LINGUIST List 5.1087

Thu 06 Oct 1994

Disc: Linguist

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Barbara Need, "linguist"
  2. Patrick Murphy, 'linguists'
  3. , "linguist" classification

Message 1: "linguist"

Date: Thu, 6 Oct 94 11:47:09 CDT"linguist"
From: Barbara Need <>
Subject: "linguist"

With respect to _Linguist_ meaning interpreter:

The Chicago Tribune had an article a couple of weeks ago about
a conference of court interpreters and translators. The article
referred to the participants as "multilinguists"!!

Barbara Need
University of Chicago--Linguistics
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Message 2: 'linguists'

Date: Thu, 6 Oct 1994 00:51:03 -'linguists'
From: Patrick Murphy <>
Subject: 'linguists'

Vern M. Lindblad has expressed surprise at Gen. Shalikashvili's use of
the word 'linguist' to mean 'interpreter.' I was actually surprised by
Mr. Lindblad's surprise! I often spend 20 minutes at the beginning of the
semester when teaching my introductory linguistics course in order to
point out that when I say 'linguist', I in fact mean something akin to
that described by Professor Chomsky, and not what the average person on
the street means when speaking of 'linguists.'
The running joke here is that when you go to a cocktail party and
introduce yourself as a linguist, everyone asks, "Really? What languages
do you speak?" For the average American, at least, it seems that a
linguist is basically someone good with languages, whatever that may mean
(though it usually seems to imply that you learn to speak foreign
languages, i.e., are an interpreter). This is also what the U.S.
military means when referring to 'linguists'; not too long ago, Army
recruiters visited our building (consisting mostly of foreign language
departments, as well as our linguistics department) and went door to
door, saying that the Army could get rid of those nasty student loans for
grad students who became Army linguists...
For others, there is at least one other possible distinction (albeit a hazy
one). Sometimes people seem to draw a distinction between a 'Slavic
linguist' for example, and a 'linguist.' (No insult intended!) I think
to the layman, a 'Slavic linguist' is someone who speaks a bunch of
Slavic languages (again illustrating the tendency to equate 'linguist'
with 'speaker/student of foreign languages') - never mind the fact that
they may be studying these languages to look at universals, to examine
language change, etc.
The moral of this story, I think, is that people still don't have any
idea what linguistics is, and therefore have no other conception of what
a 'linguist' could be, save its usual use - by the military, press, and
Joe Public - as someone who has mastered a foreign language.

Patrick Murphy
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Message 3: "linguist" classification

Date: Thu, 06 Oct 1994 08:46:26 "linguist" classification
From: <>
Subject: "linguist" classification

"Linguist" is an official classification in the U.S. military in general,
not just the Navy. Linguists are typically trained at DLI in Monterrey CA,
(the Defense Language Institute) and perform functions like voice
intercept, military intelligence, and interrogation. Whoever was looking
for OED citations for the particular meaning referred to in the previous
post obviously did not speak to many military personnel, because this is
certainly not an obsolete usage for them. I know this because there
happens to be a National Guard Linguist Unit near my university, and
several of my Arabic students have signed up to become "weekend warriors".
This allows them to earn money to put themselves through school while they
study Arabic on weekends.

Dil Parkinson
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