[Conteaching] Introductions

David J. Peterson dedalvs at gmail.com
Thu Mar 8 23:42:09 CET 2007

Hi everyone,

My name's David Peterson.  I got a BA in English and Linguistics
from Berkeley in 2003, an MA in Linguistics from UCSD in 2005,
and am now an adjunct faculty member in the English department
at Fullerton College (a community college).  I teach freshman
composition, and preparation for freshman composition (the
last in a sequence of three classes to prepare you for freshman
composition--English 100).  I started creating languages at Berkeley
in 2000, and discovered the Conlang list shortly thereafter.  I've
been at it every since.

When I was deciding between grad. schools (I got accepted to
UCSD and UCSB; my girlfriend got accepted to UCSD.  Not
much of a decision), Eric Bakovic, a professor at UCSD, contacted
me about creating a class on language creation.  I, of course,
was immediately interested.  After trying unsuccessfully to
create a DeCal class on language creation two years prior (I
sought the help of the English department, rather than the
linguistics department, which was a mistake), I was able to
get a DeCal class off the ground that was a pidginization experiment.
The goal was to have a class of students (I had about 20) speak
a "language" that was nothing more than a list of words without
grammar, and to document the grammar that developed
naturally.  You can find more information about the class


Unfortunately, the experiment didn't work as well as I'd hope
for what now seem to be obvious reasons (e.g., they would have
needed to at the very least memorize the words created, but
none managed to do that).  That aside, though, what I really
wanted to do was create a class on language creation--kind of a
"how to", combined with intro linguistics (something very much
like what Sheri Wells Jensen described [and, incidentally, I know
you from the Speculative Grammarian!  You wrote the Klingon
Braille article!  I wrote the "systematic suppletion" article!  Small
world!]).  Eric Bakovic, who had taught a freshman seminar on
Tolkien's language, independently came up with the idea of
creating such a class, and contacted me for help.

Now comes the sad part of the story.  I'll record it here, so others
can learn from my experience (like Coleridge's mariner, I suppose).

Initially, I wrote up 10 pages of notes (pretty much overnight)
for Eric, and based on those notes, he drafted a proposal to get
funding to develop materials for the course.  I didn't understand
what this was for (I was still a senior at Berkeley at the time), but
he knew what he was doing, so he did it.  Several months later,
we learned that our proposal was denied.  As I moved myself
from Berkeley to San Diego, we met again, discussed the proposal,
and how to revise it.  The ones giving the funding were interested
in classes that were using technology for instructional purposes,
and so what we did was formed a committee (led by me, and
comprising a couple other grad. students) and developed some
materials (sample assignments, a sample final, a sample syllabus,
etc.), and also added a kind of "online" component.  The following
year we submitted the proposal again, and were rejected again.

At this point, I was getting a bit discouraged.  I told Eric that we
really didn't need this grant.  I could develop all the materials we
needed, and we could move right on to planning the class and
getting it on the books.  Eric said I shouldn't do this, though, because
(drawing on the Lakovian metaphor "Time Is a Valuable Resource")
if I wasn't getting paid for developing course materials, then I
was doing it in my free time.  My free time was valuable to me, and
since I was already doing a lot of work as a graduate student, I
shouldn't use my free time for something school-related that wasn't
going to directly benefit my own work.  This is why it was
important to apply for funding: to justify using my free time to
work on an extra project.  In principle, he was right.  And as he
was able to get the class on the books (linguistics 5: the  
linguistics of
language creation), we felt we had a much better shot at getting
the grant.  So I updated the sample materials we'd created, and
we resubmitted our application.  It was denied a third time.

At this point, I was heavily involved with my own graduate
student work, and also contemplating leaving the department
(for separate reasons).  Eric and I never really talked about
the proposal again.  We submitted it again (the same proposal),
and it was denied again.  By the time I'd learned of our fourth
failure, I had officially left the department.

That was where the project died.  Technically, the class is still
on the books, and I have laid down the framework for how
the class should be taught, but I'm no longer at UCSD, and I
think if the idea is still alive, it's on that back burner whose pilot
light has been out for years.  The moral is that if I'd *really* wanted
that class to be taught, no matter what, I should have taken
my own time to develop the necessary materials, pay or no
pay.  It would have been "professionally inadvisable", but if
I'd realized that the job was not going to get done otherwise,
I think I would have known that I should have made the sacrifice.
But I didn't.  So now UCSD has a class on language creation
that's never been taught, and probably never will be.

After my foray into linguistics, I've come back to my roots in
English and writing.  The two classes I currently teach both
utilize language to a large extent.  Since the goal is to help them
improve their writing, the content is left up to us, so the theme
for both of my classes is language.  We've gone over several
language-related topics ("standard" language vs. "non-standard"
language; the ProEnglish movement; sign language, Deaf culture
and cochlear implants; and now Lakoff's conceptual metaphors),
and, on my own, I'm trying to explore how language creation
might be useful to students learning to hone their writing skills.
I'm eager to hear any ideas.  :)

"sunly eleSkarez ygralleryf ydZZixelje je ox2mejze."
"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."

-Jim Morrison


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