I am deeply grateful to English alum Dr. Erling A. Anderson, who funded two named professorships in honor of his parents, Charles Q. Anderson and Enid H. Anderson. A medical researcher and faculty member at the University of Iowa, Dr. Anderson always valued — and often spoke about — the importance of his liberal arts education as an English major. Sadly, Dr. Anderson passed away in 2018 and I never had the opportunity to thank him for his generosity towards the English Department
Funds from the Enid H. Anderson professorship have been instrumental for the completion of my new book, Discourse Syntax — English Grammar Beyond the Sentence. I’ve published books before, but they were all critical studies. This is my first textbook, i.e. a book written to be used in the classroom. The book introduces advanced students of English linguistics to grammar phenomena that one can really only explain by looking “beyond the sentence,” i.e. by paying attention to things like topic development, information flow, and the linguistic conventions of a genre. The book presents research from actual language use, taken from large electronic corpora, and discusses phenomena like word order variation, the language of digital discourse, and the acquisition of grammar by children. For example, in order to find out if children can understand passive sentences (like “The horse was kicked by the cow”), one shows them images like the ones below and asks them to point to the picture that corresponds to the meaning of the sentence. For “The horse was kicked by the cow,” young children will point to the picture depicting a horse kicking a cow, which shows that they haven’t acquired the syntax of the passive construction yet and simply go by word order (horse-kick-cow) to construct a sentence’s meaning.
A linguistic textbook requires many more elements than just well-crafted text. It needs a chapter structure suitable for a semester-long course. It needs to articulate learning outcomes, define key terms, and provide guidance on research projects and choice of methodology. Students and instructors also expect carefully scaffolded exercises (ideally with model answers) and accessibly presented research data (think numbers, icons, charts, and graphs).
Thanks to support from the Enid H. Anderson professorship, I was able to travel to Germany for several work sessions with my co-author, Professor Heidrun Dorgeloh from the University of Düsseldorf. Even more importantly, I was able to offer a project assistantship to English Language & Linguistics dissertator and gifted graphic designer Lynn Zhang, who created all data visualizations and dozens of illustrations for the book (like the ones above), as well as the beautiful cover. I could not be more thrilled with the result!
All this was happening while I was chair of the English Department, in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to research funds, the manuscript would still be far from finished.