Here’s a collection of linguistics outreach resources and activities that I’m aware of, for the benefit of linguists who want to do more outreach and don’t know how to get started. You may be able to join in an existing effort, or it may inspire you to start your own, although probably don’t try to do all of these as one person! If you’re a non-linguist who wants more linguistics in your life, these may give you idea of things to engage with.
Why try to engage the public as linguists?
A rising tide of more public awareness about linguistics has a few obvious benefits: people know not to ask you how many languages you know, there’s less prescriptivism, people understand some of the basics of the field so it’s easier to explain the details of your research. (As David Pesetsky discusses in his 2013 LSA plenary – start around slide 71.)
But public engagement can also directly benefit your department or research: it can lead to more people choosing to take linguistics courses or enroll in linguistics majors (especially if you engage local/regional high school students, since many people have an enthusiasm for language without knowing that linguistics exists and still stumble into linguistics at random). Granting agencies, governments, and university administrations often want to see demonstrable public impact or knowledge dissemination resulting from research funds.
Engagement also benefits the linguists doing it: practice explaining things to general public helps you articulate what your research is and why it matters to scholars in other fields, administrators, or granting agencies. Having a low-stakes way of collaborating with linguists/other scholars helps you learn more about each other’s fields and figure out whether you’d want to collaborate on a higher stakes research project (see this post on Language Science for Everyone). Many methods of doing outreach also develop skills that can lead to a job outside academia or provide supplementary income for grad students while in school.
Writing & Online
One way of engaging is to write an explainer article or an op-ed, or be willing to be interviewed for an article by someone else, whether for a general publication or one specifically focussed on pop linguistics, such as Unravel, Babel, or Schwa Fire. For more effort and investment of resources, there are pop linguistics books, videos on youtube or elsewhere, and podcasts.
For more bite-sized ideas, you can start a blog or contribute to an existing blog, add citations or missing information to linguistics-related Wikipedia articles, or engage people on social media, such as by livetweeting conferences on Twitter or answering questions on Quora, Reddit, or Stack Exchange.
More details can also be found in the popularizing linguistics via online media session at the LSA 2015 that I participated in.
There are a variety of in-person events, which you may be able to participate in if they’re near you or use as inspiration for getting linguistics into a general local event or starting your own from scratch.
- Linguistic Olympiad: the International Linguistics Olympiad website links to various national linguistics olympiads such as NACLO, UKLO, and OzCLO, which each have instructions on how to host a session (a great way to meet prospective future students!)
- Summer camps: SLIYS at Ohio State University, summer camp at the University of Arizona, and I taught a linguistics session at Explorations, a summer day camp in Montreal and compiled the resources I used here.
- Museums: Language Pod at COSI
- Science fairs and community festivals: examples from the University of Arizona, Language Science for Everyone at Maryland.
Several of these options were also part of a panel at the 2015 LSA annual meeting.
- Speaking in school classrooms – Neil Whitman has a series of posts on doing guest talks in his sons’ classes, which is a great option for people with kids in school
- Suzanne Loosen has taught a high school linguistics class since 2011: see her blog and her 2014 article in Language (paywalled, but worth trying to get ahold of if you‘re thinking of teaching linguistics in more depth, as she describes activities, resources, and efforts by other people to teach linguistics in high school).
- I’ve posted linguistics resources for high school teachers, such as this article on linguistics and ESL classes, this post on grammatical terms, and this post and the links within for thoughts on integrating linguistics into various parts of the high school syllabus.
Does anyone know of any activities or resources I’ve missed? This list is rather American-centric at the moment, since I’ve gotten a lot of the information from talks at the LSA, but I’m very happy to include things from other countries if anyone has links!
Linguistics is the scientific study of one of the most fundamental and universally applicable things we have – language – so it’s a surprise and a shame that it isn’t usually taught in core curricula or considered part of general scientific literacy. If you want to help spread the love of language science around your community, @allthingslinguistic has a really useful bunch of outreach resources for you!