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Linguistics at School Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics 26 October 2009. The Language Detective at Villiers Park. Billy Clark and Graeme Trousdale Outline. The Villiers Park Educational Trust

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the language detective at villiers park

Linguistics at SchoolResearch Centre for English and Applied Linguistics26 October 2009

The Language Detective at Villiers Park

Billy Clark and Graeme Trousdale

  • The Villiers Park Educational Trust
  • Linguistics: the Language Detective — history
  • Future plans
  • What it tells us about linguistics in school
villiers park educational trust
Villiers Park Educational Trust

‘… a national charity working to remove some of the barriers that can prevent young people from making the most of the educational opportunities available to them.’

villiers park educational trust1
Villiers Park Educational Trust
  • Aimed at gifted and talented school children from all social backgrounds
  • Focus on post-16 school range
  • Offers residential courses in a number of subjects, but is developing online activities
  • Has additional events for teachers
  • Based in Foxton, 7 miles SW of Cambridge
  • Works with the Young, Gifted and Talented programme
villiers park educational trust2
Villiers Park Educational Trust
  • Residential courses run from Monday lunch to Friday lunch
  • Cost is £200 per student for full board, all teaching, all excursions/trips
  • Aim for about 25 students per course
  • Mixture of Y12/Y13 students
  • Usually a good mix of regions (good for dialect work!)
  • A range of online activities available

The Students

Students from schools on the Villiers Park contact list all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Usually there is no more than one student from any one school.

our aims
Our Aims

To introduce the students to linguistics

To present lesson plans developed by the A level working group

To find out more about the students’ current experience of language and linguistics

To see what the students would make of the topics and activities we presented

the students aims
The Students’ Aims

To have fun

To find out more about the Young Gifted & Talented programme

To find out more about linguistics

In some cases, with a view to deciding whether to take linguistics options at university

outline programme
Outline Programme

Monday: Arrivals, introductions, linguistics sessions, video

Tuesday: Linguistics sessions, visiting speaker

Wednesday: Day trip, Villiers Park Linguistics Olympiad

Thursday: Linguistics sessions, work on projects and presentations, video

Friday: Project presentations and farewells


Mixture of teaching methods (‘lectures’, ‘seminars’, independent learning)

Typically involving problem sets/data from familiar languages (English, French etc.) and unfamiliar ones (incl. non-standard dialects)

Covers many areas of linguistics: structure (phonology, morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics); historical linguistics; variation.

teaching sessions
Teaching Sessions

‘So What Is Linguistics?’

‘How To Be A Language Detective’

‘Pattern in Language Structure’

‘How Languages Mean’

‘Language Change’

‘Explaining and Creating Meanings’

‘Becoming A Super Sleuth’

course content
Course Content

real examples(e.g. ‘Save Yorkshire’, ‘men no less chatty than women’)

what language is

what linguistics is

languages and dialects

language change

prescription and description

everyday discussion and systematic study

ways of investigating language (corpora, intuitions, …)

phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics

course content1
Course Content

‘puzzles’ and tasks (e.g. linguistics olympiad tasks, transcription tasks, analysis)

cross-linguistic, synchronic and diachronic data

questions and ideas on how to answer them

the relationship between data and theories


comparing spelling and sounds

looking at historical data

exploring dictionaries and meanings

critiquing news reports on language

working out morphological and syntactic facts about a new language (e.g. Lakhota)

the languages we ve looked at
The languages we’ve looked at

English (standard and non-standard), Irish, Scots and Welsh

French, German and Spanish

Ancient Greek, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian

Lakhota, Hmong, Manam and Ilocano

some welsh borrowings from english
Some Welsh borrowings from English

actif 'active‘; ffigur 'figure‘; ffocws 'focus‘; lefel 'level‘; proffesiwn 'profession‘; tancer 'tanker‘; cic 'kick'

  • What observations can you make about the relationship between sound and spelling of certain consonants in Welsh, based on the data above?
  • What are the phoneme correspondences for these Welsh letters?
  • Is there a general difference between the spelling of borrowed words in Welsh and in English?
  • Which language is likely to have more regular correspondences? Why do you think that might be?
student work
Student Work
  • Villiers Park Student Linguistics Conference on final day
  • Small group work (c. 4 students per group)
  • Preparation begins on Tuesday
  • Treated like an academic conference paper (20 minutes + 10 for questions etc.)
  • Some very high quality work on interesting topics
student projects
Student Projects

We discuss how to identify, explore and present work on linguistic topics. The students are extremely resourceful in coming up with ways of developing investigations topics given the practical constraints of time and location.

Here are some example projects:




the regional accents of mainland france

The regional accents of mainland France

  • What are they?
  • How do we distinguish between them?
  • Where are they found?
other events
Other Events
  • Visits to Villiers Park (Bas Aarts, UCL; Jonnie Robinson, British Library)
  • Visits elsewhere (British Library; RCEAL)
  • Films: related to language/linguistics (Horizon film on Nicaraguan Sign Language) and one for fun (My Fair Lady/The Gods Must Be Crazy/My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
  • Villiers Park Linguistics Olympiad
what we ve learned
What We’ve Learned

Young people can do linguistics and find it fun

They can handle data from unfamiliar languages AND are interested in theory

They enjoy difficult and challenging tasks

Some anxiety in student presentations about stepping outside ‘comfort zone’

Differences between students who’ve done A level English Language and others

what we ve learned1
What We’ve Learned
  • Very useful to be flexible with time and for tutors to be on hand at all times to respond to queries
  • Feedback positive, both in terms of content and learning experience
  • Exhausting for all concerned
relationship to linguistics in school
Relationship to Linguistics in School
  • Gifted and Talented students can deal well with difficult concepts, and enjoy challenging work
  • Data sets and team work seem to be more effective than theory and individual learning, but there’s a need for the latter
  • Some misconceptions about how language works (even among A Level English Language students)
  • Some puzzlement regarding why this is not an option at school
future plans
Future Plans
  • Encourage other academics (including PhD students) to teach the course
  • Developing link with Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics
  • Some delegates to the Villiers Park Student Conference from ‘nearby’ universities?
  • Developing links with UK Linguistics Olympiad?
  • Archiving old conference presentations
  • Keeping it fun