The scary science: Linguistics

Trust your students

Tweet As a professor of freshman writing, I teach students who are just out of high school. Some students are satisfied with their former high schools, but most complain bitterly. The most frequent complaint is about sitting around doing nothing, not that the subject matter is too difficult. Why are teachers so afraid to challenge […]

Genetics research confirms earlier linguistics research

Tweet Geneticists, Drs. David Reich of Harvard and Andres Ruiz-Linares of University College London announced today, as was reported in The New York Times (“Earliest Americans Arrived in Waves, DNA Study Finds”), that there were three waves, not one wave, of migration from Siberia which first populated the Americas. DNA has provided enough clues to […]

More About the Scary Science: Linguistics

Tweet An article in the Arts section of The New York Times this morning, “How Do You Say ‘Disagreement’ in the Pirahã tongue?” points up the gulf between the soft science of Linguistics and ordinary mortals.  Since there is no whiff of this science discernible in high school courses (at least in the U.S.), students […]

Linguistics Olympiad

Tweet The Linguistics Olympiad is an opportunity for students interested in computational linguistics to compete internationally.  See I took a look at the sample problems.  They were too challenging for me, which is a good sign.  I am not focused on computational linguistics, so I should not have been able to solve them. If I […]

Teaching linguistics in U.S. high school

Tweet Teacher Suzi Loosen taught linguistics in her high school last year, and has provided a full, detailed report to the Linguistlist.  She gives not only exercises and activities, but also reports on their success, and the student reaction.  The top rated activity was a “pidgin dinner” during which it was forbidden to speak English. […]

Ghoti – a common English word

Tweet Obviously, the way to pronounce “gh” sounds like “f” — examples; rough, enough, tough. Obviously, the way to pronounce “o” sounds like “i” — example: women. Obviously, the way to pronounce “ti” sounds like “sh” — examples:  nation, emotion Put them all together and you have — FISH. Tracing the reasons why “ghoti” does […]

New words – language change

Tweet Spend a few minutes in class making a list of all the new words which have entered the language recently.  Examples are: bff, twitter, bushism, 9/11, Duchess of Cambridge. You might also review some words which have come and gone within the last few years, which are soooo yesterday.  They’ll know these words better […]

Pronouns – the singular “they”

Tweet I have given my students the job of finding, within their lifetimes, a gender neutral pronoun other than the Queen’s one. Some suggestions have been thon, heer, ha, hs, hiser, shhe, and s/he. Though these might be logical, they don’t quite fit phonetically. We’ll have to try harder. How would you rewrite the C. S. […]


Tweet DON’T END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION!!!!! NEVER USE “I” IN AN ESSAY!!!!!!!! DON’T SPLIT INFINITIVES!!!! These old guidelines are obviously not the way we either speak or write, so what use are they?  Steven Pinker calls them Old Wives’ Tales.  Yet we have to have some kind of rules for our language, don’t […]