Relevance to the Linguistic Audiences

Diana Archangeli (University of Arizona)

"How best to teach and communicate linguistics to a variety of audiences" brings up a challenge that is not often addressed in linguistics graduate programs. That is, graduate students and their faculty are self-identified fans of the field. Language is fascinating; linguistics is enthralling; the challenge in learning and teaching is how to select among all the choices in the candy shop. And rarely is the challenge how to keep the students' interest and how to convince them of the importance of what they are learning.

In the undergraduate classes, the situation is the reverse. While there are some students who are captivated by language, the majority merely find it interesting, and some are in linguistics classes to fulfill a requirement or even because the course was available at the right time, and not because of any interest at all in how language works. To teach these students as though they are junior linguists-in-the-making is, in my view, not simply a mistake, but a disservice to them and to our field.

So how and what should these students be taught? In answering this, it is important to recognize the nature of the audience and the goals for the course. Where the two do not match up, a critical component is drawing out the relevance of the material for the student, to improve the match-up.

In this presentation, I address three different types of undergraduate courses, those that con- tribute to breadth education, those directed towards linguistics majors, and those directed towards "special audiences". For each type of course, I explore the nature of the audience and the goals that are typical for such courses. I also develop examples of strategies in each case designed to bring home the relevance of linguistics to the students enrolled in such courses.

For instance, with courses for majors, the audience is typically a blend of linguistics majors, people with an interest in language, people for whom the course is an elective for another major, and sometimes a few random people. Goals beyond covering a certain body of information should (in my view!) include being able to explain to mom and dad (or whoever else asks) what is important about the course's topic (beyond itdbas role in their major).

One way to satisfy this goal is to overtly connect data analysis --- which tends to be a little abstract --- to types of data that they do or will encounter in their lives. For example, language acquisition data, sociolinguistic data, or L2 acquisition data can present interesting problems for syntactic, morphological, or phonological analysis. These types of data tend to be more "real" to students than data from exotic languages or from historical sources.

The key to each example is connecting the audience to the goals of the course. In the brief example sketched above, turning analytic tools to linguistic data from realms that people come in contact with regularly demonstrates to the students how such analysis is relevant to a better understanding of language use and language acquistion; this type of understanding helps the student in answering questions from mom and dad.