[Conteaching] Introductions

Sai Emrys sai at saizai.com
Wed Mar 7 15:15:21 CET 2007

Hello all, and welcome to the conteaching mailing list.

We have a number of people signed up already, and more will be coming
in. So let's start with introductions.

I'm commonly known as Sai Emrys, legally known as Ilya Starikov, and
sometimes known just as "that guy in the cloak / kilt / [insert outfit
of the day here]". I graduated UCB last May in cognitive science.

While there, I created a DE-Cal (Democratic Education @ Cal) class
about language construction. The first time (my 2nd semester there
after transferring in), it was essentially an intro linguistics
equivalent with about half basic ling 1 / 101 theory instruction, and
about half conlanging per se, and worth 2-3 units. The second time (my
4th & last semester), it was more of a discussion seminar of 1-2
units' worth; we mainly focused on developing a language in class,
using that as a vehicle to discuss various theory and with occasional
classes devoted to individual students' languages.

When I was creating the syllabus for it the first time, I looked
around but didn't find anyone who had done something like this
earlier; the closest was David Peterson, who had done a sort of
conlang pidgin project / DE-Cal when he had been there (sorta vaguely
related), and who was at the time in the process of developing a
syllabus for a formal intro ling through conlanging class at UCSD
(very definitely related, and whose syllabi I liberally stole from,
with credit :-)).

One thing I think was very helpful was videotaping all the classes.
Alas, some of those got lost in a catastrophic hard drive failure, and
due to lack of funding I was being an idiot and re-recording over the
same small set of tapes (when I should have instead just gotten new
tapes for each one), which means that they're permanently gone. And
some I *still* haven't gotten around to uploading (bad me). It's very
very strange to watch myself on video giving a talk.

The classes were quite small (4-12 people). I'm not sure still whether
this was because I'm such a weirdo, because the first class was damn
near a 4 unit "serious" class for only 3 units miscellaneous credit,
because it was an obscure topic, because my teaching style was
uninteresting, or what. The reviews I received at the end of the
course were all positive, my worst sin being insufficient use of the
chalkboard... so I don't know. It bothers me somewhat I guess.

To the best of my knowledge still, it was the first full class ever
anywhere specifically about how to create a language. (Rather than
being a one or two day session, or being a foreign language class in
some particular conlang, or similar.) I would of course be happy to
find out otherwise. (Well, happy in the same sense as Sally Caves gave
at the LCC1 of finding out about CONLANG: "Oh wow, there are others
like me!.... that means I'm not special any more. :-/" ;-))

I'll make a separate post about the details of that class with syllabi etc.

I'm pretty happy with how the class turned out overall. It definitely
needs work - both on my part to be a better teacher, and in creating a
less rough-edged, more well-supported, more substantive course (a bit
difficult to do on 1-3 units' worth with no institutional support

Incidentally, the Language Creation Conference grew out of that class.
I wanted money to pay for tapes (I was recording my classes w/ minidv
costs out of pocket), and creating a student org to channel money
through was barely more work than just applying for funding for the
de-cal... and I thought "hey, now I have access to Real Funding...
while I'm at it, I could make a conference".... aaaaaand voila, the
first LCC was born four months later. :-) It was certainly an...
interesting experience. Great to know that a lowly undergrad can Make
Things Happen (with the help of some very enthusiastic conlanger
friends to show up for the party); intimidating to be the only guy in
the room without a degree or even any real research experience.
Hopefully the latter will change soonish; I'm currently shopping for a
grad school for a PhD in cogsci.

Someday I'd like to see intro linguistics routinely being taught
through conlanging, as I believe that learning by doing is one of the
best ways possible, and intro linguistics these days IME is rather
bland and uninteresting to someone who's not already a language geek.
(Which, granted, I am... but then it was uninteresting 'cause I
already know the material.) I've got another project, a bit on hold
now pending time to start authoring, to create a textbook for this
future class. I believe that conlanging could be a powerful recruiting
and teaching tool for linguistics, a different way to explore creative
writing, and goal in itself as an art form, as an evolvable,
improvable technology*, and as a way to explore the parameters of
cognitive linguistics.

So, what are your stories? What interest or experience in the overlap
of conlangs and teaching or research? What goals? Who the hell are you

*hands over the mic*

- Sai

* I take the (somewhat controversial stance that languages are not all
equal in ability, but rather that they are all at least minimally
*sufficient* for the purposes of their users; the evolutionary
pressures being significantly different and the human tolerance /
adaptability to mediocre language design being very lenlient, there is
no real drive for languages to be selected for better design. And
"better design" is a very hard mark to meet in some ways. Hence my own
conlanging interest is mainly (perhaps even exclusively) in
edge-pushing, doing things with language that haven't been done before
and would create some sort of benefit to the user.

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