Category Archives: teaching

Teaching statement

I’ve finally figured out what I want to put in a teaching statement:

http://campuspress.yale.edu/clairebowern/teaching/

I am a linguist and I teach about linguistics, particularly language change and language documentation. My teaching is research centered in that I want my classes, from freshman classes to graduate seminars, to be places where my students learn how to ‘figure stuff out’ – how to step outside their starting assumptions to figure out what language tells us about how our world works, how to find out what they don’t know, even when they think they know it, and how to be constructive critics of their own and others’ work. I want them to be excited about learning and not to see the syllabus as simply a set of hoops to go through to earn a grade. In short, I teach students how to think, not what to think.

If language were spoken in a vacuum, my teaching statement could probably end there, vague though it is. But language is spoken by humans and researched by humans, and humans are complex. Views about language, from the appropriateness of teaching spelling, to when to introduce a second language, to who should be bilingual, to who speaks better than others, pervade our lives. They affect the type of data that linguists can use, and more concretely, they directly affect the lived experience of a large fraction of the population, for better or for worse.

Linguists can, and should, have a lot to say about this. Our commitment to the ‘scientific’ study of language has implications, both for how to study social dynamics, and the ways in which language is used to reinforce or deny power. Our work as academics gives us tools to critically examine social constructs, to separate the content of claims about the world from the language used to deliver those claims, and to see the implications of such arguments.

My practical focus in this lab is on a combination of educational outreach and training, and the commitments that this entails. Quite simply, students need to be able to do the best work they can in my classes and research group, and if they can’t because they are systematically disadvantaged, that’s not just their problem, it’s my problem too.

How does this translate into concrete activities? For me, this means a twin focus on the broader impacts of training current and future researchers, and of making our methods, results, and approaches more available to others.

Within the lab and classroom, it means fostering an atmosphere of excellence and respect, where everyone’s contributions are acknowledged and valued. It means acknowledging the realities of implicit bias and how it can affect both our work and our perceptions of excellence. It means acknowledging and leaving time to explore history in the classroom.

For training, it means working from a broad definition of ‘excellence’ that factors in opportunity and potential as well as results achieved to date. It means recognizing that ‘pipeline’ questions won’t solve themselves without effort.

For activities, it means a genuine commitment to outreach. This includes making sure language materials are accessible to the people who need them, that we preferentially publish in open access journals, that we provide plain English summaries of our work, that the results of our work are integrated into general outlets such as Wikipedia, and that we help people who want to learn about linguistics and don’t have the resources to do so. It means not just an informational role, but an advocacy role for topics where our research is relevant, such as language endangerment.

Conference talk on grammar boot camps

I run a grammar boot camp every year, where a small group of students write a grammar of a language in a month. Last year it was Ngalia, and this year (starting in a few weeks) it’ll be Cundalee Wangka and Kuwarra. I also ran a year-long grammar group to pilot the idea in 2013, using materials from Tjupan. All four languages are varieties of the Wati subgroup of Pama-Nyungan and all the books are based on fieldwork conducted by Sue Hanson.

At the recent Wanala Conference run by the Goldfields Language Centre, Anaí Navarro, Matthew Tyler and I did a video presentation about the boot camp, its aims, methods, and results. Here’s a link to the video: https://drive.google.com/a/yale.edu/file/d/0ByIoQcheKNw2RGx4amVjNjhLOUk/view. Warning that it’s 190mb and 22 minutes long.

Ipads for research

I’m taking part in a trial of ipads for the field methods class this semester. I’m not totally convinced that it’s going to work yet, since I’m a bit suspicious of the recording capabilities and of how seamless it will be to get items on and off the devices. We will certainly be making backup recordings using my field equipment for at least the first few weeks.

However, one of the side effects of this is that I’ve been spending a lot more time working on an ipad recently, trying out apps. I’m even not taking my laptop to the LSA (I’m writing this post on an ipad on the plane to Minneapolis).

Couple of observations:

The ipad I’m trialling came with a ‘Zagg’ keyboard case. The keyboard itself is quite good. It’s comfortable to use and very responsive. The cover itself is rather clunky and heavy, and the charging position for the keyboard is in an irritating position (the keyboard has to be partly removed from the cover to charge it). It’s also fairly straightforward to pair the keyboard with multiple ipads.

I have an ipad mini and while that size of tablet is mostly great, it is very helpful to have the larger size when working on latexed documents. My ipad mini is also heavily child-proofed, which makes it almost impossible to use with a stylus. I have yet to find a decent handwriting ap that might be useful for field methods. Let me know if anyone knows of one (the stumbling block is the need to be able to use handwriting recognition with accented characters).

We are using Auria for the recording app, dictapad for transcription, and we will be loading the class data into LingSync (which has an online version for minimal data entry). We are syncing files through Dropbox and Box. TeX Writer is great (LaTeX app allowing fill compilation on the ipad) and Zotero for reference management.

So far the biggest issues have been a) the usual problem of syncing between multiple devices and making sure they are all up to date (forgot to do that before leaving…) and b) only having one window at a time. On the other hand, only having one window does make email much less of a distraction.

I will continue to provide updates as the semester progresses and we use the ipads.

Language documentation project videos

I’ve put up the first two videos in a series of short “how-tos” for language documentation. They are aimed at community members, not linguists. Topics to be covered are:

  1. General principles in planning a documentation project
  2. Applying for grants
  3. Steps in a project
  4. Working with/recording elderly relatives
  5. ‘Outcomes’ (examples of documentation projects)
  6. Archiving

The talks are loosely based on my article “Planning a Language Documentation Project” in Peter Austin and Julia Sallabank’s Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages, plus materials from my fieldwork book and notes from teaching about this to undergraduates. Suggestions for other topics that you’d like to see in this series would be appreciated!

Australian Language Polygons and new Centroid files

I’ve finished a *draft* google earth (.kmz) file with locations of Australian languages, organised by family and subgroup.

Some things to note:

  • You may use these files for education and research purposes only.
  • NO commercial use under any circumstances without my written permission.
  • NO republication any any circumstances without my written permission.
  • You may quote from these files. Please use the following citation: Bowern, C. (2011). Centroid Coordinates for Australian Languages v2.0. Google Earth .kmz file, available from http://pantheon.yale.edu/~clb3/
  • These files represent my compilation of many available sources, but are known to be deficient in a number of areas. Some sources are irreconcilable. This work is unsuitable for use as evidence in Native Title (land) claims.
  • Please do not repost or circulate these files. Send interested people to this page. I will be updating the files from time to time.
  • Please let me know of errors! The easiest way to do this is to change the polygon or centroid point for the language(s) you are correcting, and send me that item as a kml file.
  • If you use derivatives of this file (e.g. you calculate language areas from it, convert it to ArcGIS, etc), that’s fine, but please send me a copy of the derivative file

Field Methods Class Pondering

I had lunch with the field methods speaker for the fall class a few days ago. As befits a field methods consultant, she’s awesome! The language we’ll be working on is Fijian, and our speaker has some linguistics training and is very aware of the stylistic and geographical dialect differences in the language.

I am pondering how best to run this class this semester. It seems a waste of our consultant’s abilities to pretend that Fijian is an undescribed isolate. On the other hand, there does not seem to be very much recent published work on the language. There is Schutz’s grammar from 1986 (and Dixon’s grammar, on the Boumaa dialect, from about the same time), but the most recent published dictionary seems to have been compiled by Capell in the 1940s. I’m therefore starting to have a think about what smart students with a smart consultant and a bunch of background materials can do in a semester that would be educational for the students, not too boring for the consultant, and ideally of some use to the profession as a whole. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, besides the usual term papers for grad students on topics they are interested in:

  • Descriptive work using some of the MPI  stimulus kits.
  • Web dictionary with sound and examples
  • Gesture elicitation
  • Prosodic structure elicitation
  • JIPA-type phonetic sketch

High School visit

I spent about 45 minutes or so at the High School this morning. I reckon it was one of the best 45 minutes I’ve spent here. The kids were great – I gave a bit of a talk about what linguists do (complete with powerpoint!), about what I was doing when I was working with their grannies and great-grannies, and they asked me some questions about uni and language work and things like that. I gave them pretty much the same talk about linguistics that I give first year uni students (I used Aboriginal English/Standard English examples instead of Spanish), and they were pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing and had lots of questions.  We also talked a bit about going to uni.

It was really useful to me to get to know them a little better, and I’m glad they’ve now got my contact details. The community is in good hands for the future with those kids! Thanks Richard for letting me take over your literacy class for a bit!