Linguist Talks Language at Rochester Hills Library

by LAWSON ROBINSON

University of Michigan Professor Anne Curzan will host a presentation at the Rochester Hills Public Library on November 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. called “Between You and Me: A Linguist’s Guide to Language Pet Peeves.” The presentation will focus on aggravations that people have with language and the origins of their rules.

“All of us have things that we notice in language that perhaps annoy us. Sometimes it’s a change in process, sometimes it’s variation, sometimes it’s a rule that they learned but the history of the rule is not well-founded. We will look into why we don’t like them and if we have good ground.”

For example, Curzan explains, the differences between ‘less vs. fewer,’ a rule that began as a personal preference and only later became a rule.

“People get confused about ‘couldn’t care less’ and ‘could care less.’ We will go over some of the greatest hits and discuss the history of the English language.”

Curzan is an accomplished Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English and Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. In 2007, Curzan received the University’s Henry Russel Award which is given annually to faculty members who have demonstrated an extraordinary record of accomplishments in scholarly research and/or creativity, as well as an excellent record of contributions as a teacher.

Curzan has received several awards in the field of linguistics and has published many books, including “How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction.” She is also currently a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel as well as the American Dialect Society. She co-hosts the radio program “That’s What They Say” on Michigan Radio and has even led a Ted Talk.

Curzan attributes her love of language to many things, including the popular game Boggle. However, it was not until she reached college that she truly understood her love of linguistics. After taking a course called the History of the English Language her sophomore year, she fell in love with the English language.

After college, Curzan went to China and taught for two years, where she discovered her passion for teaching. “I knew if I could study the English language and also teach I would have the greatest job possible, and this is true.”

At the University of Michigan, Curzan works to empower young students and has had great success in doing so. “Young people are the movers and shakers and I learn slang now every day from students. Part of it is giving students credit for their investment in language. Rather than assuming that they do not care about language, I go in believing they have a deep investment in language.”

Curzan also spoke to adapting the manner in which linguistics are taught so that lesson plans are more engaging with students. “I have created a texting etiquette guide so students can talk about how punctuation in texting works. There is a system they have developed to capture tone in texting through punctuation. The way that periods, smiley faces, and “jk’s” are used matter. For them to be teaching me about this system and to see the very nuanced ways they are using and interpreting language in texting is very empowering for them.”

Despite all of her accolades, Curzan works to stay humble with her work. “I feel incredibly lucky that I have these different avenues for sharing what I love and my passion about linguistics and the history of English.”

Finally, when asked what accomplishment means the most to Curzan, her answer was simple. “I think that the most important and rewarding thing I do is teach. That’s how I can make a difference. Working with young people is the most inspiring thing I do.”