Friday, February 15, 2019

LSA 2019: The Teachers Are Here

In January, a panel of six teachers - me, Amy Plackowski, Abraham Leach, John Van Way, Victoria Kirgesner, and Teaira McMurty - presented a series of talks at the Linguistic Society of America conference in NYC about our experiences with presenting linguistics in our classrooms.

AP Linguistics Collaboration on Social Media

If you want to join the conversation about AP Linguistics and on getting Linguistics into more high schools in the United States, there are two Facebook groups to consider joining:

AP Linguistics
High School Teachers Incorporating Linguistics

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Class, Day Three: Language Observation Padlet

I created a Padlet for today to give my students some sentence starters to consider as they start making observations about language to bring to class.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

AP Linguistics!

Richard Larson at Stony Brook University is leading the effort to establish Advanced Placement Linguistics as a high school course. The AP Linguistics committee met for the first time at the Linguistic Society of America conference in Austin on Jan. 7, 2017.

The process to create the course includes compiling a sampling of syllabi from LING 101 courses from around the country, writing curriculum and an AP exam, getting 250 high schools to commit to offering AP Linguistics at their high schools, and training teachers. The process will take 5-7 years.

Because of its interdisciplinary nature, potential AP Linguistics teachers will come from a variety of subjects: English, World Language, ESL, Social Studies, Science, Math.

If you are or know a teacher or administrator who wants to offer AP Linguistics at your school, post below!

To read more, visit Gretchen McCullough's blog:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Article in "Language"

I wrote an article summarizing my experiences teaching Linguistics to high school students, and it was published in the "Teaching Linguistics" section of Language in December 2014.

This article details a high school English teacher’s experiences teaching a semester-long elective course on linguistics to tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Students explore units covering an introduction to linguistics, phonetics, morphology, language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and the history of English. The article reviews related primary and secondary school projects that have been done in the United States and abroad, the curriculum of this specific survey course, successes and challenges encountered while teaching, and recommended resources relevant to secondary school students and their teachers.

High School Linguistics: A Secondary School Elective Course

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Phrases in Tok Pisin

Useful phrases in Tok Pisin

A collection of useful phrases in Tok Pisin, an English-based Croele language spoken in Papua New Guinea.
You can see them in many other languages by clicking on the English versions.
Key to abbreviations: frm = formal, inf = informal
English Tok Pisin
Welcome Welkam
Hello Gude / Hi / Hai
How are you?
Yu stap gut?
Mi stap gut
Long time no see
What's your name?
My name is ...
Husat nem bilong yu?
Nem bilong mi emi ...

Pleased to meet you Gutpela long bungim yu
Good morning Moning / Moning tru / Moning nau
Good afternoon Apinum
Good evening Apinum / Gut nait
Good night Gut nait
Goodbye Gutbai / Lukim yu bihain (inf)

Bon appetit Hamamas!

I understand Mi save tok bilong yu
I don't understand Mi no harim tok bilong yu
I don't know Mi no save

Do you speak English? Yu save long tok inglis, a?
Toktok long tok inglis?
Do you speak Tok Pisin?
Yes, a little
Yu save long Tok Pisin?
Toktok long tok pisin?
Ya, liklik
How do you say ... in Tok Pisin?
Excuse me Skius
How much is this? Hamas long dispela? Em hao mas?
Sorry Mi sori (tumas)
Please Plis
Thank you
Tenkiu / Tenkiu tru / Tenkiu tumas
Nogat samting
Where's the toilet? Smolhaus i stap we?

I love you Mi lavim yu
Get well soon
Go away! Larim mi!
Leave me alone! Larim mi!
Call the police!
Merry Christmas
and Happy New Year
Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas go long yu / Meri Krismas
Hepi Nu Yia
Happy Easter Hepi ista
Happy Birthday Hepi berthde

Thursday, April 3, 2014

We Speak MSL!

A Glossary of the Language of Milwaukee School of Languages
4N6: An abbreviation for MSL’s champion Forensics team.

6-12: The answer to whether MSL is a middle school or a high school.  It’s both!
The 160s: MSL’s West Wing where most high school Science and Math classes are taught, along with several Special Education classrooms.

The 180s: The home of MSL’s English department along with high school Civics and upper level math classes. The 180s refers to classroom room numbers 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, and 185.
The AP Field Trip: A June field trip to Chicago or Madison for MSL’s Advanced Placement students.

APP: An abbreviation for Advanced Placement Psychology.  Class motto: “APP: Your App for Life.”
A.P.U.S.: An abbreviation for Advanced Placement United States History.  Also referred to as “APUSH” pronounced “A-PUSH.”

“Ask Thao”: When no one else can figure out the answer to a problem, students turn to high school Science and Math teacher Thao Zheng.
Brain Test: In AP Psych, students study for weeks to be able to identify as many parts of the brain as possible.  The current record is 327 facts.

Bunzel’s: Refers to Bunzel’s Meat Market across the street from MSL where staff like to pick up lunch or snacks and where students stop after school.
C. Harris versus G. Harris: Before their retirements, students and staff alike clarified whether they were referring to Carol Harris, 7th grade English teacher, or Gabi Harris, middle school German/Math teacher.

Coach: The name of every single coach at Milwaukee School of Languages.
Completion Ceremony: The eighth grade graduation ceremony performed the same day as the high school graduation ceremony. Also called the ‘eighth grade graduation ceremony.’’

The Courtyard: The grassy area in the center of the school where students yearn to eat their lunches.
“Do you have change?”: Contrary to popular belief, neither the ladies in the office nor teachers can break your ten dollar bill.

Eggert: The organizational powerhouse and information gatekeeper at MSL, head secretary Mrs. Eggert keeps everyone on track.  (Not to be confused with Ms. Eggert, MSL alum and current teacher of middle school Spanish.)
Evo: A teacher of Chemistry and Physics known for his experiments involving bowling balls and the MSL rooftop, Mr. Everson is an MSL icon.  The word “Evo” also extends to the computer lab and area immediately surrounding Room 166, as in the popular expression “I’m going to Evo.”

The Exchange Students: MSL’s high school hosts 9-12 foreign exchange students a year providing cultural exchanges and international friendships. 
Fad Rad: Refers to Ms. Fadness, AP Psychology and 7th grade Social Studies teacher as well as Class of 2014 and 2018 Advisor, known for her rad-ness.

Festival: Refers to Festival of Nations, MSL’s annual spring Open House to celebrate the cultures of the world and showcase the many talents of students.  ‘Festival’ must be experienced instead of described.  Abbreviated to “FoN” in staff email communication.
Frenchies:  Students of French.  Usually these students have known each other since four-year-old kindergarten when they attended the Milwaukee French Immersion School.

Fulls: Any student enrolled in a full-immersion language program.  Fulls have studied Spanish, German, or French since elementary school.
The Germans: Full-immersion students of German.

“Getting mixed up”: A code-switching experience that occurs when a student’s brain becomes so ingrained in his or her second or third language that the student starts to mix words in speech, think in their second language, and even dream in it.
Golden Bolden: An enthusiastic Geometry teacher known for her bestowal of nicknames on both staff and students, as well as being willing to stay extra late to help students after school.  

 “Going to [teacher’s last name]”: An expression meaning that you’re going to the teacher’s classroom, with the possessive “s” and classroom omitted.  The teacher may or may not be physically in the classroom at the moment, but his or her presence is felt there at all times.  Example:  “I’m going to Ackermann” or “I’m going to Knopp.”
“Half sheet of paper”: Mr. Hegelmeyer says this phrase right before a reading quiz.  The students who read the night before rejoice while the ones who haven’t cringe.

“Hanten-Sensei": Anglicism for the Japanese word "先生" (teacher), referring to Japanese teacher Ms. Hanten.
Hart’s Trip (to Spain): Refers to Mr. Hart’s biennial 17 day study abroad trip to Barcelona. 

“Hawk House!”:  The chant of the crowd at home basketball games.
Hegel: Once described as a “wolverine on speed,” this legendary teacher of Spanish, AP World History, and AP U.S. History is known for his energy and passion for teaching.

Hegeldollars: The term Mr. Hegelmeyer invokes whenever he uses an example relating to currency.
Holiday Buffet: The day before Winter Break when staff spend their prep or lunch hour locked in the library enjoying food and fellowship.

Honorary Senior: The status associated with a 9th, 10th, or 11th grader who forms close-knit friendships with a group of 12th graders.  This phenomenon is especially common because of so many students knowing each other since their early elementary school experiences.
"I had a language observation!”: A common exclamation by MSL’s Linguistics students, uttered after students have been intrigued by a comment or expression made by someone in an MSL hallway or classroom or by someone out in the ‘real world.’

“I need to go to Hodel”: A sentence that covers any reason a student has to visit guidance counselor Diane Hodel.  Visits may include schedule changes, emotional concerns, life advice, or hugs.
“I was with Hodel”: The most common explanation for why a student is late to class.

Ice Age: The German student realization that the film Ice Age and several others are actually better in German.
“Is there a Jeopardy?”: Mrs. Karabon’s English 10 classes always find themselves asking this question at the end of a unit as they hope for a review  game.

'Isabel Allende': Official name of the Middle School Spanish National Honor Society.
Kreuser: The name of this middle school Spanish/Math teacher is synonymous with championship volleyball at MSL.

Lady Hawk: Any girl who plays sports at MSL.
Loosen Field Trip: Monthly field trips organized by restless English teacher Ms. Loosen.  Loosen field trips traditionally involve a stop for lunch.

Mama Hartung: Refers to Joan Hartung, a now-retired ninth grade Algebra teacher, known for her mothering skills of both freshmen and teachers alike.
Manzano’s Sleeves:  Refers to the rumor that exists that respected Pre-Calc teacher Mr. Manzano has tattoos covering his arms, thus explaining his habit of wearing long sleeves with ties every day.  The mystery remains unsolved.

Medio punto: Among Spanish ‘fulls,’ medio punto refers to Mr. Hart’s practice of deducting 0.5 points from student work to indicate that students are close but not fully on target in their responses.
MFIS: Acronym for the Milwaukee French Immersion School.

MGIS: Acronym for the Milwaukee German Immersion School.
MSIS: Acronym for the Milwaukee Spanish Immersion School.

“Milwaukee School of Messages”: This phrase comes from the ladies in the office who sometimes joke that this is what they feel like they should say on busy days when they answer the phone.
Monitor/ Student Aide: A 12th grade student who spends their study hall hour helping out a classroom teacher with errands or grading.

Mr./Mrs./Ms.: Rarely heard at MSL, the lack of the use of these titles signals camaraderie between MSL students and staff with no connotation of disrespect.
The MSL Family: A common theme of MSL graduation ceremonies.  With most students studying at MSL for seven years, a familial bond underlies many relationships among students as well as staff members.

Mock Chicken Leg Day: A highlight of the cafeteria menu every month, the day students beg to be let out of class early so that they get a good place in the lunch line.  It is common for teachers to eat school lunch on these days.
Mr. Jones: Retired biology teacher Mr. Jones was known for asking his favorite question: “How do you spell DNA?”

(to) Oppe: To walk down the MSL hallways with speed and efficiency, oftentimes removing a hat from a student on the way. Refers to the gait and finesse of retired MSL Learning Coordinator and teacher, Cindy Oppe.
Partials: Students enrolled in MSL’s partial language immersion program.  Partials begin their study of a second language in sixth grade, instead of kindergarten.

Peck’s Store: In Room 139, Mr. Peck sells snacks and Gatorade to hungry students to help fund his annual Festival of Nations project.
Ratka: 1. Mrs.: Refers to Susan Ratka, one of the pioneers of the language immersion movement in Milwaukee and the first principal of MSL. 2. Mr.: Refers to David Ratka, who after his retirement from Milwaukee High School of the Arts, volunteered as MSL’s Technology Coordinator and currently coaches Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis.

Senior Hallway: This term represents the hallway south of the gym where the twelfth grade lockers are located and attractively adorned with names of colleges students have been accepted to. The Senior Locker area is most congested before first hour as students enter the building and race to start another day of joyful learning at MSL.
Shumweezy:  A ninth grade English teacher known for the juxtaposition of kickboxing and organic coffee, along with her ability to enjoy both while reciting Shakespeare.

Sister school: Schools in Europe that MSL partners with to share cultural experiences.  MSL is currently beginning a new partnership with Pierre de la Ramee high school in Saint Quentin, France.
SLP:  Acronym for the “Senior Language Project,” a semester-long project undertaken in twelfth grade culminating in a presentation that reflects a student’s competence in his or her second language.

Stella Yella: A competition started by Mrs. Karabon where students do their best impersonations of Marlon Brando performing the role of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.  STELLAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!
T.E.L.L.: Acronym for “Theatrical Exposition of Language and Literature,” MSL’s drama department.

That Room Behind the Cafeteria: Also known as room 120, this pseudo-classroom fulfills purposes such as dining, storage, conference room, and tutoring area. Most positive attribute: Stage area.  Most negative attribute: No windows.
"There’s a scholarship for that”: Ms. Hodel’s response to students’ hobbies, sneezes, last names…

Unfinished Business List: The end-of-the-semester list of students’ names and uniforms, fees, and unreturned library items that students must settle before taking final exams and/or graduating. For consequences, refer to ‘Eggert.’
Upstairs: The MSL middle school on the second floor where most sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes are located.
“What are you exempting?”: An expression used near the time of final exams to ask another person which exam they are not taking.
The Yam:  The mascot of AP English Literature.  A new yam is purchased every year during the reading of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.  All AP English students rub the yam for good luck immediately before the AP test, and then the yam is respectfully buried in June under the sprawling tree by the soccer field in a funeral service similar to the mule burial in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
“You be forcin’ it, bro”: An expression popular in both middle and high school when a student feels that someone else is working especially hard to make his or her point.  (Staff reaction includes the T-shirt popular on Fridays that says “Every day we’re forcin’ it” on the front and “Staff” on the back.)

List compiled in collaboration with MSL Linguistics students, MSL teachers, and MSL alumni.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Language of Bonobos

Inspired by Kanzi, MSL Linguistics students took a field trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo today where Director of Conservation Education James Mills gave a whirlwind lecture that lead us through evolutionary biology, anthropology, and linguistics.  We then headed over to the Primate Building where we got to see bonobos in action--the Milwaukee Zoo is home to 20 of the 90 bonobos in captivity in the U.S.-- and then listen to a talk by the orangutan keeper about their enrichment program with iPads.  (Turns out M.J. enjoys This Old House and Tommy paints along with Bob the Painter on PBS.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Language of New Orleans

For our school's annual Festival of Nations Open House, the Linguistics students helped out by creating signs explaining "The Language of New Orleans" for our English Department interpretation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.

 There are more photos from the event itself at Festival of Nations 2014.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Language Acquisition Observation Assignment

                                                        Language Acquisition Observation
Your assignment is to observe a child who is between the ages of birth and four years old.  The ideal age of a child to observe is between the ages of two and three because most children ages two to three are in the midst of the “language explosion” period.

You can choose to interact with the child and film your experience to reflect on later or you can observe a parent/friend/teacher/sibling interacting with the child and takes notes on what you observe.  Pay attention to the phonemes the child is able to produce and the ones the child is not able to produce yet.  What sounds does the child make for the phonemes they cannot yet pronounce?  (My son, for example, at age two made the [t] sound in place of the [k] sound—choosing a voiceless alveolar consonant instead of the voiceless velar sound that he could not yet pronounce.)  Record as many examples as you can of sounds, words, phrases, and sentences the child says.
Your assignment is to turn your notes into a narrative of your experience.   Describe the context of your observation with the child (Where were you?  How do you know the child?  What was the child doing while you observed/interacted with him/her?).  In paragraph form, explain the observations you made about the sounds, words, phrases, and/or sentences that the child said.  Your essay should be 2-4 pages, typed, double-spaced, in MLA format.

_____/ 5- At least one full page of notes from your observation

_____/ 5- Essay explains the context of your observation in detail
_____/ 15- Essay explains the observations you made about the child’s language acquisition (phonemes, words, phrases, sentences)

_____/ 3- Grammar/Mechanics of the essay
_____/ 2- Essay is at least 2-4 pages, typed, double-spaced, in MLA format

Total Score: _____/ 30 points

**On the due date, you will be asked to tell the class about your experience in a two minute oral presentation.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014


 What do you think of the American Dialect Society's choice of "because" as the Word of the Year?

Because awesome?  Because lame?
American Dialect Society Chooses "Because" as Word of the Year

Full Circle Moment

I met Janney, one of the Original High School Linguists from the MSL Class of 2011 and a student at Hamline University in St. Paul, at the Linguistic Society of America conference this past weekend in Minneapolis.  We went to sessions on Names and Literature, Names and Women, Forensic Linguistics, and Endangered Languages.  We took a selfie at the conference in honor of the Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Take this dialect quiz!
"How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk"
Based on research by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder and published in the New York Times on December 21, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Guest Speaker on Ojibwe

On November 20th, Dr. Meg Noodin, UWM professor of Ojibwe, came to talk to us about the Ojibwe language and people. One of the most fascinating things she talked about was how verb-centric the language is (she said about 80% of the language is verbs) and when you think about a language with so much focus on verbs, you think about how the emphasis on action, movement, motion affects how people perceive the world, as opposed to a language with a lot of emphasis on nouns, or things. I also was interested to learn that for the Ojibwe, the Great Lakes are conceptualized as more of a sea and that they have a different word for a smaller inland type of lake. We also learned that the name Chicago comes from an Ojibwe word for "skunk," and Wauwatosa was originally the Ojibwe "Waawaatese" meaning "firefly," Mequon was "Miigwan" meaning "feather," and Kenosha was "Genozhe" meaning "pike fish."