ELL: References on basic linguistics

Rand Valentine jrvalent at FACSTAFF.WISC.EDU
Sun May 13 14:04:45 UTC 2001

   Can anyone recommend some good basic introductory linguistic materials
that might help community-based language-teaching staff in making sense of
both the descriptive linguistic materials on their languages, and/or enable
them to carry out descriptive documentary/pedagogical research? For example,
the book Bilingual dictionaries for indigenous languages by Doris
Bartholomew and Louise Schoenhals provides lots of excellent information on
making bilingual dictionaries, though sadly, I get the impression that it's
out of print, and it is in some ways limited by its heavy emphasis on
Spanish as glossing language (though this is of course a strength in some
places). It properly stresses the importance of example sentences, e.g.,
something usually overlooked in traditional bilingual dictionaries done in
North America. But what about grammar? There are quite decent guides for
those (linguists) seeking to do documentary work, such as Thomas Payne's
Describing morphosyntax: a guide for field linguists (Cambridge 1997), and
the Lingua descriptive studies: questionnaire (Comrie, Bernard and Norval
Smith. 1977. Lingua 42.1-72). Both of these works require extensive
linguistic knowledge to use, however (esp. Comrie and Smith), and neither
addresses linguistic documentation centrally in the functional terms that
would seem most useful to pedagogical/documentary applications. For example,
the kind of resource I'm thinking of would include discussion of the
fundamental differences between statements, questions, and commands, since
these have immense functional importance in actually using language, and are
often coded grammatically in particular ways (though both sources cited
above do address these, as I recall). It would include a discussion of basic
phonology, e.g., the phoneme principle, allophony, stress, and common
(natural) processes such as devoicing and palatalization; it would include
an overview of inflectional and derivational morphology, and how to go about
carrying out analysis. It would address lexicographical principles and
techniques. It would include notes on text documenation, etc., on and on,
the sky's the limit. It would include an extensive glossary of basic
linguistic terms, clearly described. It might also address the relationship
of documentation, reference materials, curriculum and pedagogy. I'm looking
for a kind of descriptive cookbook, with discussion of common ingredients
and techniques and how they relate to teaching and learning a second
language (or even first!).

  Last summer I taught a course in introductory linguistics at a summer
session in Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada), in which my
students were Ojibwe speaking language teachers. I used O'Grady and
Archibald, a good introductory linguistics text for regular university
teaching, but its emphasis on generative grammar profoundly limits its
applicability to documentary projects, and in the class you end up spending
inordinate amounts of time talking about abstract principles (and
parameters). What is the best introductory linguistics text for
non-linguists, covering all the basics? Is there not something general
written for language teachers who are not linguists?

   So I guess I'm asking several questions: 1. Are there any good accessible
introductions to basic descriptive linguistics that can be understood and
applied by non-linguists (introducing phonology, morphology, syntax,
discourse, dialectology, sociolinguistics, language and culture, etc.). 2.
Are there any good books to outline in accessible terms the
functional/formal documentation that would serve as the foundation for an
indigenous language community's efforts to document, preserve, and promote
its language? If not, maybe we could work as a communbity to develop a web
resource of this sort.

   My apologies for the length of this note, and please forgive my
ignorance. In a way, writing this note I begin to answer my own questions.

Rand Valentine
U of Wisconsin-Madison
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