linguistics

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Having wandered down a random street in Paris on our way to the M├ętro this holiday, my wife and I stumbled upon a little museum called Mundolingua, dedicated to all things linguistic. I’m glad we took the random turn we did (and that the museum was open on Christmas day!), because we ended up spending a few hours exploring each of the exhibits.

Like most places in Paris, the museum economizes on space, meaning ever square metre of the museum is filled to the brim with interesting items. This wonderful gem of a museum boasts dozens of exhibits and hundreds of items on a wide array of linguistic topics, including:

  • Language acquisition
  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Linguistic variation
  • Endangered languages
  • Writing systems
  • Gesture
  • Sign language
  • Language technologies
  • Historical linguistics
  • Constructed languages

There are multilingual audio guides, interactive exhibits (including “guess the language” quizzes), and even a replica of the Rosetta Stone!

Image of a Rosetta Stone replica, behind glass, at the Mundolingua museum. The top third of the stone has hieroglypics, the center third of the stone has Koine Greek, the bottom third has Ancient Greek. On the shelf below the replica, there are various informational pamphlets about the history of the stone.

If you should find yourself in Paris, I can’t recommend Mundolingua highly enough. It’s a great institution for educating the general public about language and linguistics.

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While the field of linguistics suffers from a lack of awareness among the general public, it also doesn’t seem to hold much ground in the hearts of many language educators–the people who could benefit the most from the scientific pursuit of how people learn and use languages. I’ve spoken with teachers of both modern and classical languages, in public schools and private schools, from the primary level to university. The apathy, ignorance, or even disdain of professional language instructors towards a discipline with the goal of making their jobs easier boggles the mind.

Clearly, I am biased, as a trained linguist who now conducts second language acquisition research. If you’re on the fence about what linguistics can do for you, I merely ask you to read my argumentation. I fully understand and empathize how the daily lives of teachers, especially those in American K-12 public schools, have so many competing demands that it sometimes takes all of your energy not to collapse on the couch when you get home. I also recognize that many colleges and universities in the US do not offer training specific to language teachers, but rather group all prospective teachers, regardless their fields, into the same “education” pathway.

In this post, I’ll be discussing the following topics, with each on its own page: (1) a broad (read: brief and noncomprehensive) description of language study in the US; (2) what the study of linguistics entails and what it does not, along with its usefulness to both learners and teachers; and (3) a general overview of the field of Second Language Acquisition, with some sources for further reading.

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IPA Characters

Interactive IPA chart

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