Date: Mon, 6 May 1996 14:32:38 -0400

From: "Bethany K. Dumas, U of Tennessee" dumasb[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UTKVX.UTK.EDU

Subject: Re: Linguistic bio assignment

On Mon, 6 May 1996, mai kuha asked:

Could you say a little more about how you handle the issue of student

privacy in giving this assignment? Of course the students can complete

the assignment without discussing every double negative and nonstandard

subject-verb agreement ever uttered in their families, but isn't there

some possibility that some individuals may somehow feel compelled to say

more about their stigmatized linguistic behaviors than they wanted to?


Clearly, these are important stories for the other students to

hear, but what's a positive way to handle this so that nobody becomes

too vulnerable?

Thanks for your comment. Of course privacy is an important issue. I

address it both directly and indirectly. First, I use the assignment late

in the semester. By then, we know each other a bit (I have students work

in groups on some exercises), and they have heard some of my Shirley

stories, deliberately told to suggest my working-class origins. I have

talked about what it is like to be the first generation to be

university-educated. I have also brought in examples and small exercises

from "real" life (for those of you who reall it, for two years, now I have

used the "Barney Fag" question in class). Finally, I make it clear that

the student may choose what to present in the five-minute report. I never

ask questions about topics the student chooses not to report. And in the

papers themselves, students often reveal more than they do in the oral

reports, sometimes by inserting a "Like you, I .." (ex: "I, like you,

also referred to a wash cloth as a wash rag.") But they also delight in

referring to themselves as, for instance, "the king of infixing."

I suspect that such matters are slightly less volatile here than on some

campuses. I was very surprised to learn recently of the reaction to the

original version of the film "American Tongues" on such campuses as Duke,

where apparently showing the version containing the n-word guarantees a

ruckus. I have shown the original version of that film to classes here

for all the years it has been in existence. The only strong reaction to

it I have ever had was by a woman from Newport (Cocke County), who took

exception to the story about the West Virginian and his "you all stuff."

(And, by the way, I always show the film early in the semester to L200


We laugh at ourselves a lot in Linguistics 200 throughout the semester,

and I think that helps a lot. In this section, there were about 6 true

"hillbillies," about 6 true "Yankees," and about 6 deep Georgia

Southerners (I was the only Texas) -- we all laughted about all the

linguistic differences.

Remember: I live and teach within about two miles of sites where I can

hear native speakers of "dope" meaning "coke," double modals,

a-prefixing, "don't care to" meaning "don't mind," monophthongized /ai/,

etc. I try to capitalize on that fact.

In our oral evaluation exercise at the end of the semester, the students

insisted I must add field trips to the course. They would not take very



Bethany K. Dumas, J.D., Ph.D. | Applied Linguistics, Language & Law

Dep't of English, UT, Knoxville | EMAIL: dumasb[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

415 McClung Tower | (423) 974-6965 | FAX (423) 974-6926

Knoxville, TN 37996-0430 | See Webpage at