Teaching American English

Rudolph C Troike rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Tue Dec 3 09:34:26 UTC 2002

(I am sending this to the list for general information, and with the hope
that it might somehow get forwarded to Michael Adams and Anne Curzan, the
latter of whom is noted in the latest NADS as chairing the session on
Teaching Varieties of English in America at the upcoming ADS meeting. The
e-addresses given for both in the Directory of Members [which is titled
for 2001 -- a typo?] bounced when I tried to send the note to them.
Perhaps some of the old-timers on the list can add some corroborating or
additional information.) -- RCT



        I was interested to see in the latest NADS that you and Michael
Adams are noting in a special JEL issue that American English has only
recently become a subject of study in American classrooms, and that you
are chairing a panel at the ADS meeting this year. I can't be present, but
thought I would pass along to you a historical note that you might
represent at the meeting (and if you are writing any more on this topic).

        I took a course on American English at the Linguistic Institute at
the University of Chicago in 1954, taught by Mitford Mathews. I don't know
whether this was a regular course, or one arranged just for the Institute.
It was a graduate course, and I also don't know whether he regularly
taught an undergrad version. But the UC press did put out a book of
readings edited by him that probably represented a selection that could be
used in an undergrad course. I don't know what courses Raven McDavid
taught at UC, but I would be surprised if he did not regularly offer such
a course either at the graduate or undergraduate level. Bagby Atwood also
offered a graduate course on dialectology in the 1950s at the University
of Texas (now -Austin), which mainly concerned American English, but there
was nothing formally offered at the undergrad level. However, we always
included something on this in our English grammar course at UT, which must
have been fairly common, as witness McDavid's appendix to Nelson Francis'
Structure of American English.

        Also, during the halcyon days of linguistics in the public school
curriculum in the 1960s, when Harold Allen and Albert Marckwardt were
presidents of NCTE, and NDEA summer institutes abounded, there was a lot
of emphasis on this subject in school textbooks, and the Texas Education
Agency even required (thanks to efforts by some of my good friends like
Mary Galvan, later president of TESOL) that English textbooks include
recognition of linguistic variation in American English (this was before
the conservative counter-revolution that took Texas, and the US, back to
the 1930s).

        During this period, materials and texts for college classes were
also being published, most of which subsequently went out of print. So I
suspect that the current interest can be regarded as a resurgence, rather
than a recent phenomenon. Here at the University of Arizona, I regularly
teach an undergrad/grad course on American English, as part of our
undergraduate concentration in English linguistics (which I suspect is
rare among English departments -- it would be interesting to know how
many universities have such a concentration; in fact, our department
recently overwhelmingly approved a requirement of a course on
language/linguistics for all undergraduate English majors). We also have
a separate undergraduate course in English sociolinguistics.

        Good luck with it all,

        Rudy Troike

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