constructed language project

It’s finals time here at the university. I decided to give my Introduction to Linguistics students their final — technically a third midterm, since it’s not comprehensive — during the last week of class. The final two days of class are reserved for an in-class poster session about each student’s final project, which is a constructed language of their making.

The requirements for the project are pretty simple: create a language with a little bit of backstory, create a phonetic inventory, some phonological rules, syntactic and morphological structures, a lexicon, and create a couple of interesting sociolinguistic or historical phenomena for the language. They’ve done the bulk of the work already, since the “grammar” portion of the language was due about a month ago. Now they just have to do the last part (the socio/historical stuff) and make a poster.

The class seems to be split about 70/30 of students who either LOVE the project or HATE it. The students who hate it aren’t complaining, which is great — they’re chugging along, doing the work, and they’ll get the grade for the work they put in. Most of the complaints from those students is that the project requires a large amount of creativity, which is difficult for some.  The other segment of class, those who love it, are really terribly excited about the project and about getting to deploy their creativity in a class project. I get e-mails with questions about whether X phonological process is totally unthinkable, or how it would be best to present their verb-movement syntactic structures on the poster.

It’s delightful to see such a large portion of the class engaging with this project. Furthermore, past Introduction to Linguistics students who have heard about this project are jealous that they didn’t get to do this in their class. For those who teach an Intro class, I cannot recommend this project enough for your students. It’s hard work, and it’s awful to grade, but the students really learn how language is structures by making their own structure, and they get to experience the synthesis of the subfields of linguistics firsthand.

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