July 14, 2004

The rest of the profession

I wrote to Rick Rickerson about his request on LINGUIST List for topic suggestions and script contributions for an NPR program on the apparently-soon-to-be-proclaimed Year of Languages (YOL). (Phew.) I offered to help, but I also mentioned to Rick that I was amazed that the linguistics community seemed to be hardly aware of YOL.

Rick replied and explained:

The "Year of Languages" idea was created at ACTFL [The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages --EB] and (probably through David Edwards, the language profession's lobbyist in Washington) taken up by Sens. Dodd (CT) and Cochran (MO), who proposed it as a bipartisan Senate resolution. It was said to be on the Senate's agenda, apparently with no opposition, and to be approved a week or so ago. It is expected to be endorsed by the President as well. ACTFL has information about the Year of Langs on its website and has encouraged its membership to start thinking of ways to celebrate it ; but perhaps they've been waiting until the resolution is passed before alerting the rest of the profession. In any event, I have forwarded your note to Bret Lovejoy, Exec. Director of ACTFL, so they will no doubt start spreading the word further.

Now I'll of course wait for Executive Director Lovejoy to spread the word, but not very patiently. What I worry about is this: are linguists -- by which I mean, perhaps too narrowly, language researchers in social sciences departments -- generally considered part of "the rest of the profession" by the folks at ACTFL and related organizations? I highly doubt it.

Not that this would be entirely the fault of ACTFL et al. I also highly doubt that many of us are or even would be members of ACTFL, etc. Many linguists (probably most, in the narrow sense I defined above) have little if anything to do with language instruction, foreign or otherwise (myself included, though my linguistics department is the home of most of UCSD's basic language instruction). It may be too much to ask individual linguists or linguistics departments to get more directly involved in issues of language instruction, but I don't think it's too much to ask for our organizations (most notably, the LSA) to do so, if only to the extent that this involvement benefits the field. As broadly defined as YOL seems to be, I'm sure we could find a niche or two that suits us.

Our next and best opportunity for public discussion is probably the Annual Meeting in San Francisco. (The Summer Institute in Cambridge is already more than halfway through the YOL, but could be the ideal location for a follow-up discussion.) Or, we could just keep talking about it here on Language Log and rely on Rick Rickerson's efforts on NPR. In any event, I think involvement of some sort behooves all of us. As Philip very nicely put it:

Theoretical questions do not have to be explored without reference to how they might be applied. As the post-Sputnik tide rose, it lifted theory along with engineering in research, in education, and in the national mindset. Why should linguistic theoreticians not benefit in a similar way?

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at July 14, 2004 04:04 PM