Chapter 1: Thinking Like a Linguist

Exercise 1. Generate a sentence of English that you have never, ever uttered or heard before. Have a friend do the same thing.  Exchange sentences with your friend. Were you able to understand each other’s sentences? How could you understand them, even though you had never heard them before?

Exercise 2. Pretend you’re working for a start-up. Your company has developed a very cool new product, and they turn to you, the linguist, to come up with a name for this new product. It has to be a unique name that doesn’t already exist. What will you name your company’s cool new product?

Now, look at this list of product names generated by other students. Which of them are good product names and which aren’t?  What makes something a good name?

mentocular swoodiei torrix baizan
jibberdab keerild euquinu tuitionary
kzen zirka hbiufk fluxon

Exercise 3. Think of a word that has only recently entered English, so it’s not yet in mainstream dictionaries. Observe some examples of the word being used in context, either in your regular conversations or by searching online.  Based on your observations of the word in context, write a dictionary definition of the word.

Exercise 4. Think about all the languages that you speak, or about a variety of language that you’ve heard spoken by someone you know. Make two scientific observations about that language or a variety. Your observations might be about the sounds of the language, about the words, about how the sentences are organized, or about how people use different elements of the language. Remember that scientific observations are descriptive, not prescriptive.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Essentials of Linguistics Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.