LINGUIST List 14.78

Fri Jan 10 2003

Sum: Linguistic Autobiographies

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Michael Erard, linguistic autobiographies

Message 1: linguistic autobiographies

Date: Wed, 8 Jan 2003 08:31:53 -0600
From: Michael Erard <>
Subject: linguistic autobiographies

I'd like to thank the following people who responded to my inquiry 
about their use of linguistic autobiographies (Linguist 13.2866) 
in the classroom:

Bethany K. Dumas
Mai Kuha
Lee Campbell
Jean-Marc Dewaele
Harold F. Schiffman
Dom Watt
Leanne Hinton
Rebecca Wheeler
Bill Kretzschmar
Ellen Johnso
Aneta Pavlenko
Maria Carreira

While the linguistic autobiography enjoys a good reputation as a 
research tool, it is also widely used in the classroom to open 
discussions about the formal properties of language, the relationship 
between language and society, language and identity, and language in 
US history, as well as a diagnostic tool with which teachers can 
rapidly assess rapidly their students' needs and backgrounds.

One interesting question arose: Where does the pedagogical use of the 
linguistic autobiography come from? At least one of my respondents 
claimed s/he had invented it de novo; another person suspected it had 
been invented multiply. While nothing precludes the polygenesis of 
this assignment, I was surprised to learn of the linguistic 
autobiography's pedigree.

For clearing that up, I would like to thank Virginia McDavid, who 
wrote that "to the best of my knowledge, my husband invented and 
developed [the linguistic autobiography]." She said that she began 
using it herself as early as the late 1950's. "My husband used to 
say in connection with the assignment that it had connections with 
what Leonard Bloofield said about people's self-knowledge about 
language: People don't know what they say or what they think they 
ought to say."
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