My revised activity, Understanding How Language Lives in the World, is geared for the Honors section of ELL 101 (Introduction to Language) that I will be teaching this semester. (I only just found out it is running. Phew!)
The goals in terms of an updated-for-the-21st-century Bloom’s Taxonomy are:
Applying: can the student use the information in a new way?
During this activity students will apply the knowledge they have gained about sound production, language structure, and language change to describe the language they are researching
Analyzing: can the student distinguish between the different parts?
… they will analyze data about at-risk languages…
Evaluating: can the student justify a stand or decision?
… they will present and evaluate how language “lives” (and dies) in the world and express an opinion about this.
Creating: can the student create new product or point of view?
… the student will create a multi-linked "written" report (blog post/Google Doc/Google Spreadsheet, etc.) to present the new knowledge they have constructed by learning about and reflecting on how language lives (and dies) in the world. I write "written" report with quotations because it can and I hope it does include images, video, sound, etc. (I just don’t know if I will know how to help them do all that—hopefully some will be Web 2.0 literate--I am open to how they want to create their final report.)
Background to the activity:
What makes language alive? So far in this course, students will have studied how language is produced and structured (sounds, words, sentences, meaning) and have begun to study how it is used in the world among different groups of people and how it changes—how some languages evolve, how some die.
In this activity we will explore what impacts language change, language survival, and language extinction (and even if those metaphors of living and dying are appropriate to use with language). We explore views of language that may have been previously unfamiliar to students: that it is a right that some will fight for, a heritage, a cultural artifact, a source of scientific study, and a focus of social and political decision-making. While it may be evident that language is a living system that impacts us, how aware are we that we have an impact on language?
Relevant facts will have been raised in the video we watch, The Linguists (and reinforced in our discussions of the video Do You Speak American as well as the book, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue) are:
· 7,000+ languages are spoken around the world.
· Most of the world's languages are spoken by small groups of people and approximately 85% of the world's languages have fewer than 100,000 speakers.
· A language dies approximately every two weeks.
· A language dies (ceases to be spoken) when there are no living native speakers.
· A language is endangered when only a very few, elderly native speakers remain.
· Language is intimately connected to culture and history.
· Language documentation consists of recording linguistic and cultural information in the community that speaks the language.
· Language revitalization work strengthens endangered languages by fostering positive language attitudes and language teaching. (from: http://www.pbs.org/thelinguists/For-Educators/)
The activity asks students to apply, analyze, and evaluate how language lives in the world (e.g., What are the characteristics of languages we don’t necessarily hear about everyday and what can we learn from them?) and to take a stand in terms of their own relation to language.
They begin by going to: http://www.ethnologue.com/country_index.asp
1. Exploring: Using the Ethnologue, students will work in pairs to find one language that they have never heard of from at least three of the five global areas on Ethnologue. (They will focus on languages that are spoken by fewer than 500,000 people.)
2. Creating a language profile: They will choose one language to investigate further on their own. What questions emerge about the group(s) who speak(s) the language they have chosen? What are their beliefs? How does the language figure in their identity? Their economy? What might keep this language intact? What might allow it to die? If it dies, what artifacts are left of it? (Is it written? Are there oral stories)? What will be lost if this language dies? What will remain? If it were to remain “alive,” what would it take? What other questions emerge that students can explore? Students will fill out a table on Google Spreadsheet.
3. Discussing: Students will present their findings to the class. As they listen to each other’s presentation, they will discuss what their reports have in common, what aspects are different: facts about the linguistic communities, dominant language, descriptions of the language characteristics/classifications, etc. They can have an opportunity to look more closely at their own language and research/fill in further information.
4. Writing up their report: Students will post a blog entry that connects to a Google Doc page that details the language they have chosen. Their report will need to have a title, and be organized with the following sub-headings: Summary (the "first page" will be a summary of the language’s characteristics and facts from the class spreadsheet); Analysis: (the "second page" will be an analysis of how the language figures in the lives of its users); Reflection (the "third page" will be a reflection on what students have learned about language in this activity). For the reflection, they will respond to the following questions: What do you know now about languages in the world that you did not know before? How does this impact your perception of language in your own life? In your family? With your friends? At school? At work? In your neighborhood? What further questions does it raise for you?
The connections will be made within the class and with some bilingual education sections being taught in my department. (I hope!)
The connections will be meaningful across semesters as I hope to archive the postings and eventually share students’ findings and expressions about how language lives in the world with a broader audience of linguists, applied linguists, and with those interested in global studies.