September 14, 2016
For many years now, I’ve assigned my intro students to write a ‘linguistic autobiography’ as their first homework assignment. This is different from all the other assignments in the course where students are asked to practice linguistic analysis and they don’t get to do much prose writing at all.
Having just finished grading this assignment, it’s liberating to read student writing that’s not a research paper. Since all my upper-level students do some form of individual research (empirical analysis or literature review) as their final projects (although I’m trying something a bit different this semester in Sociolinguistics), it was nice to meet students in this way where they share with me some parts of their personal lives relevant to the topic of language and identity. Some are from military families, some have lived in Northern Virginia all their lives, some from Southern Virginia were surprised at how different their NoVa peers sounded from them, and some grew up in multilingual households. Many reported that coming to college and meeting people from everywhere was a pivotal experience–of course in relation to languages and dialects, but also in terms of how they view and understand the world.
Many students wrote that they’ve never thought about their linguistic background, which is something I think about all the time. Perhaps I’ll write my own linguistic autobiography along with my students when I teach Introduction to Linguistics again next semester.