The Future of Language

Teaching Tips

Susan Strauss, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Applied Linguistics at Penn State University has put together the following notes for teachers providing some ideas as to how the Future of Language might be used as a teaching resource. 

The materials in this lecture/book series can be applied to virtually any course or any discipline in which language plays a role:  linguistics, communications, marketing, education, science/health literacy, new technologies, foreign language pedagogy, diaspora studies.

Introduction to linguistics: Morphemes

  1. Analyze creative uses of morphological strings in current advertising campaigns.  For example, Kia has coined a new term ‘giddyupidness’.  What other types of morpheme play do you note in advertising (for all types of products?).   What is the meaning of the morphemes that figure so creatively in these ads?
  2. Analyze the morphemes in Victor Borge's Youtube performance on ‘inflationary language.’ Describe the linguistic phenomenon(a) that Borge is playing with in his analysis of ‘inflationary language.’  Here is one link to Borge's ‘inflationary language‘ routine.  It's really ‘twoderful.’.

World Englishes

Notice the varieties of English that you see on T-shirts.  Do this as you navigate your way through large urban districts in the United States and also as you travel through Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.   You can look at T-shirts sold in shops and T-shirts worn by the public. What kinds of trends do you note in ‘T-shirt English?’  Pay special attention to how English is used on T-shirts in non-English speaking countries.  Who is wearing the T-shirts?  What are the literal and non-literal messages of the English words.  What do you feel this might be reflecting with respect to the ‘globalization of English.?’

Sociolinguistics course

Standard vs. non-standard English.  Listen to a selection of 5 rock songs, 5 hip hop songs, and 5 country western songs.  Do you notice any use of so-called ‘non-standard English.?’  In what contexts? What types of expressions?

Now, listen for instances of ‘non-standard English’ on television — particularly reality shows, e.g., American Idol, The Apprentice, America's/Britain's Got Talent, The Biggest Loser. Who uses such instances of non-standard English? In what contexts? What kind of effect does each instance of ‘non-standard English’ seem to create?


Analyze the following kinds of linguistic features in tabloid news:

  1. adjectives
  2. relative clauses
  3. quoted discourse — direct quotations and indirect quotations

What do you notice in each case? That is, what types of adjectives appear to be the most frequent? Why?

How are relative clauses used in tabloid news to describe persons, animals, events?

How are quotations represented in tabloid news? Who, specifically, is being quoted and in what types of stories? What type of effect does this create? Is the quotation represented as a verbatim quote (i.e., a direct quote) or is it paraphrased (i.e., an indirect quote)? Again, does the use of quotations (either direct or indirect) create a particular type of tone?

Marketing/communications/health literacy 1

Analyze the advertisements in magazines that are focused on women's health.  Analyze ads in magazines that address men's health.  What types of linguistic features do you note?  Are there any differences with respect to the gender of the target audience?

Marketing/communications/health literacy 2

First, stroll through the various sections of over-the-counter medications in your local drug store.  How many different types of paid medications do you find?  How many different types of cold and allergy medications?  Select the top 5 sellers in pain medication and the top 5 sellers in cold/allergy medication.  Read the labels on all of the medications.  What types of similarities/differences do you find within the pain type?  What types of similarities/differences do you find in comparing cold medications with pain medications?  How would you characterize the kind of language used on these labels?  Is there one style or multiple styles of discourse?  Why do you think this is the case?

New technologies

Investigate the fanfiction website (  Browse the categories and note what seems to be the most popular entry in each category.  Why do you think there is such a disparity between the MOST popular entry in each and all of the rest?  Also, read the reviews of the recent entries.  Identify the symbolic characteristics of each review (e.g., language choice [pronouns, adjectives, adverbs], images, emoticons).  Make a list of the positive adjectives used in the reviews and a list of negative adjectives.   Does one type seem to be more common than the other?  Why do you think this is so?  Describe the sort of ‘community‘ that the fanfiction site creates.  Who participates and how? 

Working from the DVD

Example Activity

Chapter 5:  Internet Language

David Crystal mentions the following examples of social networking forums:  Facebook, MySpace, Hi 5, Bebo.  Crystal indicates each has “different communicative perspectives, properties, strategies and expectations.”  Think about the purposes of each type of forum and identify the symbolic characteristics  (e.g., language [lexicon, style, font], graphics, color, photographic, emoticons) that appear in each type.  Why those in that forum?

Now, consider the fanfiction ( website.  If you haven't visited the website, enter it and browse around the categories.  You'll find topics such as books, movies, TV shows, games, cartoons, anime, and so forth.  Within each category, you'll find long lists of names of cartoons, movies, and TV shows — some with many entries and some with very few.  Among the most popular are:  House M.D. and One Tree Hill (TV Shows), X-Men The Movie and Pirates of the Caribbean (movies), Kim Possible (cartoon), and Zelda (video games). 

Within this forum, we observe the creation of a ‘community of imaginers.’ Here, amateur writers re-write fiction and create new and imaginary worlds based on familiar characters in familiar settings. Readers of fanfiction also write reviews and respond to the writing.  This kind of widespread fiction-based creativity and the dialogic reader response feature is only possible in an EMC environment.

Let's think about this more deeply:

  1. Read the first 5 entries under each of the MOST popular postings.
    1. Identify the overall symbolic characteristics of fanfiction, including language choice (e.g., lexicon, style, direct discourse, use of dialects), graphics, colors, logos.
    2. Compare the 5 entries in terms of length in addition to the symbolic characteristics noted above.  In what way(s) are they similar and in what way(s) are they different?
  2. Read the first ten REVIEWS of recent entries.
    1. Identify the symbolic characteristics of these reviews:  language choice (e.g., pronouns, adjectives, adverbs).
    2. Compare the 10 entries in terms of length in addition think about:
      1. the length of each review
      2. the content
      3. how the evaluations are expressed.
      In what way(s) are they similar and in what way(s) are they different?
    3. Make a list of the positive adjectives used in the reviews.  Make a list of the negative adjectives.  Does one type seem to be more common than the other, i.e. positive or negative?  Why do you think this is so?
  3. Locate the 3 most popular titles under each category (movies, books, cartoons, anime, games, etc.).  Is there a large difference in the number of entries between the first and third most popular titles?  Why do you think the most popular titles have so many entries?  What does this seem to reflect about:  our society, our interest in the imaginary, how we relate to those specific books, movies, TV shows, cartoons, etc., our desire to connect with others using these fictitious characters and settings?   What types of plots, character development, personality traits, etc. do readers seem to appreciate and relate to the most?  Again, why do you think this is so?

Have you ever tried to write a fan fiction entry?  Have you ever responded to one?

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