Linguimericks—Book ४५ SpecGram Vol CLXXX, No 1 Contents A Study of L2 Writing Skills Acquisition under Conditions of Biostress—John Carsey-Brasco and Neddy Jacks

Teaching Undergraduates Without Slander

A. Nonymous & B. Nonymous
Not Your Department
Some Other University

The central trait of any credentialed linguist is perhaps the unshakeable belief that oneself and one’s intellectual cronies are thick in the pursuit of language, while other schools or factions are merely doing linguistics.

In the training of our graduate students, who have already chosen to walk the path of jaded academic one-up-manship, we feel no compunctions about letting rip on the inadequacies of the less enlightened. Indeed, our grad students are actually happiest when a class period is wholly devoted to decrying the weaknesses of the weak; nothing strokes their burgeoning academic egos more than being reminded how right they were to choose our department for their own studies. (No doubt many readers have already found this technique especially useful in years when funding for TAs and RAs is tenuous.)

Issues arise, though, when we seek to initiate undergraduate studentswe sense a basic requirement of decency not to insult others too harshly in the hearing of the tender young, and yet no amount of teeth-gritting keeps the names of certain competitors (and their hopeless models) from sticking in our craw. A dilemma, no?

What, then, is the linguist to do?

The coward’s approach, of course, is the traditional one: entrust the undergraduates wholly into the care of the grad students. This outsourcing ensures that no faculty member is ever privy to the specific words that undergraduates hear. For all we know, the pliable youths are learning an entirely fairhanded, broadminded perspective even on the villains who abuse reason with their noxious theories. Surely our BA graduates have been tutored in balanced civic attitudes.

This had better be the case, come to think of it, since most of our own BA graduates enroll at other institutions for their advanced studies. It’s really no good attending conferences with faculty who might have been offended by one of the prodigies we have launched forth.

Perhaps, on second thought, the graduate students are a bit immature to take on the responsibility for raising up the next generation. And in any case, funding is rather tight. But what to do?

We could make the decision that our department will henceforth teach only graduate students. Ah, the relaxation that would bring. And yet, the nagging doubthow would the field survive if we did not conduct introductory courses?

Perhaps we could change ourselves and adopt a more charitable attitude towards the unenlightened themselves? Never! Truth is truth, and they do not have it. (Come to think of it, they are really quite willful in their dogged folly.)

Our conundrum, as outlined so far, is not much different from that of other academics in other departments who are also aware of their superiority over their intellectual and theoretical inferiors. While we have for now sidestepped the related concern of “insulting”that is, properly describing the relative merit ofother disciplines outside linguistics but within the same institution, the solution in both cases, for linguists, is the same.

One reason that linguistics is in fact superior to other disciplines is that we study the very medium of cognition: words shape, reflect, and direct thought. As a cobbler should not want for shoes, a peruker for a wig, nor a slater for a roof overhead, a linguist should not want for keenly crafted words.

Sources of inspiration for a polysemously taunting yet plausibly deniable socially-conditioned departmental cant aboundthe tortured etymology of nice lends it many potentially disparaging connotations; the enervated endorsement of UK quite, as applied to gradable adjectives, makes damning with faint praise a breeze.

Of course, jargon that is in its literal sense already beyond the ken of undergraduates is a playground for metaphorical extension; philology, while a valuable field of study in its day, is now hopelessly outmoded; asterisks mark ungrammaticality in syntax and reconstruction in historical linguistics, thus, a “star” signifies that something is incorrect, a fabrication, or both; absolutive indicates an agent that seems less active than a proper subject should bethus, milquetoast.

A: Jones’s theories are quite interesting, and offer a nice take on old data. He’s destined to become a philological star.

B: Absolutive!

While it is easy to craft more examples, we need not do soboth to encourage a diversity of dialects, and to avoid providing the unworthy a primer for decoding a singular departmental cant.

Now, go forth and speak truth, however obscurely!

LinguimericksBook ४५
A Study of L2 Writing Skills Acquisition under Conditions of BiostressJohn Carsey-Brasco and Neddy Jacks
SpecGram Vol CLXXX, No 1 Contents