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LINGUIST List 22.2868

Tue Jul 12 2011

Disc: Re: High School Linguistics

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        1.     Suzi Loosen , Re: High School Linguistics

Message 1: Re: High School Linguistics
Date: 08-Jul-2011
From: Suzi Loosen <loosensayahoo.com>
Subject: Re: High School Linguistics
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This post is a follow-up to a request for help that I made two years ago as
I was working on designing a high school Linguistics course
you to everyone who contacted me with wonderful suggestions and support.

This past spring, I taught Linguistics at Milwaukee School of Languages (a
6th-12th grade language immersion school within Milwaukee Public Schools)
as an elective English course. There were 24 students in the class, mostly
juniors and seniors, plus two sophomores.

The major topics that we covered included units on Phonetics, Morphology,
Language Acquisition, the History of English, and Sociolinguistics. The
two main textbooks we used were ''An Introduction to Language'' by Fromkin,
et al (there are wonderful PowerPoints that support the text that are
available for instructors at the Cengage website), and ''Language
Awareness,'' a collection of essays on language issues.

The materials available on the PBS ''Do You Speak American?'' website and
DVDs were also very useful. The students enjoyed ''The Linguists''
documentary and Daniel Everett's book ''Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes.''
In the beginning of the semester, the students worked on problems in
preparation for the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad and
were then disappointed when a snowstorm kept us from being able to compete.

Students kept a notebook of ''Daily Language Observations'' where they
recorded things about language that made them think, question, or laugh.
At the end of the semester, students chose one of their language
observations and designed a research project relating to the topic (example
topics: awkward elevator silences, does being bilingual have an impact on
GPA, how do magazines targeted at women differ in their use of adjectives
from magazines targeted at men?).

Students also did another research project earlier in the semester on a
particular language. Each group of two picked a language out of a hat
(Xhosa, Hungarian, Cherokee, Basque, Icelandic, Gaelic, etc.) and had to
research background information on the language. They created a map to
show where the language was spoken and found sound clips online so that the
class could hear the language. They also had to project whether or not the
language would still be alive in 100 years.

We learned a lot from guest speakers--a local deejay came in to talk about
censorship and language use on the radio, a former student from our school
came in to teach us what he has learned about the languages of Mandarin and
Arabic, our assistant principal came in to teach us about sign language, a
local art professor came in to talk about the connection between art and
language, and one of my friends from grad school came in to talk about
cognitive linguistics.

The activity that the students said they enjoyed the most was our ''Pidgin
Dinner Party.'' One Friday students came to class dressed up and with food
to share. They were seated next to people who did not speak the same
second language that they did (in our class, we had speakers of Spanish,
French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Hmong, and Igbo), and they had to
figure out how to share a meal with each other without using any English.

For the final exam, students answered a very open-ended essay prompt on
what they learned by taking the course on Linguistics. Some of the
comments that stand out that speak to the benefit of exposing high school
students to Linguistics are:

-''I learned to take time out of every day to see something new about

-''Because of our exposure to Linguistics, we are able to perform better in
our foreign language and English classes.''

-''I listen to the way language is spoken now, rather than state how it's
supposed to be spoken. My favorite fact learned in Linguistics is that
every single person has an idiolect, their own completely unique way of

-''At first I thought that it seemed such a hopeless thing that languages
that had been spoken in my lifetime could be dead before I graduate
college. But I also thought about how that proves that language is a
living thing, which is something we discussed early in the class. There's
a cycle, and some languages die while others are still developing.''

-''Talking about how people talk to members of the opposite sex, how
mothers and daughters speak to each other, and how the speech of people who
belong to different social classes differs was not only interesting, but
was also something I never expected to do with a class. I'd never been in
a class that would have.''

-''We learned how to read, write, and understand IPA. We learned what a
pidgin is and how it is formed. We learned Greek and Latin root words and
disproved myths about language. We learned about accents and much more
although I don't have nearly enough time to get into everything.''

-''This class opened my ears.''

-''Researching Arabic was one of the most interesting experiences I had in
the class. With the new knowledge I have discovered about Arabic, I am now
interested in learning how to speak it as well.''

-''We learned that infants in a sense are the best linguists, due to the
fact that they can learn any language that is spoken to them.''

-''I originally had no clue how to 'observe language.' When my instructor
initially explained it, I thought, 'Wow, this is the most tedious thing in
the world.' But I was wrong! When I was going home that day, I overheard
this phone conversation. This girl was saying that she was 'on the bus'
and that she had been 'in the car' that morning. I thought to myself, 'Oh
my gosh! Language Observation!' Why ''on''? Why ''in''? With that I
hurried and wrote it down. The next day I explained to the class what I
had observed and the response that I got was 'Wow, that's interesting' and
we talked about why that might be. Since then I've been not only observing
how people talk and what words people use, but I feel like I've been taught
to ask 'Why?' and this alone is probably the most valuable thing that I've
learned in this course.''

-''I loved thinking about the concept of there being languages with out a
base-10 number system. Though it seems so strange to us, it's completely
normal for some cultures. In the case of the Piraha tribe, they didn't
even use numbers, just general estimations of the quantity of something.
It brought about concepts that explored how differently you may perceive
the world if you were native to a different language.''

-''I really appreciate the fact that we were able to take this class
because now I'm considering taking Linguistics in college.''

-''Our class reached out to people to show them what IPA was. When our
school had our annual Festival of Nations, students from our class made
name tags for people in IPA. I thought this was interesting because some
had never heard of this and our class was the first to tell them about it.''

-''Our Linguistics class became somewhat of a city of language, a metaphor
created by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every student brought their own brick.''

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics
                            General Linguistics

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