In a new development, it appears I am going to be teaching Introduction to Language Analysis all by myself for the next two weeks.
Very sadly, my professor lost her elderly mother over the weekend and has to go out of state to take care of everything. Somehow, even though her eyes were swollen from crying, she made it through today's introductory lecture.
As her friend, I have to rise to this occasion even though deep inside I'm unsure of myself. I know the subject well, as long as I refresh myself by rereading the text. It's the teaching and presenting part that scares me some. But I don't want her to have to worry about this while she's away.
The class is in the bright, shiny, newly-remodeled building. It feels totally different there, than in Founder's Hall where nearly all my classes have taken place. Founder's, while beautiful in its own way, is a little funky and worse for wear.
There are 30 students and two on a waiting list. They are all very young, under 25, but otherwise they seem fairly diverse. A couple of them are seniors, even though this class is lower division. For at least three of them, English is a second language.
Most are English majors, but there are also reps from other (albeit humanities) disciplines, such as religious studies, anthropology, and art. Even among the English majors, there are reps from all three pathways: Literary Studies, Creative Writing, and Teaching Language Arts; these indicate pretty different personalities, believe it or not. I don't know if any of them are minoring in Linguistics, but probably so.
Usually the most challenging students to deal with in a Linguistics class are the budding prescriptive grammarians, the ones who are all about "should" and "supposed to," and who want to know the rules so they can wield them like weapons of oppression, usually on their own students someday. I hope there aren't any of those in the class, but you never know.
That attitude is always a barrier to their arrival at this understanding: Linguistics takes language as the subject of its study, like scientists study physics--not in order to demand that physics comply with science's rules, but to describe physics in order to understand it.
Their assignment tonight is to write a Linguistic Autobiography, a short narrative about their own relationship to language. I remember when I had to do this assignment, I wrote about moving from Texas to California at age 13 and having to ditch my Southern dialect in order to fit in. However, it meant I no longer fit in with my family. And now, you only hear my Southern dialect when I'm drinking alcohol, getting in an argument, comforting a child or talking to my mother.
Our textbook is How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction by Anne Curzan. Their reading for Thursday is chapter one, "What is Language?" And I have to engage them for 80 minutes about that Thursday. Wish me luck!