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New school linguistics for practitioners of oral languages

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Title: New school linguistics for practitioners of oral languages
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In this position paper, we describe the natural fit between linguistic analysis informed by a cognitive/ constructionalist approach and the documentary, descriptive, and teacher-training work we conduct with speakers of endangered languages, especially the many oral and polysynthetic languages of the Canadian north. The central tenets of this approach revolve around the dismissal of universalist linguistics that elevates the import of structural aspects of language (form) at the expense and neglect of semantics/pragmatics (meaning) and usage (context). Part and parcel of “old school” linguistics is the separation of rule-like grammatical and list-like lexical phenomena. We reject this dichotomy and propose instead that languages are best thought of as constructicons made up of both smaller (morphemes) and larger (discourse turns) and more regular (analyzable) and more idiomatic (non-compositional) elements. Indeed, the model of language that may work best for endangered oral languages might well be one that resembles a contextualized phrasebook. Linguists have long regarded the form/meaning pairing as sacrosanct in linguistic analysis. To that bivalent F/M equation we would add the variable C, or more precisely, CN, to capture the notion that C’s contribution is multifactorial and recognizes the role context, cognition, construal, convention, culture, and communication all play in the framing and interpretation of linguistic expressions.

The long legacy of structuralist linguistics has not only produced language descriptions that are incomprehensible to educated speakers, but it has inspired––if only tacitly––a generation of L2 curricula that are word- and sentence-based, in a somewhat graded and often decontextualized fashion. Despite the prevalence of immersion and TPR methodologies in the L2 classroom, the linguistic phenomena that often form the basis of the exercises are noun-centred or typically involve dislocation of an object (“put the green square on the red triangle”) or the student (“stand up”, “turn around”). What they are not are socially interactive and culturally relevant. Even in the absence of the overt teaching via an orthographic representation of language, a literary bias continues to pervade L2 pedagogy. We need to cultivate an oralcy and even a “socialcy” that puts speakers’ everyday social navigational needs and constructional supports for communicating with others front and centre in what gets conveyed in the classroom. These constructional elements may look nothing like their ESL counterparts; they may be quite complex and even semi-unanalyzable to learners, but they have a currency based on frequency and utility upon which language learning can build in an organic and language-specific fashion.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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