LINGUIST List 5.1092

Fri 07 Oct 1994

Disc: "Linguist"

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: 5.1087 Linguist
  2. , Re: 5.1087 Linguist
  3. "Paul Foulkes", "linguist classification"
  4. Logical Language Group, Re: 5.1086 "linguist" wounded
  5. Mary Ellen Ryder, Linguists and Linguistics

Message 1: Re: 5.1087 Linguist

Date: Thu, 06 Oct 1994 21:49:36 Re: 5.1087 Linguist
From: <>
Subject: Re: 5.1087 Linguist

I have a simple solution to the "linguist = interpreter" problem. I don't
call myself a linguist: I just say "I teach linguistics" if the occasion
requires. It has the additional advantage that it combines easily with
the other item I teach, German.

BTW, I actually am a translator as well, but that's on the side, so I don't
mention it.

*--Leo Connolly
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Message 2: Re: 5.1087 Linguist

Date: Fri, 07 Oct 94 01:18:39 EDRe: 5.1087 Linguist
From: <>
Subject: Re: 5.1087 Linguist

Re the flurry of postings on the use of the term "linguist", how dare the
general public use a term which we have appropriated for ourselves! After
all, it is we linguists, not they, who have decided that the term for a
person who describes the way people use language (not the way they *should*
use it) is a linguist. Ulp!

Sorry guys, if that's what most people think it means, that's what it means.

Andy Rogers
sometime linguist
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Message 3: "linguist classification"

Date: Fri, 7 Oct 1994 09:27:02 G"linguist classification"
From: "Paul Foulkes" <>
Subject: "linguist classification"

Just to add my twopennyworth to the discussion on the meaning of
'linguist' - I have found that when I have been introduced to people as 'a
linguist', and gone through the rigmarole of explaining that I don't
actually speak many languages, several have replied 'Ahh!', and to my
horror reclassified me as either 'a LINGUISTICIAN', or worse 'a
Paul Foulkes
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Message 4: Re: 5.1086 "linguist" wounded

Date: Fri, 7 Oct 1994 08:48:17 -Re: 5.1086 "linguist" wounded
From: Logical Language Group <>
Subject: Re: 5.1086 "linguist" wounded
>Most subscribers to Linguist List, whether Chomsky fans or not, probably
>consider 3 to be the primary definition in our era (i.e., L20), though I
>suspect that 1 is dominant in the minds of the uninitiated laity. But
>Gen. Shalikashvili apparently is using the "rare or obs[olete]"
>definition 4. Now I'm left wondering whether this is because: a) he is
>not a native speaker of English and therefore doesn't know the norms, b)
>this is an official US Navy job classification (possibly frozen for
>decades or centuries), or c) ???

My dictionary lists two definitions (paraphrased):
1) a specialist in linguistics
2) POLYGLOT, definition 1

which in turn is "speaking or writing several languages"

The military job classification "linguist", which as far as I know is
the common popular definition, corresponds to someone professional
employed to perform 2). "Interpreter", however is clearly defined as
someone who performs oral, generally real-time, translation, and is thus
too narrow a term. "Translator" might be a better term for the military
job, but the people I know who work in such positions are not
necessarily limited to straight translation. Indeed, the job category
is more defined by the possession of the SKILL in at least one other
language rather than by the work actually done. People in the job
category are credentialed and must pass regular proficiency test to keep
the credential.

Among the work performed by linguists in the military:

in-country espionage operations
communications monitoring espionage (most military linguists do this)
propaganda development
military/cultural attache in diplomatic circles
training military folk from other countries
interaction and coordination with military officials of our allies

In short, any task where fluent knowledge of a language other than
English is necessary and commonly used as a principal part of the job

I think that the general public uses the word in this way, though
possibly excluding people who in everyday work speak one of the Western
European languages taught in public schools or found commonly in native

The military operates large schools to intensively train 'linguists' in
dozens of less commonly taught languages that might be needed in
military action (these course are full-time ranging from 10 weeks to
over a year). Most learn only 1 or 2 languages, because the level of
proficency needed is quite high.

When I started working in linguistics, I was surprised at the 'peculiar'
definition used by researchers in this field, which I suspect is rare
outside of academia. (The public will tend to call you a professor of
linguistics or a linguistics researcher rather than a 'linguist', unless
you are perceived as an expert in some foreign language.)

Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA 703-385-0273
 For the artificial language Loglan/Lojban, see /pub/lojban
 or see Lojban WWW Server: href="";
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Message 5: Linguists and Linguistics

Date: Fri, 07 Oct 94 09:59:24 MSLinguists and Linguistics
From: Mary Ellen Ryder <>
Subject: Linguists and Linguistics

Vern Lindblad's comments on the public's (and the military's!) definition
of "linguist" reminded me of the discussion earlier this year on whether
and how linguists should educate the public about linguistics (which among
other things would mean they knew about "our" definition of "linguist").
At the time I sent in a message stating that at Boise State University all
students planning to become English teachers have to take at least two or
three linguistics courses and that some of my students who are now out
teaching have come back saying that they are using at least some of the
linguistics they learned from us in their high school classes. So it can be

The reason I bring this up again now is that when I was browsing through an
educational materials store recently, I found a workbook/activity book on
language for fourth to eighth graders that is clearly linguistic rather than
literary. The topics are: how many languages are there?, what is language?,
how did language begin?, the bow-wow theory of language, the arbitrary theory
of language, aspects of language, the Indo-Hittite language family, symbols,
signs, American dialects, word borrowing, how words change meaning, metaphors,
language observation, some observations on the American language, and word
fun. (The book is "Slanguage: activities and ideas on the history and nature
of language" by John Artman, published by Good Apple, Inc., P.O. Box 299,
Carthage, IL 62321).

There are some (perhaps many) topics in this book that I would have treated
somewhat differently, and the bibliography is rather disappointing in that
the most recent publication date is 1976 (suggesting that the author was
using his college texts perhaps?), but it is at least a move in the right

So here's the soapbox part. I think most of us agree that linguistics
_should_ be popularized, in some form or another. It's clear to me that
linguistics _can_ be popularized. Are we going to leave it to the amateurs
or are we going to do something about it ourselves? We could try to do a
somewhat more up-to-date version of what Mr. Artman bravely tried to do. We
could see if we could get invited into high school English classrooms
(at least the honors ones which often are looking for "expert speakers") to
present some of the fun/interesting/"sexy" but valid parts of linguistics
that would entice these students to try linguistics in college. We can try
to convince people in charge of educating high school teachers (especially in
English and foreign languages) that at least one linguistics class is helpful,
and then make it interesting and exciting to the students. If this last can be
done in a conservative bastion like Idaho, it has a good chance elsewhere.

Granted, some aspects of linguistics are quite esoteric and probably shouldn't
be tackled at the popular level. But I find that most people are at
least minimally interested in dialect differences, historical change, some
aspects of discourse analysis (like a nuts-and-bolts version of presupposition
and how it is used to persuade people), issues concerning language and gender,
and even morphological analysis, which attracts many of the people who like
word games and see morphology as an interesting new kind.

I first became aware of linguistics as a discipline when I was a senior in
high school in 1969. My English teacher gave us a choice of a bunch of
research topics, all of which were literary except the last one, which said,
"Go find out what linguistics is and report back." I went to the school
library, read Gleason's book, and created a morphology problem based on
Latin data for the class to do. Nobody threw rocks, and some of them liked
it. And I went on and got a Ph.D. in linguistics.

So what are you waiting for?

Mary Ellen Ryder
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