Date: Wed, 10 May 1995 20:07:55 -0700 From: Dan Alford 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 book? 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> <-- McCartney/Lennon>