Course abstract - McCulloch

Course: #LingComm - Communicating linguistics to non-linguists

Instructor: Gretchen McCulloch (Lingusiasm & All Things Linguistic)

People are interested in language, and linguists know that we should be the ones to bring it to them, but how does a person actually do it effectively?

This course takes a hands-on approach to the skills involved in linguistics communication, looking at how to effectively introduce terminology (and when not to), how to change minds and debunk myths, and how to reach the people you need to reach (including whether and how to work with traditional media, social media, partnership organizations, and high-profile people).

Participants at all levels of linguistic study are welcome, whether you're interested in effective linguistics communication for grantwriting, interdisciplinary work, non-academic jobs, engaging the public, and more! Feel free to come with a project idea that you're looking for feedback on, although this is not required. The hashtag for the session is #LingComm.


Day 1: Goals and SciComm

How can we learn from other fields that communicate complex topics to non-specialists when it comes to communicating linguistics effectively? Sometimes it's easier to spot jargon and confusing patches in a topic that's not your area of speciality, especially when we can draw on the field of SciComm, or science communication.  


Find a newspaper article, blog post, short video, infographic, etc. about any very specialized topic you have zero background in (e.g. copyright law, the sound of black holes, knitting AI, Fermat's last theorem, utilitarian ethics, how cyclones work, public health policy, credit-default swaps, i.e. NOT linguistics) and we'll talk through their structure and what they do well and/or badly.

Day 2: Terminology

What makes a dry, dense explanation feel dry and dense? And how can we do things differently?

There are two primary things that make a text feel dry: assuming that readers retain new terminology as soon as they're introduced to it and using high-register vocabulary and morphosyntax when it's not needed. This topic addresses how much new vocabulary is too much, how to create an explanation of a concept that doesn't rely on terminology, when to introduce new words, and other strategies for reducing cognitive load in your audience.


Lisa McDonnell, Megan Barker, and Carl Wieman. Concepts first, jargon second improves student articulation of understanding. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 44.1 (2016): 12-19.

Day 3: Changing minds

People believe a lot of myths and stereotypes about language: how can we convince them otherwise?

This topic digs into the debunking literature, a body of work created to help scientists get better at convincing the public of things like climate change. We can also use these strategies for our purposes when addressing topics like linguistic prescriptivism.

Strategies include: establish authority, show what changed your mind, lead with the true part (avoid repeating myths only to debunk them), appeal to shared values, and let people save face (indirect debunking).  


The Debunking Handbook

Day 4: Researching people

It's all very well to come up with brilliant, lucid explanations, but we don't want to be shouting them into the void. We need to connect our message with the people who need to receive it. This topic breaks down strategies for linguistics communication via mainstream media, social media, partnership organizations, and specific high-influence people — and how to decide which strategy is appropriate for which circumstances. 


Find a newspaper article, blog post, short video, infographic, etc. that explains a linguistics concept in an accessible, enjoyable way and we'll talk through your examples and analyze what makes them effective.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University