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LINGUIST List 22.1050

Thu Mar 03 2011

A: Linguist is Work in Progress

Editor for this issue: Maria Moreno-Rollins <marialinguistlist.org>


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        1.     linguist , Letter from Linguist of the Day Eno-Abasi Urua

Message 1: Letter from Linguist of the Day Eno-Abasi Urua
Date: 03-Mar-2011
From: linguist <linguistlinguistlist.org>
Subject: Letter from Linguist of the Day Eno-Abasi Urua
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Apart from my father who introduced me to the
beauty and complexities of language in the spoken
and printed word, one other person who inspired
me to take an academic interest in language
structure was my undergraduate lecturer at the
University of Calabar, Dr. Roland Sodowsky, a USA
citizen. He had the (mis)fortune of teaching the
most difficult courses in the Department of English
where I was taking courses as an Education major
with English Language as my primary teaching subject.
One of such courses was the Structure of English.
Although students dreaded the course, some of us
persisted because Dr. Sodowsky was such a
conscientious and dedicated teacher. He never missed
any class, come rain or shine, quite literally. I
recall once when he actually arrived the class
dripping wet after one of those torrential rains
that characterises the city of Calabar in the south
of Nigeria.

My curiosity thus piqued, I seized the opportunity
which presented itself in the form of a two-week
summer school in linguistics, literature and culture
organised by a group of linguists and literary scholars
including professors Monday Abasiattai and Okon Essien,
and late professors Kay Williamson and Ime Ikiddeh
during the long vacation period of 1984 to learn more
about this subject that Dr. Sodowsky was so devoted to.

It turned out to be quite enjoyable as we learnt about
phonemes, morphemes, aspects of literature, culture and
translation. At the end of it all, there was a final
assessment. Based on our performance at that examination,
three of us were offered temporary appointments as
teaching assistants with the then University of Cross
River State which metamorphosed into the University of
Uyo in 1991.

Obviously, that didn't make me a linguist. I was sent
for training at Nigeria's premier university, the
University of Ibadan. That was where my training as a
linguist began. But my dream of becoming a linguist was
almost scuttled in Ibadan. It was a nightmare at the
beginning and I almost packed my things and left but
for early lessons in perseverance. Because I had very
little background in Linguistics I had to audit several
undergraduate linguistics courses while concurrently
studying for the MA Linguistics programme at the
University of Ibadan. I arrived Ibadan in the middle
of the semester and my first introduction to Linguistics
in Ibadan was a phonology course where 'distinctive
features' was the day's lesson. It was a third year
undergraduate class and the lecturer was leading the
students to fill in the values of the features for
different segments. I had no clue what was going on in
the class - all I heard was 'plus', 'plus', 'minus',
etc. I had never felt so frustrated as a learner in my
whole life; and to think that these were undergraduate
students. Fortunately for me, my lecturers were very
helpful, recommended books and answered questions and
I was determined to understand the basics of linguistics.
The good news is that I eventually graduated with a PhD
in Linguistics (with concentration in Phonology) from
the University of Ibadan. My teachers in Ibadan included
distinguished linguists like Professor Ayo Bamgbose,
Professor Ben Elugbe, Professor Kunle Adeniran, Professor
Akin Akinlabi, Professor Augusta Omamor, Professor Kola
Owolabi and not the least Dr. Isaac George Madugu.

I have learned the business of linguistics from wonderful
mentors like Professor Munzali Jibril, Professor Ben
Elugbe, Professor Dr. Dafydd Gibbon, Professor Akin
Akinlabi, Professor Bruce Connell, Dr. Geoff Lindsay,
Professor Bob Ladd, Professor John Harris, and Professor
Kay Williamson of blessed memory.

Being a linguist has provided me with innumerable
opportunities to travel extensively to various parts
of the world, places I never imagined I'd ever get to.
These opportunities have been even more rewarding when
I get to meet with famous linguists I previously had
met on the pages of their books and articles - linguists
like Larry Hyman, Helen Aristar-Dry, Anthony Aristar,
Fiona McLaughlin, James Essegbey, Felix Ameka, Firmin
Ahoua, Bob Ladd, Steven Bird, Mark Liebermann, and many
others.

I have enjoyed my work as a linguist, especially on
fieldtrips. I recall once when we went on a fieldwork
with a class of third year students and then the heavens
opened up and we had a deluge. Our vehicles were stuck
in the mud; our clothes and shoes were all covered with
mud as we attempted to extricate the vehicles out of the
mud. Unfortunately, the students couldn't get to the
destination but we had to find a way to get to the chiefs
and community leaders because they had been expecting us
and were waiting expectantly all day! We learned an
invaluable lesson - taking the weather into consideration,
especially in our part of the world where torrential rains
are common, sometimes without much notice! Being a
linguist is a process really; a linguist is work in
progress!

Eno-Abasi Urua
University of Uyo
Nigeria



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