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This website is for teachers who are interested in integrating linguistics into their high school curriculum or even teaching a high school linguistics class. Here you'll find ideas for incorporating linguistics into your curriculum, lessons and activities to use in your classroom, and resources for learning more about linguistics. It's also a resource for students who want to learn more about linguistics or get involved in linguistics-related groups.
About this website
About this Website
I love when an email like this shows up in my inbox:
I'm an English teacher, and I'm very excited that my administration has finally approved a linguistics elective at our school, which I will be teaching! I was wondering if you have any curriculum, lessons, readings, etc. you could share? Do you have a textbook that you use with your students? Any help would be appreciated!
The fact is that there really isn't a linguistics textbook that's designed for high school students, and there's really no set curriculum either! This is probably a good thing: linguistics is a huge, flexible field, and the approach any individual teacher takes depends on their knowledge, interests, and content area. But it can be frustrating for teachers who are developing a linguistics curriculum from scratch. This website is intended to be a one-stop-shop for teachers who want to launch a linguistics class at their school, or who just want to learn how linguistics can enrich an already-existing curriculum. That being said, this is not meant to be the be-all-and-end-all of teaching linguistics. Use however much or as little as you like.
What is Lingustics?
This brand-new podcast examines Native American language revitalization and decolonization, "as seen through the eyes and mind of a multilingual Indigenous person who is Lingít, Haida, Yupʼik and Sami. This podcast explores complex concepts of identity, resilience, erasure, and genocide and features guests involved in language revitalization and decolonial efforts in Alaska, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. This show hopes to connect to all audiences who wish to understand how over five hundred languages Indigenous to North America became endangered, and what actions individuals and groups have taken and can take to create a more equitable and brilliant future than that of American genocide." (descpription from Apple Podcasts)
What is Linguistics?
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. An educator I know compares it to geology: geology is the study of rocks and minerals from their smallest pieces (atoms, molecules) to their biggest objects (volcanoes, tectonic plates). Linguistics is the study of language from its smallest pieces (sounds, word patterns) to its biggest objects (conversations, communities).
There are many different subfields of linguistics. They're usually broken up into these subfields (although these will vary widely depending on which linguist you're talking to)
Phonetics and Phonology: The smallest units of language (speech sounds in spoken language, handshape, location, etc. in signed languages)
Morphology: Words and parts of words
Syntax: The structure of phrases and sentences
Semantics: The literal meaning of phrases and sentences
Pragmatics: The meaning of phrases and sentences in discourse
Sociolinguistics: Language in relation to social factors (race, region, etc.)
Psycholinguistics: How the brain processes language, how people learn language
Historical linguistics: The history and development of languages
Applied linguistics: The practical application of language studies (translation, speech therapy, teaching)
Again, these are intended to be basic definitions for people who are just learning about linguistics. There is a lot of crossover among subfields (which is how you get cool subfields like sociophonetics or computational linguistics).
Why Teach Linuistics in High School?
Why Teach Linguistics in High School?
I believe there are four big reasons to teach linguistics in high school:
Linguistics centers student voices by centering student language. Linguistics teaches us that no language or dialect is more correct, more complex, or more beautiful than any other. All language varieties are valuable and worthy of study. And students have a data set in their brains, bodies, and lived experiences.
Learning about linguistics combats bias and racism by de-mythologizing beliefs about language varieties and their users. Language as been a tool for structural racism and colonization as far back as we know. Standardized language ideology and prescriptivism uphold white supremacy, and they show up every day in our day-to-day interactions and in our institutions. In a linguistics class, students use scientific research and analysis to deconstruct harmful ideas about language.
Learning about linguistics gives students the tools to be critical consumers of media. Politicians, advertisers, news broadcasters, and influencers use language to persuade. These techniques go beyond the logos, pathos, ethos methods we typically teach kids to analyze when studying rhetoric and persuasion. As influencers get savvier about using language to influence thought and behavior, we need to give kids more tools to notice and respond to those attempts at manipulation.
Learning about linguistics knocks down disciplinary silos and shows students connections among academic disciplines and to the world at large. "Real life" isn't divided into history, English, math, or PE. Critical, paradigm-shifting thought transcends academic disciplines, and the study of language is the perfect site to break down those academic walls.
I've been teaching English since 2005, and linguistics since 2014. I have never had a response from students to anything I've taught like I have with linguistics. Students have told me it's the most important and the most valuable class they've taken in high school. They feel validated and affirmed. They feel more aware of the world they are going into. (Not every student, of course! But it's safe to say that the response to this class has been overwhelmingly positive.)
People are generally interested in linguistics. We know that from the many popular documentaries, books, and web series aimed at adults. Language is like physics: it's everywhere around us and influences everything we do, but most of the time we don't pay attention to it. In fact, it might never occur to people to ask questions about it. But once we start asking those questions, it opens up a whole new universe of inquiry.
I'm an English teacher, so most of what you'll see here directly applies to English Language Arts content. But one of the best things about linguistics is its interdisciplinary-ness. Linguistics can be (and is!) taught by teachers of math, science, world languages, and social studies, as well as ELA. Linguistics is used in fields like computer science, media, technology, medicine, law, education, and music. Teaching linguistics can help students see how the world is interconnected; disciplinary silos don't exist in the real world, and people in scientific fields need literacy in the humanities as much as people in the humanities and arts need scientific literacy.
Some people might say that this approach to linguistics isn't about "core linguistics" or "real linguistics." Those terms are problematic, but that's beside the point. My goal isn't necessarily to create new linguistics majors (although some of my students have gone into linguistics!), but to teach students to be more critical and thoughtful about language in their real life. We do that by giving students the tools to deconstruct oppressive language ideologies, gain awareness of language in the media and politics, and take pride in their own language(s). The tools we give them include a knowledge of phonology, morphology, syntax, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and pragmatics.
That all being said, this is how *I* teach linguistics. There are as many ways of teaching linguistics--especially in high school--as there are teachers, and the "right way" to teach linguistics depends on your content area, your objectives, and most importantly, your students. I hope you'll find something useful here.
Linguistics & Social Justice
A Word about Linguistics and Social Justice
Before I ever taught linguistics, I wrote my master's thesis on teaching social justice in the high school English curriculum. As I became a more experienced teacher, I came to realize that an antibias / antiracist English curriculum is not only enriched by the study of language and linguistics, but must include the study of language and linguistics. Language is a site for oppression, and the study of language can be a tool for liberation. When we study stories about people, we are also studying the stories of the language they use. When we teach students to express themselves in words, we must teach them about the ideologies that shaped that instruction. When we analyze language, we as English teachers must remember that English is a settler-colonialist language and grapple with that. We must give students the tools to think critically about the language they use.
If you believe that teaching or linguistics should be (or even can be) apolitical, this website is not for you.
“I would tell [future students] to be excited at all the information they will learn that connects to their daily life. . . . Take in every minute because of how interesting all the information is, and not many classes in high school can connect this much to our everyday life -- and can make us better people.”
"I loved how I could talk and write in my language and I didn't ever feel judged for it. I've never been able to talk about my language like I did in this class."
“Coming out of this class I not only feel like I know so much more about language, but I also feel like I learned how to better function in society.”
“I can confidently say that taking this course should be a graduation requirement. The concepts and skills I have learned and developed in this class are something that I use daily.”
"This class allowed me to express myself how I would with my friends and I never felt the need to code switch because of the linguistic setting. Linguistics class was very welcoming and I was so blessed to have a class where code switching was not needed."
“Linguistics [class] helps me be myself and talk the way that I wanna talk. It lets you use slang in any way that you want, because it is a new language that everyone is speaking and every kid uses.”
"Linguistic discrimination is something I barely thought of before and now I use the lessons you taught me to mold the way I interact with others on a daily basis."
“Being a white person who wants to be a good ally . . . I feel more equipped to do that after taking this class.”
“Do other schools have a class like this? Because if I never took this class, I wouldn’t know any of this, and I think this stuff is really important for people to learn.”
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