Book suggestions

Johanna Rubba jrubba at
Mon Dec 27 20:56:05 UTC 2010

Well, I was being a little hyperbolic when I said ninth grade. 12th  
grade might be more appropriate. The class is aimed at sophomores,  
who have only one year of college under their belts. And I have to  
emphasize again how the lack of instruction regarding language  
structure in the K-12 system leaves our students severely  
underprepared for examining language -- for stepping outside of it,  
so to speak. Also, most of my students are humanities majors, and  
(unfortunately) not experienced at reading scientific prose. When I  
teach a senior seminar, I give them texts that are much closer to  
what we would write for fellow academics or intellectuals; by then,  
they can cope.

When I first began teaching the grad course in linguistics that our  
literature MA students have to take, I used O'Grady et al.'s  
_Contemporary Linguistics_. They hated it. They just found it too  
hard. I was shocked, but how was I to respond? "You just better learn  
how to read this stuff, period," and have them do lousy in the course  
time after time? No, I changed the text.

This doesn't mean I dumb down my material. I do choose my words  
carefully when I write (or speak) about linguistics for  
undergraduates, but I don't cheat the actual subject matter -- I keep  
it to the correct level, in this case, introductory prose, and strive  
to explain complex phenomena in language they can read easily. I do,  
of course, introduce and define linguistic terms and take the theory  
discussion to the level appropriate for the class and its purpose.

I wrote a short textbook on English grammar a number of years ago,  
and used it for a number of years in my Structure of English course.  
Students praised it highly, both for its accessibility and for the  
value of the information. In other words, the prose didn't get in the  
way of their learning what I wanted them to learn. You can see a  
sample of my approach at this website, which is extracted from the  

The first page is a bit simple in prose, but if you go further,   
you'll see that successive pages are written in plain prose, but  
nonetheless convey the basic information I want to get across.  
Unfortunately, upon reading through it today, I realize I have to do  
some major editing to bring the page up to a better description of  

Lastly, I just want to state my position one more time. I have one  
chance to educate a tiny portion of the general public out of the  
Stone Age concepts most people entertain with regard to language. I  
can't, in ten weeks, make up for the lousy education they have had up  
to the point when they walk into my classroom. What I can do, and  
have done very successfully in my senior seminar, is open their eyes  
to the way language really works, not just in structure, but in  
society. My students often report that they are starting to have  
arguments with their friends and family about the popular myths  
people believe about language; they are starting to educate those  
around them. What could be more satisfying, within the constraints of  
my job?

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

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