<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Rex's Advice For Linguistics Students
Germanic Studies Home Germanic Studies Graduate Programs Rex's Web Page

  Welcome to the world of Germanic linguistics:
Welcome and advice from Rex Sprouse

Welcome. Welcome to the world of Germanic linguistics at Indiana University. I believe that you will find IU’s Germanic linguistics program both an intellectually rich environment and a mutually supportive community of scholars.

The primary purpose of this document is to provide you with a bit of orientation and guidance as you begin or continue your studies. I must stress that most of what will be presented here should not be considered necessary prerequisites for your studies in IU’s Germanic linguistics program. You may well be entering or already have entered the program with very little background knowledge of general linguistics or Germanic languages other than proficiency in German and English. That is virtually the norm and need not be the cause for any particular anxiety. Many linguists (including me) did not begin their study of linguistics until graduate school.

Although in-depth proficiency in English and German, intellectual curiosity about language, and a willingness to work hard are the only real “prerequisites” for graduate study in IU’s Germanic linguistics program, you will certainly want to begin as soon as you can to lay the best foundation you can to derive maximal benefit from your course work and research projects.


Language background. IU’s Germanic linguistics program assumes that you can understand, speak, read, and write both English and German at a very high level of proficiency. If your language skills in either English or German are not satisfactory, I strongly encourage you to seek improvement in these areas as soon as possible.

Most students in IU’s Germanic linguistics program seek to acquire four-skills proficiency in at least one “less commonly studied” modern Germanic language. As of fall 2006, the Indiana University Department of Germanic Studies offers relevant instruction in Dutch, Norwegian, and Yiddish. It is, of course, also possible to study Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish, Danish, Frisian, or Afrikaans in the countries where these languages are spoken or through self-instructional materials, perhaps with the assistance of a tutor in Bloomington.

I feel that it is also important for your development as a linguist to become quite familiar with the structure of at least one “exotic” (non-Germanic and non-Romance) language. Current favorites appear to be Estonian, Finnish, and Turkish, but this is a matter of your personal interest.

Your studies will also involve the history of German and a thorough grounding in older Germanic languages. The IU Department of Germanic Studies offers courses in Middle High German, Old Icelandic, Old Saxon, Old High German, and Gothic. I would strongly advise you to enroll in these courses as they are offered. Instruction in Old English is offered through the English Department. You will find a basic reading knowledge of New Testament Greek helpful in the study of Gothic and a basic reading knowledge of Latin helpful in the study of the other older Germanic languages, but I must stress that neither Greek nor Latin is a requirement for these courses or for a degree in our program.

I want you to understand that this background is to be developed over a period of years and to remember that an important part of your graduate training involves “learning how to learn” effectively. You may well find that long after you have completed your graduate education, you will continue to begin or to extend your knowledge of various modern and historical languages. It is unlikely that any given student will complete his or her Ph.D. with all of the language background discussed above.

Background reading. IU’s Germanic linguistics program does not have a fixed or canonical “reading list” of materials that you are expected to have read at some specific point in your graduate career. Nevertheless, you should be pursuing a program of independent background and enrichment reading. In order to provide you with some guidance, I offer you the following list of suggested readings. Again, there is certainly no expectation that you will have read any of these specific items on your first day of classes at Indiana University, although it may well boost your self-confidence if you have read at least a couple of them. (I particularly recommend the books by Pinker, Baker, Bauer & Trudgill, and Russ as good starting points, as well as any of the material in Stewart & Vaillette that strikes your interest.) You will probably find it very helpful to have worked through most or all of these materials by about the middle of your third year of graduate study. Of course, you are always welcome to discuss the concepts and analyses presented in these books with relevant faculty members.

Suggestions for background readings:

Baker, Mark C. (2001) The Atoms of Language: The Mind’s Hidden Rules of Grammar. New York: Basic Books.

Bauer, Laurie & Peter Trudgill (eds.) (1998) Language Myths. New York: Penguin Books.

Carnie, Andrew (2002) Syntax: A Generative Approach. (Introducing Linguistics, 4.) Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Chomsky, Noam (2000) New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Comrie, Bernard (1989) Language Universals and Linguistic Typology: Syntax and Morphology. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Green, D.H. (1998) Language and History in the Early Germanic World. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Green, Georgia M. & Jerry L. Morgan (1996) Practical Guide to Syntactic Analysis. (CSLI Lecture Notes, 67.) Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information

Haspelmath, Martin (2002) Understanding Morphology. New York: Arnold/Oxford University Press.

Hawkins, Roger (2001) Second Language Syntax: A Generative Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Odden, David (2005) Introducing Phonology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pinker, Steven (1994) The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Morrow.

Portner, Paul (2005) What Is Meaning? Fundamentals of Formal Semantics. Oxford: Clarendon.

Russ, Charles V.J. (1994) The German Language: A Linguistic Introduction. New York: Routledge.

Smith, Neil (1999) Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Trask, R. L. (1996) Historical Linguistics. New York: Arnold/St. Martin’s Press.

Wardhaugh, Ronald (1998) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. 3rd edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Wells, C.J. (1987) German: A Linguistic History to 1945. New York: Oxford at the Clarendon Press.
Guest lectures and conferences. Guest lectures and conferences offer additional important venues for broadening your knowledge of linguistics. Be sure to have your e-mail address added to the Linguistics Department’s distribution list, so that you will receive announcements of linguistics lectures at IU. Do not be concerned if you understand only a relatively small fraction of the technical details presented in the first several lectures you attend. Try to follow the overall gist of the lecture, identifying the controversy addressed, the major claims made, and the arguments offered in support of the claims. Get a feeling for how linguists communicate with each other, and be sure to stay for the discussion period at the end.

There are two regularly scheduled North America-based Germanic linguistics conferences with an international scope: The Berkeley Germanic Linguistics Roundtable, held at the University of California at Berkeley early in April of even-numbered years, and Germanic Linguistics Annual Conference (GLAC), held late in April every year and hosted by various universities. Every month several linguistics conferences are held at various locations around the world, ranging from the highly general Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America to conferences with extremely narrow foci. I would advise you to try to attend at least one conference of strong potential interest to you by the end of your second year of graduate study (in addition to our local Philologists in Germanic Studies at Indiana and Illinois [PIGSTII] meeting, held every fall). This will give you a broader sense of at least one research community within the profession and invaluable insights into what works (and does not work) when presenting conference papers. It will also offer you opportunities to gauge current research trends, become aware of new ideas, and meet linguistics students and faculty from a range of institutions. After you have attended one conference as an observer, you should be ready to begin submitting abstracts and giving conference presentations. In linguistics, presenting research at conferences is generally an important step toward shaping it into publishable form. IU students who present papers are eligible to apply for funding to help defray the cost of travel to conferences.
Professional organizations. I would advise you to join the Indiana University Linguistics Club, the Society for Germanic Linguistics, and the Linguistic Society of America. The latter two have special reduced membership rates for students.
Study groups and reading groups. You will soon find a number of study groups and reading groups of interest to IU Germanic linguistics students, some of which have traditions reaching back several decades. The Þing (Old Norse Saga Reading Group) pre-dates anyone currently at Indiana University and is one of our most venerable institutions. In recent years, there have also been groups focused on reading Middle High German, reading Old French, reading Old Provençal, discussing syntactic theory, presenting second language acquisition research, discussing recent developments in sociolinguistics, and reading and/or speaking Welsh. Some of these groups come into existence and go out of existence as interest, need, and energies wax and wane. Participation in these groups provides excellent opportunities for “extracurricular curricular activities”: occasions for both learning and socializing. In my experience, for both faculty and students, they help to enrich and enliven the already exciting experience of Germanic linguistics at Indiana University.

Department of Germanic Studies
1020 E. Kirkwood Ave. Ballantine Hall 644, Bloomington, IN 47405-7103
(812) 855-1553 / fax (812) 855-8927

Last updated: 31 October, 2014
URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~germanic/
Comments and questions: germanic@indiana.edu
Maintained by: Michelle Dunbar 
|Copyright 1999, The Trustees of Indiana University|
|Copyright Complaints|