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Linguistics for education. Dick Hudson Cambridge December 2010. Plan. The history of useful linguistics Why education needs linguistics How universities help or hinder schools How to build new bridges Through politicians Through teachers Directly. 1. Is linguistics useful?.

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linguistics for education

Linguistics for education

Dick Hudson

Cambridge December 2010

  • The history of useful linguistics
  • Why education needs linguistics
  • How universities help or hinder schools
  • How to build new bridges
    • Through politicians
    • Through teachers
    • Directly
1 is linguistics useful
1. Is linguistics useful?
  • "You're a human being, and your time as a human being should be socially useful. It doesn't mean that your choices about helping other people have to be within the context of your professional training as a linguist. Maybe that training just doesn't help you to be useful to other people. In fact, it doesn't."
    • Noam Chomsky, 1991
curiosity driven linguistics
Curiosity-driven linguistics …
  • has a long history
    • in philosophy and logic
    • in psychology
    • in anthropology.
  • Historical linguistics was driven by curiosity.
  • And so are most of us.
But …
  • linguistics can be useful as well!
  • Applied linguistics applies linguistics
    • to "the advancement of education by fostering and promoting … the study of language use, language acquisition and language teaching"

(BAAL constitution)

  • 'Linguistics' (the analysis of language structure) has been useful since work in …




the babylonian model
The Babylonian model
  • Education teaches aboutL2 (Sumerian)
  • Education also teaches aboutL1 (Akkadian)
  • Linguistics provides a systematic and explicit analysis of language structure.
and in the next 4 000 years
And in the next 4,000 years?
  • Most of the time, at least some linguists worked for education:
    • writing pedagogical grammars and dictionaries
      • of dead languages (Greek, Latin)
      • of living languages (English, Icelandic)
  • So linguistics was mostly useful.
2 what education needs from linguists
2. What education needs from linguists
  • ideas, e.g. prescriptivism
    • simple but controversial
    • teachers need to believe
  • models, e.g. the syntax/semantics distinction
    • abstract – teachers need to understand
  • descriptions, e.g. English phonemes
    • very rich and complex – teachers need to learn
some ideas
Some ideas
  • Variation
    • Language varies with speaker and context
      • e.g. we weren't ~ we wasn't ~ we were not
  • Descriptivism
    • Variation need not be right/wrong
      • we wasn't (correct non-standard) BUT we not was (wrong)
  • Form/function
    • Form and function have a complex relation
      • e.g. in dog biscuit, dog is not an adjective!
some models
Some models
  • Sounds and letters are different!
    • How many sounds in through?
  • Words and meanings are different!
    • How many legs does the word DOG have?
  • Tokens and types are different.
    • How many words in The cat sat on the mat?
  • Oh for some good notations in school!!!!!
some descriptions
Some descriptions
  • Any bits of
    • inflectional morphology
    • syntax
    • the phoneme system
    • lexical relations
  • using standard metalanguage
  • using standard notations.
3 how universities help or hinder schools
3. How universities help or hinder schools
  • In an ideal world,
    • schools and universities are part of an integrated educational system
    • linguistics supports language education
  • In the real world of the UK,
    • linguistics doesn't support language education.
the ideal education cycle
The ideal education cycle




school teacher






Year 1-13


for example
For example, …
  • Modern linguists distinguish determiners from adjectives.
  • So universities should teach future L1 and L2 teachers about determiners.
  • Then the next generation will learn about determiners in school …
  • … as they do in France.
why uk universities
Why? UK universities

Language education (excluding linguistics)

  • ignores language
    • 'English', 'French' etc mean 'E/F literature'
  • ignores linguistics
    • Most English/'Language' departments have very few teachers who research language
  • produces no linguistics researchers
    • Research on French etc linguistics hardly exists
4 how to help schools
4. How to help schools
  • Through policy managers
    • and official policy statements
  • Through teachers
    • and teacher training
  • Directly
    • through university activity in schools
4 1 official policy makers
4.1 Official policy makers
  • Politicians are hard to persuade.
  • But educational managers listen to:
    • good arguments.
    • fair criticisms on technicalities
      • especially when combined with solutions.
  • But they depend on:
    • politicians for approval
    • teachers for implementation.
the national curriculum
The National Curriculum
  • 1991: Margaret Thatcher
  • How should English be taught?
    • several committees met and reported
    • linguistics was well represented and influential
  • The NC requires grammar teaching
    • but English teachers know very little grammar
    • and grammar is never tested
    • so the NC has had very little effect on grammar
4 2 teachers
4.2 Teachers
  • Michael Halliday's UCL project 1964-70
    • massive Government support
    • employed 3 linguists and 9 teachers for 6 years!
    • trained 60 English teachers for a year
    • reached many more
  • Strong on variation
    • weak on grammar
a level english language
A-level English Language
  • One of Halliday's achievements
    • Study of variation in English for 17/18-year olds
4 3 direct action
4.3 Direct action
  • The UK Linguistics Olympiad
    • run by university linguists
    • selects a team for the International Olympiad
  • First year in 2010:
    • 600 children
    • age 12-18
    • very popular
some advice
Some advice
  • Get to know your education system.
  • Concentrate on basic linguistics.
  • Help to achieve existing goals.
  • Work through committees.
  • Be prepared to compromise.
  • Use evidence, just as in research.
  • Be patient – change takes a generation.