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Marc Pierce

Associate ProfessorPh.D, Germanic Linguistics, University of Michigan

Marc Pierce



Historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics and philology, history of linguistics, phonology, Scandinavian studies


Marc Pierce's published research is mainly in the areas of historical linguistics (especially historical phonology and etymology), phonology, and the history of linguistics.  He teaches or has taught a variety of courses in Germanic linguistics and philology (including the history of the German language, Old Saxon, and the structure of the German language), as well as courses in German language and literature, Scandinavian literature, and Great Books.


T C 302 • Lang/Concealment/Decipherment

42945 • Fall 2012
Meets MWF 1200pm-100pm CRD 007B

People often conceal their secrets by using coded language.  Modern examples of this phenomenon range from the innocuous (e.g. teenagers texting certain symbols to their friends to indicate that their parents are eavesdropping) to the significantly more serious (e.g. the codes used by governments to protect their secrets).  This type of language use is certainly not new; the Apocalyptic books of the Bible (e.g. Daniel, Revelation) are rich in symbolic language, intended to conceal dissatisfaction with the oppressor (the Roman Empire, Babylon, etc.) from all but the uninitiated, for instance.  In this course, we will explore the use of codes and coded language through time, as well as some of the most famous decipherments of codes and coded language.

We will begin in Ancient Egypt, with the development and decipherment of the hieroglyphics, and will then discuss the Germanic runic writing system.  From there, we will progress to the coded language of ancient cults and religions, including the Greek cult of Elysium and Christianity; then to the coded language of medieval magic.  This will lead us into the slang and argot of various social groups, including sailors, criminals, and circus workers; and then on to codes and ciphers (including Morse code, semaphore code, and the famous Enigma Machine of World War II). The course will conclude with an investigation of various current uses of coded language, from crossword puzzles to backward masking in music and literary symbols.


-Barry J. Blake, Secret Language

-Coursepack, containing various readings, both primary and secondary.


Students will be required to write five brief (3-4 pp.) essays on various topics, do two brief in-class oral presentations, take a final examination, and participate in class discussion.

Papers:                    10% each, 50% total

Oral presentations:   5% each, 10% total

Participation:             15%

Final examination:     25%

About the Professor:

Marc Pierce is an assistant professor in the Department of Germanic Studies.  He has taught courses on a number of topics, including Germanic linguistics, Great Books, German grammar and composition, and German and Scandinavian literature.  His research focuses mainly on Germanic linguistics and philology, the Brothers Grimm, and the history of linguistics.  He is currently working on a book about the history of Germanic linguistics in North America.  He has held fellowships from the Swedish Institute and the German Academic Exchange Service.


T C 302 • Faust Legend: Magus To Today

43400 • Spring 2011
Meets MWF 100pm-200pm CRD 007B


The figure of Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil to achieve his personal aspirations, has appeared repeatedly in masterpieces of world art, literature, and music.  This interest in Faust shows no signs of slacking, which raises the following question: who was Faust, and why has his story consistently fascinated writers, artists, and other thinkers?  In this course, we will examine the origins and spread of the Faust legend, and explore questions like the following: What is the Faustian nature?  What aspects of the Faust legend have ensured its survival through so many years of historical, social, and cultural transformation?  How does each age adapt the motif to its own concerns and is there a tension between continuity and change in this regard?  Is it accurate to speak of a “Faustian bargain” with progress to describe our own age? 


We will begin with the earliest versions of the Faust legend, the “Myth of the Magus” of the late Classical period and the sixteenth century chapbooks, and will also examine more recent versions of the story, from popular entertainment to high culture, ranging from Gounod’s opera to two episodes of The Simpsons (“Bart Sells His Soul” and “The Devil and Homer Simpson”).  The focus of the course, however, will be on the four central literary texts of the tradition, namely those by Christopher Marlowe, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Thomas Mann, and Mikhail Bulgakov, and on the fundamental theological, philosophical, aesthetic, and social issues they raise.



Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy

Thomas Mann, Dr. Faustus

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

Coursepack, containing various readings, both primary and secondary.



Papers (5 – 10% each):         50%                 

Participation:                           20%

Final examination:                  30%


About the Professor

Marc Pierce received is Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.  His historical interests include Historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics, history of linguistics, phonology, Scandinavian studies, medieval Germanic studies.  He teaches courses on Introduction to Diachronic Linguistics: Germanic, The Structure of German, Variation in German, The German Language through Space and Time, Icelandic Sagas, Hans Christian Andersen, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and Great Books, and he has received awards from the Swedish Institute, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Society for Germanic Linguistics.


2015    More on ishAmerican Speech 90: 394-398.

2015    Marc Pierce, Hans C. Boas, and Karen Roesch.  The History of Front Rounded Vowels in New Braunfels German.  Germanic heritage languages in North America: Acquisition, Attrition and Change, edited by Janne Bondi Johannessen and Joseph C. Salmons, 117-132.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

2015    On the Reception of Ernst Ebbinghaus’ Work in Gothic Studies.  Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 25: 99-108.

2014    Hans C. Boas, Marc Pierce, and Collin Brown.  On the variability of Texas German wo as a complementizer.  Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung —Language Typology and Universals 67: 589-611.

2014    The Further Degrammaticalization of ishAmerican Speech 89: 115-118.

2013    Syllable Weight in Gothic.  Indogermanische Forschungen 118: 213-226.

2013    The Onset Principle in Finnish.  Nordic Prosody: Proceedings of the XIth Conference, Tartu 2012, edited by Eva Liina Asu and Pärtel Lippus, 283-291.  Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

2012    Zum Status des Onset-Prinzips im Altenglischen.  Anglia 130: 526-532.

2012    Evaluating the Evidence for Old Norse Syllable Structure.  Vox Germanica: Essays in Germanic Culture in Honor of James E. Cathey, edited by Stephen Harris, Michael Moynihan, and Sherrill Harbison, 49-67.  Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

2011    On the Resilience of Edgerton’s Law.  Folia Linguistica Historica 32: 189-218.

2011    The Status of the Onset Principle in Early Germanic.  Proceedings of the 22d Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, edited by Stephanie W. Jamison, H. Craig Melchert, and Brent Vine, 193-208.  Bremen: Hempen Verlag.

2011    Hans C. Boas and Marc Pierce.  Lexical Developments in Texas German.  Studies on German-Language Islands, edited by Michael T. Putnam, 129-150.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins.




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