Thursday, October 07, 2004

Those Old IE Sound Laws

I've spent the better part of the last two days (or so it seems) either explaining to students how Grassman's Law can possible explain exceptions to Grimm's law when it didn't even occur in Germanic or trying to convince them that there is some reason that they should learn what Grimm's Law, Verner's Law, Grassman's Law, and the Great English Vowel Shift are. It isn't as easy as you might think. Undergraduate students can be stubborn debaters, particularly when testable material is at stake.

What I have told them, more listlessly than would be ideal, is that a knowledge of these sound changes is part of the shared intellectual tradition of historical linguistics and that they're also good examples of particular kinds of sound changes. They didn't seem convinced.

I hope that has less to do with my rhetorical skills that their desire to avoid memorizing Greek and Sanskrit examples.

7 Comments:

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Claire said...

Who says they need a reason? I just told my kids they had to know it. Perhaps my scary professor cultivation strategy has been too successful.... Tell them all the awful stuff they'd have to memorise if they were chem majors. Verner's Law is fuzzy and friendly while the chemical formula for caffeine is something no one should ever need to know.

 
At 6:20 AM, Blogger caelestis said...

I graded for an upper-division course on history and structure of English vocabulary once. The kids never got the hang of Grimm's Law. To the bitter end.

--Angelo

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger David Mortensen said...

I have tried convincing my students that there are some things they just have to know because they do, and even used the “biology students have to memorize a lot more stuff” argument. Unfortunately, my students are to saavy for this argument. They know--and I don't know where they acquired this information--that disciplines like linguistics are supposed to be easy. Furthermore, linguistics (my students tell me) is all about avoiding memorization by finding generalizations, so memorization of any kind (I am informed) is contrary to the spirit of the enterprise.

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger Anya said...

Hi-- nice blog. I wandered in from Language Log. On the "contrary to the spirit of the enterprise" argument, that's fine. When you give them data on a test and ask them to state the sound changes that occurred, they can just study the data and reconstruct Grimm's, Grassman's and Verner's laws. But you might point out that the students who know these laws and can recognize them when they see them will be the ones who finish the test in the allotted time!

 
At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I could find more infomation on Grassman's Law? I've never heard of it before & couldn't find much doing a Google search.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Kevin Jackson said...

Well, this is interesting. I did a blog search for caffeine in coffee and found your site. When I get some time I'll come back and find out where caffeine in coffee appears and how it relates - if it even does. Take care - nice work.

 
At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
- Herman Melville

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