Date: Wed, 10 May 1995 20:07:55 -0700


Subject: Re Lx in Core Curriculum

As long as we're talking about this, I have a major curriculum question:

Do y'all teach Intro to Language (by whatever name) the same in schools

where there is no Linguistics Department as in those where there is? That

is, do you teach students who will never darken the door of a linguistics

department the same way as those who are in one and planning it for a career?

I guess all my ruminations started with the problem of phonetics -- how

much should students be held accountable for if they're just taking this

to fulfill a Liberal Arts breadth requirement (or whatever). Many

students simply crash on phonetics, and I hate to make their GPA suffer

too much simply because they can't go field independent enough. Do they

really have to know distinctive features, which riddle Fromkin & Rodman's


When we're not in a linguistics department, do we teach the way we do

because that's how we were taught in a linguistics department? Do, in

other words, non-linguistics students have different needs than

linguists? Is the full-dip really needed?

In my 15 years of teaching Intro classes to non-linguistics grads and

undergrads, I've continually refined my own pedagogy to the point that

now I teach "linguistic mindfulness" to my students. I start them out

with Edward Hall (Silent Language -- to get them immediately seeing that

language and culture are two sides of the same coin) to counterbalance

the main Language Files text. Next is Tannen, That's Not What I Meant!,

not only to grab their attention in a very useful way (everyone's SO

surprised at how typical the misunderstandings are to their own

relationships -- and it reinforces the notion of a linguistic lens for

looking at things that is quite different from the normal pathological

psychologizing lens: sometimes it's a communication difficulty rather

than a character flaw). The pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects then

motivate and drive curiosity around phonetics, and how people from

different dialects pronounce words differently. Then we continue moving

through phonology, morphology, worldview, syntax, etc.

Most importantly, though a lot of work for me, I have my students keep a

language journal and turn in two pages per week on their reflections on

the readings, lectures, class exercises, etc. This counts for half their

grade -- and encourages them to actively use the new vocabulary they're

learning while they reflect on the power and structure of language in

their everyday life: something fairly transparent until someone comes

along and makes it opaque for a while. For the more rigorous half of the

grade, students must record and transcribe a 5-minute conversation

between (preferably) two people (preferably male and female) and then

answer questions about what you notice when you slow down this typical

slice of reality and listen to it over and over. The second assignment

adds a pragmatic lens to the same transcript while focus questions

revolve around Tannen's distinctions. The third assignment takes just 10

seconds to be transcribed phonetically (the longest 10 seconds of their

lives!) with appropriate focus questions, and the next gives a

morphological breakdown of 1 minute's worth of the transcript. Each time

they have to go back to their own tape to listen more fully, and they

finally come away with a crystal-clear understanding of the difference

between Spoken English and Written English.

The final wrap-up assignment is a pasta-on-the-wall free-for-all: their

own personal synthesis of what sticks to their wall out of this whole

experience -- what will they walk out of this class with that they

consider important and didn't have when they first walked in. We tend to

forget the raw POWER to inspire people's minds that a good Intro to

Language class can have, the new making-sense of the world that they do

if we do our job in an engaging way. I give students a field and allow

them to find their own way through it individually rather than forcing

them to regurgitate mounds of specifics -- because it's what they'll do

ANYway! And they go out LOVING language! I like that much better than the

alternative -- the students who took the same class from another teacher

and said it was the most boring and frustrating class they'd ever taken.

Although this method of teaching "linguistic mindfulness" is aimed at

non-linguistics majors, and I believe my students would be ready for

further and more stringent linguistics courses, this would probably not

suit the fancy of those who teach linguistics majors: It's much too

Whorfian, it teaches about the power as well as the structure of

language, it's filled with experiential exercises, it's probably not

rigorous enough for most linguists since 60% of the grade is about

reflection rather than precision, and furthermore it's much more work

than most teachers are willing to commit to (final grade based on average

35 typed pages per student).

Is anyone else grappling with this issue? How have you resolved it?

-- Moonhawk (%- )

"The fool on the hill sees the sun going down and

the eyes in his head see the world spinning round"

-- McCartney/Lennon