LINGUIST List 22.2868

Tue Jul 12 2011

Disc: Re: High School Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <>

        1.     Suzi Loosen , Re: High School Linguistics

Message 1: Re: High School Linguistics
Date: 08-Jul-2011
From: Suzi Loosen <>
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 asI was working on designing a high school Linguistics course( to everyone who contacted me with wonderful suggestions and support.

This past spring, I taught Linguistics at Milwaukee School of Languages (a6th-12th grade language immersion school within Milwaukee Public Schools)as an elective English course. There were 24 students in the class, mostlyjuniors and seniors, plus two sophomores.

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

The materials available on the PBS ''Do You Speak American?'' website andDVDs 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 inpreparation for the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad andwere then disappointed when a snowstorm kept us from being able to compete.

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

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

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

The activity that the students said they enjoyed the most was our ''PidginDinner Party.'' One Friday students came to class dressed up and with foodto share. They were seated next to people who did not speak the samesecond language that they did (in our class, we had speakers of Spanish,French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Hmong, and Igbo), and they had tofigure 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 onwhat they learned by taking the course on Linguistics. Some of thecomments that stand out that speak to the benefit of exposing high schoolstudents to Linguistics are:

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

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

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

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

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

-''We learned how to read, write, and understand IPA. We learned what apidgin is and how it is formed. We learned Greek and Latin root words anddisproved myths about language. We learned about accents and much morealthough 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 inthe class. With the new knowledge I have discovered about Arabic, I am nowinterested in learning how to speak it as well.''

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

-''I originally had no clue how to 'observe language.' When my instructorinitially explained it, I thought, 'Wow, this is the most tedious thing inthe world.' But I was wrong! When I was going home that day, I overheardthis 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, 'Ohmy gosh! Language Observation!' Why ''on''? Why ''in''? With that Ihurried and wrote it down. The next day I explained to the class what Ihad observed and the response that I got was 'Wow, that's interesting' andwe talked about why that might be. Since then I've been not only observinghow people talk and what words people use, but I feel like I've been taughtto ask 'Why?' and this alone is probably the most valuable thing that I'velearned in this course.''

-''I loved thinking about the concept of there being languages with out abase-10 number system. Though it seems so strange to us, it's completelynormal for some cultures. In the case of the Piraha tribe, they didn'teven use numbers, just general estimations of the quantity of something.It brought about concepts that explored how differently you may perceivethe world if you were native to a different language.''

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

-''Our class reached out to people to show them what IPA was. When ourschool had our annual Festival of Nations, students from our class madename tags for people in IPA. I thought this was interesting because somehad 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 metaphorcreated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every student brought their own brick.''

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics                             General Linguistics

Page Updated: 12-Jul-2011