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From technical to teachable: Teaching morphology without templates

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Title:From technical to teachable: Teaching morphology without templates
Authors:Cox, Christopher
Contributors:Cox, Christopher (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:For some languages with complex inflectional morphology, linguists have proposed morphological templates to account for regularities in the forms and orders in which morphemes appear (Good 2011, McDonough 2000, Rice 2000). From a linguistic perspective, templates provide a layer of abstraction over word structure, representing recurring inflectional patterns as sequences of underlying morphemes and accompanying morphophonemic adaptations. From a pedagogical perspective, morphological templates offer both advantages and disadvantages. While bringing attention to meaningful parts of complex words, their level of abstraction is not always learner-friendly. In many cases, teachers and learners of templatically-analyzed languages face a dilemma. Abandoning templates leaves few resources that highlight commonalities between word-forms, encouraging rote memorization and lessening emphasis on productive language use. On the other hand, adopting templatic representations can prove difficult for both learners' production and comprehension.
One alternative to morphological templates is found in paradigms which group together sets of related words in their fully-inflected forms. This surface-oriented approach to words and the regularities among them has several benefits for language pedagogy and documentation:

1. Paradigms present a means of representing regularities across words that does not require deep morphological analysis. Such sets of whole-word forms can help organize observations about recurring inflectional patterns without tremendous abstraction, making such information more accessible for language learning and teaching;

2. Paradigms provide support for adapting existing language resources for use in new teaching contexts. For instance, drawing on paradigms with the necessary inflectional forms, third-person narratives (e.g., storybooks) can be adapted into first and second-person response routines that can be used as language activities;

3. For L2 teaching methods that emphasize the repetition of constructions across multiple contexts of use, paradigms can help in finding words that ‘fit’ inflectionally in the given frames, making reinforcement teaching methods easier to implement.

With this in mind, this paper considers how paradigmatic approaches to word structure may benefit both language pedagogy and documentation. Drawing examples from Dene (Athapaskan) languages, which are often upheld as prototypical examples of templatic verbal morphology, this paper assesses the viability of paradigm-based approaches to inflection in these languages. It then proceeds to consider how these approaches are being applied in pedagogical resource development, L2 teaching, and documentation. Based on these observations, this paper argues that surface-based approaches are not only feasible, but have a valuable role to play in language teaching and documentation.

Good, Jeff. 2011. The typology of templates. Language and Linguistics Compass 5/10: 731–747.

McDonough, Joyce. 2000. Athabaskan redux: against the position class as a morphological category. In Dressler, Wolfgang, Oskar Pfeiffer, Markus Pöchtrager, and John Rennison (eds.), Morphological analysis in comparison. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 155–178.

Rice, Keren. 2000. Morpheme order and semantic scope: word formation in the Athapaskan verb. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
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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