Alternative Intro Ling courses

jlmendi at jlmendi at
Wed Dec 8 15:37:42 UTC 2010

Dear Johanna:

I think George Yule's popular handbook fits most of your requierements  
(I've used the second edition, but there's a new one, the fourth,  
published in 2010):

Yule, George. The Study of Language. Cambridge University Press

Best regards:
José-Luis Mendívil

Johanna Rubba <jrubba at> wrote:

> Hi,
> Is anyone else out there looking for a textbook for intro   
> linguistics for non-majors that does not take an exclusively   
> generative line? Does anyone know of books that deal primarily with   
> aspects of language that are practically useful for non-majors?   
> Well-educated citizens need to know about things like   
> language/dialect prejudice, myths concerning bilingual education,   
> myths concerning first-language acquisition, some information about   
> language history and the history of English, the horrendous state of  
>  grammar instruction in our schools, the fakeness of "language   
> experts" like John Simon, propaganda techniques, results of critical  
>  discourse analysis concerning things like racism, sexism and   
> heterosexism, language policy, the role of frames/schemas in   
> everyday life, pragmatics and speech acts, a deeper understanding of  
>  semantics beyond entailment, implicature, semantic features,   
> utterance vs. sentence meaning, and the "nyms," the role of   
> information flow in discourse structure, and perhaps a basic   
> understanding of how linguistics can be applied to the study of   
> literature (for English majors, at least; most of my intro students   
> are English majors).
> I know that a number of these topics are covered in existing   
> textbooks, but a number are not. Also, existing textbooks do a poor   
> job of addressing the lexicon, if they address it at all. The work   
> that has been done on the network model, usage-based models,   
> prototypes, categorization, and the role of schemas/frames in word   
> definition are lacking in most textbooks (some allude to prototype   
> theory, but very cursorily).
> Intro textbooks, even those that advertise themselves as being for   
> non-linguists, such as Parker & Riley's _Linguistics for   
> non-linguists_ and Denham and Lobeck's _Linguistics for everyone_,   
> fill their pages mostly with the core subjects (phonetics,   
> phonology, morphology, syntax, and the poor treatment of semantics   
> described above). They do have a significant amount of space devoted  
>  to some of the above topics, but I don't think teachers can deal   
> with all of them in a single term (and especially not a ten-week   
> quarter, which it is my fate to teach in). And too many textbooks   
> teach generative theory as god's truth; they address   
> counterarguments minimally, and often by trundling out old data,   
> like island constraints. They bring in data that, from their point   
> of view, prove modularity and Universal Grammar, but they never   
> address specifically any arguments that non-generativists make; they  
>  simply say that the data (e.g., genetic language disability or   
> "linguistic savants") prove their theory beyond the shadow of a   
> doubt. One could easily get the impression that they don't think of   
> their theory as theory (whether they intend this or not), but as   
> proven fact, with any challenges not being worthy of their attention.
> People are still writing these textbooks as though we are training   
> future linguists who already have an intrinsic interest in the   
> details of language structure. I have ten weeks to give my students   
> their only introduction to the scientific study of language. I don't  
>  see any point in these students learning to solve phonology  
> problems  or draw tree diagrams  for a tiny fraction of the sentence  
> types  that exist in English. I don't see the point of having them  
> learn  how to build a linguistic argument based on structural data.  
> I'm not  even sure how important it is for them to understand speech  
>  articulation in the detail seen in most intro ling textbooks. I'd   
> far prefer that they learn to think critically about the language –   
> and language about language – that exists around them. I'm sure this  
>  would engage them far more (my most popular course is Language and   
> Gender). When I do exit surveys in my classes, I ask for the most   
> important single idea they will take away from my course. The vast   
> majority of the students respond with something about dialect   
> prejudice. Many, many say they will never again judge a person based  
>  on the way they speak. There may have been some students who have   
> mentioned learning to solve phonology problems or drawing tree   
> diagrams, but I could count them on one hand. Students seem to   
> *want* the understanding of language that they *need*.
> It would be interesting to know what most linguists believe is   
> necessary knowledge about language for the non-major. Many, many   
> linguists work at institutions at which they never train graduate   
> students and have teaching loads and service obligations that   
> severely limit their research efforts (like me; I teach nine courses  
>  in the typical year, and do an average amount of committee work,   
> which I actually like to do). Many of us teach only courses that   
> require no previous linguistics training.
> I'm teaching intro ling to English majors in winter quarter (starts   
> early Jan.). I'm going to spend my winter break thinking up field   
> exercises or activities that will "sex up" the course. And I'm using  
>  Language Files 10th edition. Not a great book, but I haven't found  
> a  better one for undergraduates. Finegan's _Language: its structure  
>  and use_ covers a lot of the territory I'm looking for, but it's  
> not  easily managed on a quarter system, the chapters on phonology  
> and  syntax are confusing, and the level may be above what my  
> undergrads  can handle.
> Any thoughts, suggestions, practices you'd be willing to share? Or: Help!
> Best,
> Jo
> Dr. Johanna Rubba, Professor, Linguistics
> Linguistics Minor Advisor
> English Department
> California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
> E-mail: jrubba at
> Tel.: 805.756.2184
> Dept. Ofc. Tel.: 805.756.2596
> Dept. Fax: 805.756.6374
> URL:

Dr José-Luis Mendívil-Giró
General Linguistics
Universidad de Zaragoza

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