manuals. These will include more traditional and personal manuals such as Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Evans and Evans’ A Dictionary of Contemporary English Usage as well as those based on the opinions of “usage panels” such as Harper’s Dictionary of Contemporary Usage and more contemporary, corpus-based guides such as The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004). The Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage (1997) will be used as a point of departure in these discussions. Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989) provides a historical perspective on matters of usage. We will consider such questions as how items are chosen to be included in a usage guide, how matters of usage are decided, and how usage entries are written.

In a selection of readings, we will survey attitudes toward English usage, ranging from prescriptive to descriptive, and will explore the question of usage panels and changing usage. The course will also include a historical component in which questions of English usage from the 18th century to the present will be examined.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in the revision of the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage, work currently being undertaken by Professor Margery Fee of the UBC English Department. This work will include the researching of a usage question by the collection of data from the “Strathy Corpus of Canadian English” (a computerized corpus of Canadian English collected by the Strathy Unit at Queen’s University). Students will spend time in the computer laboratory learning how to use a corpus program to collect data.

Pre-requisites: A course in Modern English grammar (e.g., ENGL 321 or ENGL 329) is recommended, but students who lack such a course may speak to the instructor concerning admission to the course.

Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989; reprint 2004)
Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage (2001)
Custom course packet (available in the Bookstore)

Requirements and Course Evaluation:
20%                 Exercise #1 (Comparison of a usage question in three manuals)

20%                 Exercise #2 (Comparison of the entries for one letter in the Oxford and Webster’s manuals OR Comparison of two readings)

25%                 Group Project (Researching and drafting an entry for the revised Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage)

35%                 Final Examination

All materials of this course (course handouts, lecture slides, assessments, course readings, etc.) are the intellectual property of the Course Instructor or licensed to be used in this course by the copyright owner. Redistribution of these materials by any means without permission of the copyright holder(s) constitutes a breach of copyright and may lead to academic discipline.