Changing linguistic pedagogy: A case study of five introductory linguistics textbooks

Marnie Jo Petray, Purdue University


Linguistics has evolved over the last four decades from the descriptive analysis of human language to a highly theoretical and mentalistic study of language use, development, and variation in context. With a primary focus on theory and research, the discipline has rarely considered the teaching of its own subject matter. Correspondingly, virtually no large-scale research has been conducted to date on linguistics textbooks to assess their pedagogical value and classroom effectiveness. In seven chapters with twelve appendices, this project critically historicizes the literature on linguistics education from the mid 1920s through the present and investigates the pedagogical approaches and linguistic theories present in five widely used introductory linguistics textbooks written for U.S. undergraduates. The periods of work on teaching in linguistics follow disciplinary changes, revealing an ideological tie between attitudes towards research and theory and a general disregard for the significance of linguistic pedagogy. As a microcosm of the discipline they serve, the textbooks represent linguistics' research and educational agendas and reveal important insights into introductory-level pedagogical approaches and classroom practices. The overall goal of this study is to fill the gap in research on linguistics textbooks and to highlight the status and importance of teaching in linguistics in a discipline where language theory and research reign supreme. The selected textbooks met six criteria: most recent edition, published in the last four years, standard survey text, multiple editions published, introductory-level intended audience, and written for the U.S. higher education market. The five textbooks are analyzed according to several dimensions, including textual and chapter organization, theoretical attitudes towards language, depth and coverage of subject areas, and exercise type. All five textbooks are successful in that they have survived the market and continue to be published into new editions. However, careful scrutiny reveals that while they follow a generative approach to theorizing language, they vary in their means of taxonomically presenting the core linguistic subjects. Further, illustrated through narrative examination of the chapter material and quantitative analysis of exercise types, the texts differ widely in their effectiveness, attention to learning styles, and awareness of student or instructor needs and expectations. ^




Major Professor: Margie S. Berns, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Language and Literature|Language, Linguistics|Education, Curriculum and Instruction|Education, Higher

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