LINGUIST List 10.53

Tue Jan 12 1999

Disc: Discipline Recognition

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Lyndra S. Givens, Discipline recognition
  2. Robert L. Trammell, Discipline Recognition? Start with the young.
  3. Johanna Rubba, Discipline recognition

Message 1: Discipline recognition

Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 10:49:25 -0600
From: Lyndra S. Givens <>
Subject: Discipline recognition

>From: Carl.MillsUC.Edu
>Subject: Does linguistics exist in America?
>While filling out a directory questionnaire for another scholarly
>organization that I belong to (the AAUP), I was asked to indicate my
>"Primary Academic Discipline" by picking a code from a list. To my
>surprise, linguistics was not among the 40 disciplines listed. What
>gives? The last time I checked, the LSA had nearly 3,000 members.
>After years of being "other," we got our Language Sciences section in
>the AAAS. What do we have to do to become visible in academia?
>Carl Mills
>University of Cincinnati

1. Bring a lot of money in grants to the universities.
2. Do something spectacular to distinguish the "science" of linguistics
from the "art" of foreign-language study, in such a way that nobody can
ever again equate "being a linguist" to "knowing a lot of foreign
languages." The something needs to utterly distinguish us from all
"Spanish," "French," "Chinese" departments -- which are literature and/or
area studies -- without alienating them, since we may in practice work with
them. We'll also need a good sound-bite summary of our uniqueness for use
on university administrators, grant-awarders, and members of the general
public. Anyone who can manage it will be my hero for at least a week.

Lyndra Givens
Lyndra S. Givens, reference / interlibrary loan librarian
Texas A&M International University, Laredo TX
109A Sue & Radcliffe Killam Library, 5201 University Blvd., Laredo TX 78041
phone (956)326-2119 / fax (956)326-2120 / email
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Message 2: Discipline Recognition? Start with the young.

Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 13:36:28 -0500
From: Robert L. Trammell <>
Subject: Discipline Recognition? Start with the young.

RE: Discipline recognition? Start while they're young. 

Dear Fellow Linguists,

It was shocking and sad to learn that linguistics had been deleted as a
required part of the curriculum in grades 12 and 13 in Quebec (P-A.
Mathers, LINGUIST 10.43). This highlights how the random nature of the
committee members' backgrounds, tastes and preferences can overwhelm the
logic and reason of a previous committee, but what probably happened was
that it was deleted because it lacked support from rank and file educators
who had had no previous exposure to linguistics, or at least to linguistics
which made sense to them. For them, it was easier to stick with old tried
and true. A similar thing happened in Palm Beach County Florida in the
60's. Paul Roberts' Syntax based on Transformational Generative Grammar
was adopted by the school board and used for short time with some support
from the students. But the majority of teachers didn't support it, so it
was dropped in favor of a more traditional approach. Most people who have
finished their education are not going to give up what they know for
something new without being required or persuaded to do so. 

If we want more discipline recognition, then we must fight for it against a
wide array of competing interests at the level of basic curriculum on every
college campus; and in certain fields where we have a toehold such as
Communication, ESL/EFL, Foreign Languages, Psychology, Teacher Education,
English, Rhetoric and so on, where there is sometimes some kind of
requirement for a bit of linguistics, we need to make our courses more
directly relevant to those students. Linguist must investigate what is
taught about language matters by non linguists in these target fields in
order to know what will be relevant to those professions. To teach pure
linguistics divorced from the real concerns of these students is not going
to win us many friends. Of course getting linguistics into a core
curriculum will not happen without a fight, and even then there's no
guarantee of success. The very struggle, though, will get us some

Robert L. Trammell, Professor of Linguistics

Department of Languages and Linguistics
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, FL 33431
TEL: (561) 297-3867
FAX: 297-2657
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Message 3: Discipline recognition

Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 13:43:31 -0800 (PST)
From: Johanna Rubba <>
Subject: Discipline recognition

I just picked up this thread, so if I repeat other postings, forgive me.
Carl Mills writes to ask for an answer to his question, rather than
history of the field and laments about it. I think it's easy to connect
those laments to the reason the field isn't recognized in the arenas Mills
mentions: Most people don't hear of linguistics in either their K-12 or
college education (or enough to _really_ grasp what it is as a
discipline). Later, when they rise to positions such as reporter, editor,
English professor, government administrator, they only have opportunity to
hear of and understand linguistics if the system somehow forces them to.
For instance, someone coming in to work for the National Sci. Foundation
in the USA might see that Linguistics is an area in which grants are made,
and thus inquire more about it.

Why don't people hear about it K-12? - Because linguistics has only very
recently become a regular part of teacher ed., and that maybe only in some
US states (I have no idea how this stuff works in other countries). The
traditional school curriculum is still using traditional grammar as the
ultimate language authority (at least in the USA).

Why don't people hear about it in college? - Some students may be required
to take it; others may come upon it in the catalogue and find it
interesting and enroll. But most are not required to take it, I suspect
(how many USA colleges require linguistics as a breadth requirement? How
many majors require one or more linguistics courses?) In addition, those
students who take only one ling. course to satisfy a requirement don't
often internalize it very well or in a lasting way. My students, for
example, often come back to me after a number of months and show signs of
having 'lapsed' back to total prescriptivism.

Now the connection to the 'formal turn', as we might call it -- perhaps
linguistics hasn't gotten widely known in academia because of the
resistance of linguists to interdisciplinary work, with the exception of
child development, aphasia research, and computational linguistics. The
underappreciation _within the field_ of applied linguistics and
interdisciplinary work has isolated it.

This is, of course, a vicious cycle. People won't learn about linguistics
unless it is put in front of them, but it is not put in front of them
because 'people' _are_ the system which is supposed to be presenting it.
We have the difficult task of 'infiltrating' the system -- becoming part
of it. We can only do this by becoming interested in applying linguistics
to real-world problems, and slowly displacing the people who are presently
considered 'language authorities': professors of, mainly literature, but
also composition teachers; editors; editors of dictionaries and 'writing
manuals', and people who have just managed to curry fame like William

A personal example: I have been working with teachers in California for a
few years now, and have embarked on a project applying linguistics to
grammar teaching. If I just show up at teachers' conferences and preach to
them about how I know better and they have to listen to the expert, they
turn off. If I present them with ways that linguistics can make grammar
more accessible (NOT LESS! via formalisms) to the average person, and can
relate linguistically-informed grammar to writing and to multiculturalism,
they start listening. If I have good stuff to use in a classroom that
might actually work, they become interested. If I show respect for their
opinions and ask them what they NEED in a grammar curriculum, they engage.

I have gone out of my way to cultivate contacts in the teaching
profession, in national teachers' organizations like NCTE, in statewide
organizations, and at my own college's teacher ed program. It is paying
off bigtime. More teachers now know something of what linguistics is, and,
more importantly, they know how it relates to their own jobs. AND I'm
becoming part of the system -- gaining recognition and authority in a
small part of the education world, being asked to speak here, being asked
to join a teacher-ed reform program there. I am also meeting editors of
K-12 textbooks and discussing how to get that content linguistically
informed. If 200 of us do this, or 1000, it will begin to have an effect.

Language is everywhere. It's part of everything. So if we are willing to
connect with other fields and professions, and are willing to do this at
the entry-level and 'earn our way', far more people will be aware of

I was gratified to hear people talking this way at the recent LSA meeting
in Los Angeles, particularly in the Linguistics 2K session. 

Johanna Rubba	Assistant Professor, Linguistics ~
English Department, California Polytechnic State University ~
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 ~
Tel. (805)-756-2184	Fax: (805)-756-6374		 ~
E-mail: 		 ~ 
Home page: ~
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