LINGUIST List 5.970

Wed 07 Sep 1994

Qs: Data in teaching; Italian; Research on negotiation

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  1. "Larry Trask", The teaching of syntax
  2. Felix Mayer, Accademia Europea, Italian word frequency list
  3. Greg Iverson, Negotiations corpora

Message 1: The teaching of syntax

Date: Wed, 7 Sep 1994 10:24:35 +The teaching of syntax
From: "Larry Trask" <>
Subject: The teaching of syntax

This is a very general query about the teaching of syntax, or perhaps
even of core linguistics generally, to beginning undergraduates. It
derives from a rather troubling experience which I had not long ago.

At this university (Sussex), all undergraduate linguistics teaching is
strongly data-oriented. At every turn, our students are confronted with
language data, and they are expected to be able to look at the data, to
identify patterns, and to express the generalizations they find in the
most explicit manner possible. I myself believe (and I think my
colleagues share my view) that the ability to spot and express
regularities is one of the central objectives of any degree in
linguistics, and one which is more fundamental then learning the details
of any currently fashionable theoretical frameworks. In particular,
this is the way I teach my introductory course in syntax: here are some
interesting data; what do you make of them? Partly as a consequence, I
do not teach Government-and-Binding theory to beginners, since, quite
apart from my reservations about GB as a framework, it does not lend
itself well to this kind of approach.

Some time ago I had a visiting student from a university at which all
syntax teaching was GB teaching. In spite of already having done a good
deal of syntax there, she signed up for my introductory course. She had
received straight As for her GB courses, and naturally I assumed that
she would find my course a snap. But I could not have been more wrong.

To my astonishment, she proved to be almost completely incapable of
looking at even simple sets of data and extracting generalizations. In
spite of her background, she was very much worse at this than most of
the students coming to syntax for the first time. She could draw
impeccable GB trees, and she could recite the GB homilies word-perfect,
but she COULD NOT look at data and see patterns. When I called her in
to discuss her problems, she told me that, at her own university, not
only had she never been taught to look for patterns in data, but she had
been explicitly taught NOT to try to do this. Instead, it seems, she
had been taught to master the principles of GB and then to fit the data
into the principles. Principles first; data a very poor second.

But, of course, this was only one student, and I have no way of knowing
whether her experience was typical of GB teaching or highly unusual. So
here's my question, aimed particularly (but not exclusively) at
colleagues who teach GB syntax from day one: do you too teach syntax in
the way that my visiting student was taught it? If so, how do you
justify it, and, if not, what do you do instead?

I shall close with an observation that seems to sum up my student's
experience: Children want data, and there is a child in each of us; GB
makes a virtue of not pampering that child. (If you can recognize the
source of my little parody, you may consider yourself a genuine old-timer.)

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH
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Message 2: Italian word frequency list

Date: Wed, 07 Sep 1994 18:20:00 Italian word frequency list
From: Felix Mayer, Accademia Europea <>
Subject: Italian word frequency list

Dear linguist netters,
I am interested in finding some word frequency lists for written Italian
(non-literary standard Italian and/or legal/economic Italian).
They are to be used as a basis for the compilation of Italian teaching texts.
Any help anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated.


Daniela Veronesi
Accademia Europea di Bolzano Tel: +39/471/981999
Via Weggenstein 12/A Fax: +39/471/981998
I-39100 Bolzano e-mail:
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Message 3: Negotiations corpora

Date: Wed, 7 Sep 1994 08:14:50 -Negotiations corpora
From: Greg Iverson <>
Subject: Negotiations corpora

The following message is being posted on behalf of a colleague in Germany,
who is not subscribed to LINGUIST...please respond to her directly, as
indicated below:

>From Kathryn Khairi-Taraki; email to:

I would like to do a study on the language of
negotiations (in English). As no businessman here wants to have his
negotiations taped, I am having a very difficult time getting a
corpus set up. I will also be in contact with several other
institutes in Germany and Denmark to see if they have any corpora on
diskette which could be used for the sake of comparison.

What I would like to ask you is whether you could put out a call to
all your E-mail friends to see whether any linguists might have
negotiation protocols - in any form whatever - handwritten,
videotape, audio tape, diskette. Of course, once I compile a corpus,
I will be happy to place my corpus at their disposal.

I can be reached on E-Mail via H. Bergner's address:

Our Fax number is: (Germany) 641-702-3811.
My mailing address: Kathryn Khairi-Taraki
 Institut fuer Anglistik u.
 Justus Liebig Universitaet
 Otto Behaghel Str. 10
 35394 Giessen / GERMANY
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