Date: Mon, 6 May 1996 16:30:54 -0500


Subject: Re: Linguistic Autobiography

As another McDavid student I used to use the "linguistic autobiography"

assignment too, but I found they were usually long on family history and short

on linguistic citations, and many of the latter seemed either cute or labored

in an effort to be "interesting"--or they were very judgmental, hung up on


In recent years I've asked students to focus on a particular setting (part-time

[or full-time] job, recreational group, hobby club, favorite hangouts, etc.)

and characterize the usage of that group in that setting, especially in-group

slang and jargon that would likely not be known to "outsiders." This has been

quite productive and diminishes the privacy issue because it characterizes

group conventions rather than idiosyncratic ones. For me this is an early

assignment, not a late one--I like to try to get the students into an "observer

mode" as soon as possible. As might be expected, the students are more

comfortable picking out special terminology, idioms, acronyms, etc., and

defining them--less comfortable trying to describe phonological features,

"accents," etc.