Teaching about language

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Sat, 10 Feb 1996 19:56:07 -0500

In message <Pine.3.89.9602091912.A6902-0100000@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu> Ruby
Rohrlich writes:
> Ronald: Since you are by way of becoming a linguistics expert, do you
> teach the way language changes along with sociocultural change? Do you
> bring in current linguistic problems, such as the changes in the words
> for themselves that African-Americans have made, as their consciousness
> about themselv es has changed, e.g., from Negro, to black, to
> Afro-American, toAfrican-American, and now possibly back to "black." Or
> the feminist attemptto eliminate excluding, androcentric words like "man"


I must confess that I haven't really dealt with the issue of terms like Black,
Native American, etc., not because the issue isn't interesting but simply
because this particular hasn't come up. Maybe I'll bring it up soon! The
Black/Afro/African-American issue that I deal with most is the nature of "Black"
English. I play hard on this because many of my students are teachers who will
end up teaching children who are speakers of this variety of language.

I do try to deal with the history of English, and one thing that always get
students' attention is the issue of "generic" man and he. Many have been taught
by English teachers that these are genuine generic terms; I teach that they are
not. I encourage my students to write using plural they, since this pronoun
carries no gender marking. I might add that in my dialect, at least, they can
serve as a third person pronoun unmarked for number or gender. Of course, the
"English teacher" types react strongly to this, but it's spreading and (I hope)
will one day be a universal feature of English.

Another aspect of English the students enjoy thinking about is the sex bias in
pairs of words. Consider the meaning of the female term in contrast to the male
term in pairs like master-mistress, lord-lady, warlock-witch, boy-girl, and so
on. Not to the mention the history of "woman" (< wif-mann). I could go on, but
this is probably too long already. QRon

Ronald Kephart
Department of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL 32224
ph: 904-646-2580
e-mail: rkepha@unf.edu