Ethical intro ling course planning

30 Aug 2016

Right now I’m designing the syllabus and course schedule for a small introductory linguistics class at UW: LING 400 “Survey of Linguistic Method and Theory”. I’m using Language Files as the textbook, and while it’s a very good textbook, I was interested at the fact that it ends many chapters with a section relating the main text to sign languages. For example, after the discussion of oral phonetics, there is a section on manual phonetics.

As I was shuffling around the schedule, I tried a schedule where I put all “the sign language stuff” in one day, to “keep it tidy”. Then I thought, is that actually an ethical thing to do? Does that make a statement on whether sign languages belong with standard language? Is it possible for me to organize the course this way and not make it seem like I’m ghettoizing sign languages?

I looked around and found in my notes that some other books organize the discussion of languages the same way Language Files does. I used An Introduction to Linguistic Typology, by Viveka Velupillai, in a recent typology class. The author also chooses to keep sign languages along with discussion of oral languages.

It’s hard not to do this without subordinating the discussion of sign languages to that of oral. I don’t want to make it seem like they are a footnote to the main discussion.

edit: Follow-up after speaking with the instructor at UW, Laura McGarrity, who has taught this and a related course more than 20 times: her reasons for setting aside a whole lecture period for ASL are at least three: (1) timing - it is easier and more efficient to introduce core concepts of phonology and syntax and so on using oral languages, which students are more familiar with, then revisit all grammar components using ASL as a case study. (2) It also seems easier to switch gears this way: rather than trying to learn demonstrative signs each lecture, the instructor not-so-fluent in ASL can instead cram for teaching a single session of demonstrative signs. (3) If you want to invite a native signer as guest lecturer, it of course only makes sense to keep ASL in a single discrete session, rather than sprinkled throughout the quarter.