Book suggestions

john at john at
Fri Dec 24 06:01:44 UTC 2010

Dear Johanna,
Given the situation you've described, it sounds to me like the Finegan and
Rickford book is a great choice (but I would definitely take 'linguistics'
out of the title). This goes back to our 'what is linguistics good for in the
eyes of the general public?' discussion a little while ago. When a society
doesn't take language teaching seriously (as in the US), it becomes much
much tougher to argue for the importance of what we consider to be
real linguistics (be it functional, formal, phonetics, whatever). The
tolerance-oriented approach of sociolinguistics is well-suited to the American
On a negative note, although I haven't read the book, I can say that Fishman
really is completely over the top particularly with regard to his attitude
towards immigrant languages. I personally would spare my students having
to read him. But for sure something about Native American languages would be
great. And if you can find something short and accessible about Louisiana
French, that would be nice too.
Best wishes,

Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at>:

> Dear Johannah
> My reservations are not about what the book has, but what it DOESN'T--my
> entire field of inquiry. So if what I have been studying for the past 45
> years (syntax, discourse, stylistics, communication, diachronic syntax,
> 1st & 2nd language acquisition, psycholinguistics, neuro-linguistics,
> evolutionary psychology, creoles/pidgins, evolutionary anthropology,
> philosophy of language, intellectual history...)  is not relevant to
> "Language" or "Linguistics",  then either I have been deluding myself
> all these years, or else the selected name, be it "Language" or
> "Linguistics", is somehow, extravagantly ,inappropriate.  Cheers and/or
> Merry Christmas,  TG
> =================
> On 12/23/2010 6:17 PM, Johanna Rubba wrote:
> > Thanks for your input, Tom. I would be perfectly happy to change the
> > name of the course to "Introduction to Language." I will probably
> > propose that, in fact. In any case, I did say that I would most likely
> > use the book alongside a structure-oriented book.
> >
> > I'm teaching undergraduates at a state university; this is a
> > sophomore-level course. It's a ten-week course; it's the only exposure
> > to the scientific study of language that virtually all of these
> > students will have. These students do not have a broad or deep
> > cultural background; they don't know much, if anything, about
> > philosophy, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, etc. And it's not
> > my job to teach them all that. In addition, 99% of my students will
> > not go on to become linguists. They also have had so little exposure
> > to English grammar that they lack a way of thinking scientifically or
> > in any orderly way about language; the linguistics approach is *alien*
> > to them (and I mean that in the Martian sense). It would be nice if I
> > could cultivate our way of viewing language in ten weeks, but it just
> > ain't gonna happen for the vast majority of my students.
> >
> > A college education is supposed to prepare students to enter the world
> > as informed and responsible citizens. They will be teaching children,
> > hiring people, associating with colleagues and meeting new people,
> > forming families and raising children, voting on language issues,
> > traveling the world, hearing propaganda. Part of my job is to equip
> > them with both information and the tools to make sound judgments about
> > language in all these activities.
> >
> > Now, will discovering minimal pairs in Luise×Ħo or Swahili help them
> > with that? Will diagramming a tiny array of English sentence types
> > help them with that? Will learning the phonetic alphabet help them
> > with that? Do they need to know about island constraints to make sound
> > judgments about language in their futures? Do they need to hear
> > arguments about the poverty of the stimulus in 1st language
> > acquisition? All of that is, of course, crucially interesting to us,
> > and, of course to that tiny number of students who become fascinated
> > by these things and want to look into them. Of the hundreds of
> > students I've taught this year, one is applying to grad school for
> > linguistics. Same last year. In my fifteen years here I have mentored
> > about a dozen or so senior projects. My colleagues have done hundreds.
> >
> > I have ten weeks; I must do triage. I want to disabuse them of those
> > popular myths. I also want to engage them. The remarks I get on my
> > student evaluations are interesting. A number of them say things along
> > the lines of 'she did a great job with the course, but what do you
> > want, it's linguistics and I'm an English major.' I have often had my
> > students do exit surveys. I ask them, among other things, for the
> > single most important thing they have learned in the course. A good
> > 85% percent of them routinely answer 'I will never again judge
> > somebody based on the dialect they speak.' If anyone mentioned tree
> > diagrams or phonology problems, the number was so vanishingly small
> > that I don't remember any. There is a huge difference in response to
> > my Language and Gender course: "it opened me up to the other side of
> > the world"; "I will never look at language the same way again"; the
> > course made them aware of the still-deep stereotypes and prejudices
> > regarding gender and language. It also teaches them a great deal about
> > how language functions in categorizing people, defining and naming, in
> > passing on cultural assumptions about gender to subsequent
> > generations, etc. It also impacts their own lives and their own usage.
> > Many say that they'll be watching their language, and even calling out
> > friends who use sexist language. One of my students this year, as a
> > result of the course, became an Ally (a supporter of LGBTQ students on
> > campus) and began going to our Pride Club's meetings (and he's not
> > gay). He also began to see how the masculinity norms he has been held
> > to all his life have troubled him; he has begun to revise his concept
> > of his own masculinity so that it includes things like his love of
> > cooking and of children. I am astounded at the effects my teaching has
> > on these students, and it makes me love what I do. I don't love going
> > to my intro class and trying to convince students that phrase
> > structure is fascinating. It's dull for me, and for them. If I were
> > teaching linguistics majors, I would love it, because they would.
> >
> > I can't imagine what objections you would have to chapters like
> > Language ideology and language prejudice, Language planning, language
> > policy, and the English-only movement, Native American languages,
> > American English: its origins and history. Sure, some of the chapters
> > are sexy, like The language of cyberspace and a chapter on slang. But
> > people are curious about the language of cyberspace, language
> > fussbudgets (including teachers) say it's ruining the language, etc.
> > People broadly do not understand the valid and important role slang
> > plays in social grouping. And, of course, I didn't give a full list of
> > the chapters.
> >
> > I hope you can now see how I must adapt my teaching to my educational
> > context.  99.9% of my students forget how to draw a tree diagram or
> > how to render a word in phonetic symbols the day after they take their
> > final exam. That's not a fulfilling prospect for me, and it certainly
> > does not benefit them in any way at all.
> >
> > Dr. Johanna Rubba, Ph. D.
> > Professor, Linguistics
> > Linguistics Minor Advisor
> > English Dept.
> > Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo
> > San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
> > Ofc. tel. : 805-756-2184
> > Dept. tel.: 805-756-2596
> > Dept. fax: 805-756-6374
> > E-mail: jrubba at
> > URL:
> >
> >
> >
> >

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