LINGUIST List 2.580

Fri 27 Sep 1991

Disc: What is a Linguist?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Larry G. Hutchinson", Re: 2.550 Linguist
  2. "Michael Kac", Re: 2.558 Linguist
  3. bert peeters, 2.558 Linguist
  4. , Re: 2.558 Linguist
  5. "Randy J. LaPolla", Re: 2.558 Linguist

Message 1: Re: 2.550 Linguist

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 91 16:22:13 -0500
From: "Larry G. Hutchinson" <>
Subject: Re: 2.550 Linguist
I was once being interviewed by an army man whose MOS was "linguist". When I
told him I was a professor of linguistics, he said, "Linguistics? What's that?"
Apparently, he was a linguist to the U.S. Army because he was responsible
for German, in translating and interrogation situations.
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Message 2: Re: 2.558 Linguist

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 91 18:07:16 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: 2.558 Linguist
Bob Krovetz notes that in my characterization (perhaps 'caricature' would
be a better word) of a prototypical linguist, I omit people doing semantics.
While I didn't deliberately intend to exclude semanticists from the set of
linguists, I think on reflection that it's probably right not to take an
interest in semantic matters as sufficient for membership in the prototypical
core. Rather, I would say that SOME of the people doing semantics fall in
this core, but not all. In my original posting, I said that I don't thihnk
of Montague as having been a linguist (his profound influence on an ever-
growing cadre of linguists notwithstanding) but that I do think of Barbara
Partee as being one. There are all sorts of reasons for this, some purely
sociopolitical, some not. Montague was not trained in linguistics, Barbara
was; Barbara set out to make Montague semantics more 'linguisticky' (may
the god Lexis forgive me ...) etc. (Barbara, if you're out there, please
join in even if only to excoriate me for misrepresentation!)
As to my 'bat-ball-diamond' anecdote, while I certainly don't think that
a linguist would necessarily have automatically gone for form over meaning,
I DO think that a non-linguist would be far less likely to. I would add
the historical observation that semantics has been respectable in main-
stream American linguistics for a relatively short time; the colleague in
the anecdote (Jeanette Gundel, I see no reason to hide her identity) got
her training at almost exactly the same time I did (late 60's-early 70's)
when the anti-semantic biases inherited from American structuralism were
still very strong.
And now another question: Is Chomsky a biologist?
Michael Kac
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Message 3: 2.558 Linguist

Date: Thu, 26 Sep 91 10:23:25 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.558 Linguist
> Date: Tue, 24 Sep 91 19:50 EST
> From: (Bob Krovetz)
> Subject: Who is a Linguist?
> Michael Kac recently posted a message about "Who is a Linguist?". His
> message specified that if the person worked on syntax or phonology, and
> publishes in particular journals, then that makes them a linguist. His
> posting omits mention of semantics, and I am not sure if this is accidental
> or intentional. He later goes on to give an anecdote in which a person is
> asked to say what "bat", "ball", and "diamond" have in common, and the
> linguists answer is "they begin with voiced stops". Wouldn't it also
> have been a linguists answer if the response had been "they all belong
> to the same semantic field"? Familiarity with the conceptual apparatus
> and jargon of a profession is a major part of what makes someone a member
> of that profession. I disagree with Kac's contention that what makes
> someone a linguist is a focus on form instead of meaning.
I consider myself to be a semanticist (among other things), I did read
Michael Kac's posting - and I didn't react. Shame on me... Bob Krovetz
is obviously right: there is a place out there in linguistics for the
study of meaning.
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 207813
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 4: Re: 2.558 Linguist

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 91 19:25:51 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: 2.558 Linguist
I'm puzzled at the number of non-replies to the innocent question
I asked a while ago, "What is a linguist?". As for anecdotes, I remember
one from my graduate student days: at one time when our building was
being remodelled, a worker who had been around a bit too long for his
own good asked one of the professors, "By the way, Sir, what is, or are,
linguistics?" The anecdote didn't include the reply (it might have been
too long anyway), but whatever it may have been, it does not seem to be
readily available. Are we the only ones to suffer from such professional
indefinition? After all, midwives and morticians (to take two extreme
professional types) don't seem to have this problem, so why should linguists?
Milton Azevedo
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Message 5: Re: 2.558 Linguist

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 91 09:55 U
From: "Randy J. LaPolla" <HSLAPOLLATWNAS886.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 2.558 Linguist
Just a note on cross-linguistic variation on the use of appellations
such as 'Linguist'. In my dialect of American English (NY,essentially),
I felt comfortable calling myself a linguist even when I was only a
grad student, as I had been publishing papers on linguistic topics, etc.,
but in Chinese or Japanese I could never call myself a 'linguist', as
that would have been seen as extremely pretentious, as 'linguist' (as
the word is usually translated) not only implies that you 'do
linguistics', but also that you are pretty damn good at it, and
possibly somewhat famous.
Randy LaPolla
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