Teaching American English

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIOU.EDU
Tue Dec 3 19:06:12 UTC 2002

Rudy, I forwarded this to Anne, since I'm in that session with her.  Others
may have done so by now too.  She moved to the U of Michigan just this
year, so the NADS may not have her new e-dress.  I'll copy my reply to her
and Michael too.

Your points are well taken; I'm old enough to remember this history
too.  In fact, a colleague here in another department knows nothing about
linguistics but still raves about a course on AmEng she took from Raven at
Chicago as an undergrad.  Our point at ADS is not to suggest such study is
"new" (or at least it's not my point) but to discuss innovative ways of
presenting variation, esp. for high schoolers and community groups.  I
think for a number of years after the halcyon years you refer to, this
focus was lost, at least in English departments, which turned their
attention to rhetoric and the teaching of SWE, plus maybe a course in the
history of English (which may touch on modern Brit Eng vs. "general" Am Eng
at best and probably goes in one ear and out the other).  Linguistics
departments (ours included) may have had such undergrad courses all
along.  But Education schools, which prepare the bulk of public school
teachers, are not at all interested in language variation, as far as I
know; their students are typically prescriptive Miss Fidditches, even after
they (reluctantly) take a sometimes required intro. to linguistics
course.  In Ohio, only upper primary (grades 4-6) teacher trainees now have
to take this course, and they usually wait until senior year to do
so.  Also, the course covers a little bit of everything, with only one or
two weeks devoted to AmEng variation, alas.

You've now helped me think through part of my presentation at ADS!

At 02:34 AM 12/3/2002 -0700, you wrote:
>(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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