Elemental Linguistics

The Essential Elements of Linguistics

Element 3 – Language and Sound
A man takes his first bite of chicken at a Chinese restaurant. He tries to chew, but he can’t. The meat feels like rubber in his mouth. He raises his hand and speaks to the waitress, “Excuse me, but this chicken is rubbery.” And the waitress says, “Thank you,... Read more
Element 4 – Grammar for Words
A man walks into a bar with a dog. The bartender says “No dogs!” The man says, “This is my seeing-eye dog.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” the bartender says. “Your first drink is free.” Another man walks in the bar with a Chihuahua (a small dog). The first man sees... Read more
Element 5 – The Wonder of Syntax
“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” – Groucho Marx In this joke, the first sentence has two meanings. It is “structurally ambiguous.” The ambiguity comes in the phrase “in my pajamas.” Does “in my pajamas” refer to... Read more
Element 6 – Meaning and Semantics
Question: Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? Answer: Because they taste funny.  Jokes often use semantic ambiguity where one word has two meanings. Cannibals eat people. Clowns are supposed to be funny. But Cannibals don’t eat clowns because they “taste funny.” Here we see wordplay in the different meanings of... Read more
Element 7 – Speaker Meaning and Pragmatics
In front of a movie theater, a guy named Joe is looking for the right place to get in line. He walks up to a man who happens to be a linguist. Joe says to the linguist, “Is this the end of the line?” And the linguist answers, “Well,... Read more
Element 8 – Community and Sociolinguistics
A Canadian couple wants a baby, but they cannot have children. So they decide to adopt a Chinese baby. After the baby arrives, the couple signs up for a Chinese class. Then a friend asks, “Why are you taking Chinese?” And the husband answers, “When the baby starts talking,... Read more
Element 9 – Language and Mind
A young woman was walking down the street late at night.  She heard footsteps. When she looked back, she saw four big men carrying sticks. Without warning, the men attacked her. They beat her and took all her money. Then the men ran away. The woman just lay there... Read more
Element 10 – Language and Art: Stylistics
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky.  — Jane Taylor (1783-1824) This well-known text was published in 1806, and most native speakers of English know the first four lines. It is a simple poem... Read more
Element 11 – Stylistics and Story
Element Eleven: Stylistics and Story Just like every night, the servant’s bell rang exactly at 7 o’clock. It was time. The Master wanted his wine. The servant prepared it and carried it to his Master. He set the glass and bottle of red wine on a small table, next... Read more
Element 12 – The Rewards of Reading
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. – Groucho Marx It’s a common English phrase. “A dog is man’s best friend.” Dogs tend to love their masters without conditions. A good dog just wants to be with... Read more