Short Abstract for the RFP Proposal: The Interactive Linguistics Databases Project

Historically, the Department of Linguistics has tended to concentrate its teaching efforts on its undergraduate majors and graduate students. In the past few years, in keeping with College- and University-wide initiatives, Linguistics has been renewing and extending its commitment to the lower division/general education components of our program.

A basic part of a linguistic syllabus remains the classic problem set. A typical linguistics problem involves a small set of data from one or a small number of languages, carefully chosen to explicate a particular point or provide practice in a particular analytical method. While the utility of such exercises cannot be denied, their fundamental artificiality imposes some limits on their pedagogical utility. Compared to what linguists actually do, the data problems which we typically give to beginning students are almost like crossword puzzles, with preselected and formatted data and a set of clues designed to lead the student to a particular solution. Actual research by linguistic scholars does not start with preselected data, carefully extracted from any larger linguistic context.

This proposal envisions the development of a Linguistics website (The Interactive Linguistics Databases) which will include a number of features, some of them using contemporary technology to present standard material in an improved format. But the most important feature will be a coded and searchable database of material from a broad range of languages, organized so as to allow instructors to design assignments with closer resemblance to actual linguistic research. In addition to text material, links to digitized audio-video materials will provide the student with direct exposure to the original sound and context of much of the otherwise rather abstract data. Most of these databases will be used for class assignments and reasonably simple lower-division research projects. Some databases will be set up such that the students themselves can input data and comment on other student contributions. The same data can be used for a number of different assignments across diverse courses.

Most of our faculty conduct or have conducted research on relatively little-known languages, and thus have extensive primary source materials for a diverse range of languages. We intend to draw heavily on this material in creating the databases for this project. The use of primary language data from the faculty not only provides materials for instructional purposes, but brings students directly into contact with the results of faculty research. We anticipate that this will further provide opportunities for students to involve themselves more directly and individually in faculty-directed research.

This project should ultimately make the preparation of course materials more efficient and ensure greater comparability of topics and assignments across different professors. In addition to having greater contact with research materials, students attending any single course will have exposure to a richer source of data, including audio-video materials, than would be possible with materials assembled for any single class.

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