Darwin-L Message Log 2:66 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<2:66>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Mon Oct 11 18:05:45 1993

Date: Mon, 11 Oct 1993 19:12:31 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Survey courses on language diversity (fwd from LINGUIST)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

The following summary was recently posted to the LINGUIST list in response
to a request for information on survey courses in language diversity.  While
some of our historical linguists may already have seen it, I thought it might
be of interest to others among us, particularly evolutionary biologists who
teach or have considered teaching review courses on biological diversity.

Bob O'Hara, darwin@iris.uncg.edu
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

------------------ begin forwarded message ------------------

Date: Sun, 10 Oct 1993 17:44:11 -0500
From: The Linguist List <linguist@tamsun.tamu.edu>
Subject: 4.809 Sum: Teaching survey course on the world's languages

Date: Sun, 10 Oct 93 11:21:45 CST
From: karchung@ccms.ntu.edu.tw (Karen S. Chung)
Subject: Survey of the World's Languages

Dear LINGUIST netters:
    The following summarizes the messages I received from the six people
who responded to my inquiry regarding references and ideas for teaching a
survey course on the world's languages.
    Some respondents said they offer an overview of all the world's
language families; some, particularly if it is only a one semester course, try
to cover only a few families more thoroughly, then just touch on the others.
One introduces a different language every 1-2 weeks, and covers a total of
about 12 in the course.
    In addition to introducing the linguistic structures of the various
languages, some also give background information on writing systems and
culture; some even teach a little of several languages in the course. Course
titles range from 'Introduction to the Study of Language' to 'Immigrant
Languages' (this one can fulfill a non-Indo-European language requirement for
Ph.D. students, and tends to attract ESL people). One respondent is proposing a
survey of East European languages.
    The course tends to be oriented mainly toward linguistics majors, since
there is usually an Intro to Linguistics prerequisite. Some teach it every
other year or so, and have an average of 8-20 students in the course. All seem
to make an active effort at preventing the course from becoming too technical
and dry; one mentioned that the course tends to bog down about the middle of
the semester.
    The standard approach seems to be family-by-family, but some
respondents noted that language typology has emerged as a major theme; one
suggested using typology as a basis for organizing the course.
    I am pleased with the references suggested (there are of course many
more for individual languages), but was a little disappointed at not hearing
from more people regarding their feelings about the position of such a course
in a university linguistics curriculum. One respondent said he felt some of his
colleagues were 'suspicious' of the course, perhpas because it lacks a
tradition. He also mentioned that it is a difficult course to teach.
    My personal feeling is that a world language survey is a solid back-
ground course that should be included in any linguistics program. It can help
give students an idea of both the possibilities of human language and the
actual situation of language use in the world, while also offering a macro view
of language to put their linguistic studies in better perspective, regardless
of the students' area of specialization. I'd be interested in hearing from
anybody who either agrees or disagrees, or has other feelings on this.

    Suggested references:

(1) Comrie, Bernard. 1990. The world's major languages. New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press. Technical; for linguists. (Miner, Pensalfini)

(2) Grimes, Barbara A., ed. 1992. Ethnologue: languages of the world (12th
ed.). Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics. An index is published to
Ethnologue as a separate companion volume. Listings and information on genetic
classification, geographical distribution, number of speakers, etc. of 6,528 of
the world's languages. Particularly good for identifying obscure languages.

(3) Katzner, Kenneth. 1977. The languages of the world. London and New York:
Routledge and Kegal Paul. Paper. Written specimens of many languages, minimal
information about each, short sketch of Indo-European, country-by-country
language survey. (Miner)

(4) Ruhlen, Merritt. 1987; 1991. A guide to the world's languages. Volume 1:
classification. London: Edward Arnold. Paper. Family-by-family account.
'Unorthodox' position on language relationships, but useful. (Miner)

(5) Shopen, Timothy, ed. 1979. (a) Languages and their speakers. Offers
sketches of selected languages, including Jacaltec, Maninka, Malagasy, Guugu,
Yimidhirr, and Japanese. (b) Languages and their status. Includes sketches of
Mohawk, Hua (Papuan), Russian, Cape York Creole, Swahili, and Chinese.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Paper.

    Also, the Cambridge Linguistic Surveys, Cambridge University Press
(Pensalfini). Already published: (1) Dixon, R.M.W. The languages of Australia
(out of print). (2) Comrie, Bernard. The languages of the Soviet Union (out of
print). (3) Suarez, Jorge. The Mesoamerican Indian languages. (4) Foley,
William A. The Papuan languages of New Guinea. (5) Holm, John A. Pidgins and
creoles, vol. I: Theory and structure; vol. II: Reference survey. (6)
Shibatani, M. The languages of Japan. (7) Norman, Jerry. Chinese. (8) Masica,
C.P. The Indo-Aryan languages.

    The following is a Russian language reference billed as a survey of all
known languages of the world:

Iartseva, V.N., ed. 1982. Iazyki i dialekty mira. Moscow: Nauka. (Feldstein)

    References on written languages:

(1) Coulmas, Florian. 1989. The writing systems of the world. Oxford: Basil
Blackwell. Paper. (Miner)

(2) Nakanishi, Akira. 1980. Writing systems of the world: alphabets,
syllabaries, pictograms. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle. Paper. (English version
of: Sekai nomoji. 1975. Kyoto) (Miner)

 Many thanks to:
 Ronald F. Feldstein <FELDSTEI@ucs.indiana.edu>
 Jim Holbrook <jholbroo@cscns.com>
 Alan Huffman <AAHNY@CUNYVM.Bitnet>
 Ken Miner <MINER@UKANVAX.Bitnet>
 Zev bar-Lev <zbarlev@zeus.sdsu.edu>
 Rob Pensalfini <rjpensal@MIT.EDU>

       Karen Steffen Chung
       National Taiwan University

------------------- end forwarded message -------------------

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