Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tentative Summer 2010 Ling Courses

Our mailboxes have been busy this morning: We also received the proposed summer schedules (see the post below for the proposed fall schedule).  The linguistics offerings (again, contingent on enrollment numbers) for the summer are the following:

Summer I
ENG 540: Linguistic Analysis (MTWR 12:30-2:55)
ENG 344: Structures of English (MTWR 12:30-2:55)

Summer II
ENG 344: Structures of English (MTWR 10:15-12:10)

As far as I know, this will be the first time a graduate-level linguistics course has been offered through our department.  If you need--or know anyone who needs--graduate-level credit, pass the news along!

As always, please let me know if you have any questions about the courses or schedule or linguistics in general.

Tentative Fall 2010 Ling Courses

We received our tentative schedules for the fall today; please keep in mind that these are TENTATIVE schedules.  These courses cannot run without students, so the ability for these to be offered is dependent upon student enrollment.

ENG 344: Structures of English
Linguistic study of English, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics.  May include an examination of several applied topics, focusing on topics such as English stylistics, language acquisition as it pertains to structures of English, English dialects, and history of English.

  • MWF  9:00-9:50
  • MWF 11:00-11:50
  • online section

ENG 341: Introduction to Linguistics
Introduction to the core concepts of linguistic study, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics, and to the application of those concepts, such as language acquisition, language disorders, sociolinguistics, and language change.  Analyses of linguistic concepts and applications focus on data from languages spoken around the world (i.e., will not focus on or be limited to English).

  • MWF 10:00-10:50

ENG 438: Forensic Linguistics
Linguistic study of texts and recordings to determine authorship, evasion strategies, possible coercion in writings/recordings, stylistic changes, deception, and so on.  Linguistic tools include phonetic analysis, structural analysis, and word choice.  Texts analyzed include hate mail, suicide letters,  ransom notes, and confessions; recordings include interviews, interrogations, and confessions.
  • TR 9:30-10:45

ENG 442: Topics in Linguistics
Advanced study of a topic within linguistics; topics will rotate.  Example topics include sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language and literature, corpus linguistics, historical linguistics, typology and universals, and history of linguistic study.  Students may repeat the course under different topics.

  • TR 11:00-12:15
The proposed study for Topics in Linguistics for the fall is psycholinguistics:
Examination of the facilities in the brain necessary for language comprehension and production, the process of first language acquisition, the mental processing of language, and the specific language disorders that result when language facilities (or the connections to them) are damaged.

The proposed schedule includes more linguistics courses in a single semester than have ever been offered at SFA.  Please help us get these courses solidified in the books by spreading the good word about linguistics and generating interest among your fellow students.

If you have any questions about the courses being offered or about the minor in Linguistics, please don't hesitate to ask.  You can ask questions through posting a comment on the blog (which I check regularly), visiting my homepage on SFA, e-mailing me (my contact info is on my homepage), or stopping by my office in the English Department.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Linguists Do

One of the most prototypical questions linguists get asked is, "How many languages do you speak?"

Linguists get asked this question so often because the number one misconception about linguists is that we sit around all day and learn new languages.  While linguists study language, we don't necessarily study languages.  How does that make sense?  Studying language means you're studying the system that allows humans to communicate--for spoken languages, this means you're studying how sounds are made, transmitted, and perceived; how sounds are put together and which sounds are meaningful; how words are built to create meaning; how words come together to form sentences; and so on.  For signed languages, you're studying how gestures are made and perceived; how the differing aspects of those gestures work together to create meaning; and so on.  For all types of language, you can study how societies create meaning, how our brains can handle language input and output, how language changes over time, how our language use reflects our identity, how we can acquire language, and more.  The important thing to remember is that you could feasibly study linguistics without ever once studying another language.  You could be a morphologist, studying how individual morphemes are put together to form meaningful words, without speaking any language but your native language because you can study the patterns found in the world's languages without speaking them.

Even though speaking another language is not necessary for being able to perform linguistic analyses, many linguistics programs require that their students take at least two years of a foreign language at the collegiate level (as does our minor here at SFA).  Learning another language opens your mind and helps you, as a student, get past thinking that all languages work like your native language.  Even if you never become fluent in that language you are studying, learning the new vocabulary and new grammatical structures of another language can open up doors for making connections in your linguistics courses that you would otherwise not be able to make.  A simple example is the History of the English Language course.  Students in that course who had studied other languages constantly found connections between that other language and the concepts being learned to study the history of our own language.  Students who studied Latin noticed that Old English had a rich case system like Latin; students of German noticed that the Old English vocabulary sounded more German-ish than English-ish; students of French noticed that Middle English gained familiar-sounding words after the Norman Conquest.

Another misconception about linguists that I have been facing lately is that linguists study grammar.  It is true that one area of linguistics is grammatical analysis; however, grammar in linguistics is not the grammar of middle school textbooks or college style guides.  In linguistics, we do not study things like punctuation placement, subject-verb agreement errors, or faulty parallelism unless we are looking at them in a wider context.  For instance, we might study punctuation placement in the terms of societal conventions used to standardize written language.  Or we might study so-called errors in language to better understand the different patterns available within a language for expressing the same idea and society's judgments on those patterns.  Linguistics, though, is so much more than grammar.  Some of us (like myself) rather enjoy grammar, but that doesn't mean that is all we do.  So if you take Structures of English at SFA, you will not once be tested on where commas should be placed within a sentence.

If you are interested in learning more about studying linguistics, the Linguistic Society of America has an online publication titled "Why Major in Linguistics?" that covers the basics of linguistic study and the possibilities for jobs as a linguistics student.  The link to this article is also in the LingLinks section in the sidebar of this blog, along with other valuable links to linguistic resources.  And, of course, linguists are happy to field questions about linguistics--if you're at SFA, feel free to stop by my office if you'd like to chat about just how fascinating studying linguistics is.

What misconceptions about linguistics have you heard?  Or, what questions do you have about what linguists actually study?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Advantages of Multilingualism

The advantages of being able to speak more than one language have long been touted, but recently, with advances of scientific technology, the benefits of multilingualism are being studied in new ways with more specific findings of just how speaking more than one language can help us.

About a year-and-a-half ago, a study was released from Tel Aviv University that stated being multilingual helped fight off aging of the brain.  While their report doesn't list specifics, it hints that even taking the time to learn new languages in adulthood (even if you don't reach fluency) can still provide those same benefits.  Speaking more than one language basically provides exercise for your mental muscles.  If you're interested in the full article, you can find it here.

More recently, a study published in Psychological Science in January states that being multilingual helps reading skills in your native language.  The following sentence sums up the results of the study quite profoundly:

The findings suggest that after learning a second language, people never look at words the same way again.

Through eye-tracking studies, researchers found that bilingual (or multilingual) speakers took less time to process words that were cognates in their native and second languages.  This study is remarkable because it turns the metaphorical table to provide insights to how speaking more languages can lead you to being more fluent in your own, native tongue.  If you're interested in reading the full write-up published in Scientific American, you can find it here.

As I am writing this, my son is watching a bilingual show:

Both Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! provide dialogue primarily in English but have Spanish-speaking characters and include Spanish lyrics in memorable songs.  While I am glad children in America can get at least a little exposure to another language at a young age (though watching the show will, by no means, turn those children into bilingual speakers), I find myself wishing for an adult equivalent--a TV show that features a character who speaks another language so that I can get input without being completely lost in the plot.

I hope that if you have never considered learning a new language, these studies might inspire you to try to pick up a new language, whether it's through sitting in on a class or picking up a language textbook or listening to radio shows in another language online or watching movies in a foreign language.  If you are learning another language or have already learned another language, go ahead and thank yourself for taking care of your brain and allowing it to expand its neural connectivity.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spotlight on Linguistic Tools: IPA TypeIt Keyboard

Anyone in my courses right now is either already working on or will shortly be working on learning the IPA and putting it to use through transcriptions.  As someone who has had to use the IPA quite a bit--and has had to type it into documents--I understand the frustration of trying to easily put IPA symbols right into a typed document.  I used to be "old school" about how I did it: As I typed, when I came to a place I needed to insert a special IPA character, I'd go to "Special Characters" (when working on my Mac) or "Insert Character" (when working on a PC) and manually insert the character I needed.  That works fine and all, but it can get quite cumbersome--especially if the document is a lengthy one or requires a lot of IPA.  I've spent the last few months trying to get more tech-savvy with linguistics tools so that I can more readily put together fancy-looking linguistic analyses and so that I can help my students find shortcuts to putting together professional-looking documents, whether they're working on homeworks or a final project.  As a new feature of the blog, I will be spotlighting some of the more useful tools I've found (not all of them will focus on using the IPA), in the hopes that other people will benefit from them as much as I already have.

The first tool is an online IPA keyboard: IPA TypeIt.  When you click on the link, you will be take to a screen that looks something like this:

The bulk of the screen is a blank text box, where you can simply type using the keys on your keyboard; then, when you reach a symbol you need that your keyboard doesn't already have, you simply move your cursor to the row of symbols above the text box and click on the one you need.  The symbol is automatically put into the text where the cursor is, and you can keep typing from there.  Once you've finished creating your text, all you have to do is copy the text from the webpage and then paste it into whatever you're working on--whether it's a document or another webpage or even an online chat.  You can even specify the font you want and the size of that font.

Here is another screenshot, this one with text typed into the box:

Notice that you can enter down to start new lines and that you can type in regular orthography side-by-side with the IPA you're using.  Here is that same text, copied and pasted into the body of the blog:

You can more easily type in IPA
ju kæn mɔr izəli tɑɪp ɪn ɑɪ pi eɪ

The only drawback is that you can't use the tab key while in the text box; what that means is that if you want everything lined up so that each word's IPA transcription appears directly below the orthographical word, you'd have to rely on the spacebar to make that alignment happen.

The advantages of the online keyboard are that you don't have to download anything because it's an online tool, it's user-friendly, and you can use it for more than just IPA (look down the options on the left-hand side of the screen, and check out the Russian keyboard because it's just that cool).  The disadvantages are that it is an online-only tool, which means you can only use it if your internet is cooperating, not all the IPA symbols are represented, and you can't use diacritics with the symbols (only needed for more advanced transcriptions).

For beginning linguistics students, I'd say the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.  Here is the link again in case you're so excited to check it out that you don't want to scroll back up through the post to find the original link: IPA TypeIt.

Have fun with the keyboard, and let me know what you think about it.  In the next spotlight, I'll be focusing on a more technical tool for using IPA in typewritten documents.