LINGUIST List 3.437

Tue 26 May 1992

Disc: How did we end up linguists?

Editor for this issue: <>


Directory

  1. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  2. Mark Hansell/ Mai Hansheng, Re: 3.421 Linguists, Human Subjects
  3. "Robert S. Kirsner", Becoming a linguist
  4. Rick Morneau, Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  5. "Nancy Frishberg", 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Message 1: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Fri, 22 May 92 16:25 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Becoming a linguist -- I am sure there are as many reasons as there
are linguists or more. Me? 17 years after my BA, tired of being
a diletant and having felt betrayed by the revolution and also guilty about
giving the president of my son's PTA a headache every time I raised my
hand (or so it was reported to me) I decided I really wanted to go back
to school but didn't want to do more economics (my BA) and one evening
at dinner in San Francisco at a friends where I met Harvey Pitkin who
was working on Wintu (and his PhD at Berkeley) I moaned that I didn't
know what I wanted to be when I grew up and he said You should be a linguist
and I said I couldn't even speak English and he said that doesn't matter
if I liked to do cross word puzzles and made up secret languages when I wa
was a little girl and then he talked about phonemes and morphemes and
American Indian languages and we finished a bottle of Brandy and I
decided, why not? so I applied to the Linguistic Dept at ucla and was
sure they would reject me not knowing any linguistics and having only
A's and F's on my undergraduate transcript and low and behold they said yes
which I am sure was a mistake but that was 1961 and in 1962 I entered th
graduate program and in 1965 got a PhD and will be eternally grateful to
Harvey and brandy and ucla and all this is to show how there is no longest
sentence. Vicki Fromkin
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Message 2: Re: 3.421 Linguists, Human Subjects

Date: Fri, 22 May 1992 17:12 CSTRe: 3.421 Linguists, Human Subjects
From: Mark Hansell/ Mai Hansheng <MHANSELLcarleton.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.421 Linguists, Human Subjects

I had the same reaction as Martin Volk to Michael Kac's idea that linguists
become linguists because they're superior language learners. My gut reaction
was that it must be wrong, that we become linguists because we have a hard time
learning language, that effortless polyglots pay no conscious attention at all
to grammar or any other systems of rules. I was about to offer myself as an
example when I realized that I _am_ a pretty good language learner, but I've
always found the process frustrating. I hated learning languages because it
seemed so dreary and inefficient until I discovered some shortcuts, namely
syntax, phonology, morphology, etc.
	If my case is at all generalizable, then (happily) Messrs Volk and Kac
are both right-- we become linguists because we have some skill at language
learning, but we are also the rational sort that thinks there MUST be a better,
more efficient way to go about it (and therefore perceive ourselves as having
"trouble" with it).
	Am I weird, or did it happen this way for other people? Let's hear
more.

			Mark Hansell
			Asian Lang. & Lit.
			Carleton College
			Northfield, MN USA
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Message 3: Becoming a linguist

Date: Sun, 24 May 92 07:05 PDT
From: "Robert S. Kirsner" <IDT1RSKMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Becoming a linguist

I support Gilbert's thesis. To be sure, one stimulus was growing up
on a university campus where there were lots of foreign-born faculty,
so one heard and saw a lot of different languages in people's houses,
bookcases, and refrigerators (like the pickle jar I once saw
labelled in Polish). But another was certainly the movie THE DAY
THE EARTH STOOD STILL, where Michael Rennie, playing Klaatu, has to
communicate with the robot Gort in his home language and, indeed,
where Patricia Neal, playing Mrs. Benson, has to memorize a sentence
in that language and repeat it to Gort to save the world toward
the film's end. A third stimulus was majoring in a science in
college (chemistry) which had a strong focus on concepts of
"structure". Finally, one had to actually discover linguistics,
which wasn't the kind of thing one heard about in college before
the 60s. It was nice one could do something with language(s)
without having to be exclusively historically oriented and
without having to worry about, say, the KIND of apple hurled
into the thorax of Gregor Samsa (Now class, on the basis of textual evidence,
was it a Golden Delicious or not? Or did the Apple represent
the Disapproval of Franz the K's dad?????)
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Message 4: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 07:15:55 MDRe: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
From: Rick Morneau <mnuinel.gov>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?


I have to admit that I'm leery of complex arguments and self-
psychoanalysis that try to explain why one becomes a linguist. Is it
at all possible that people become linguists simply because they're
fascinated by language? As the old saying goes: "There's no
accounting for taste".

Regards,

Rick

--
*=*= Disclaimer: The INEL does not speak for me and vice versa =*=*
= Rick Morneau Idaho National Engineering Laboratory =
* mnuinel.gov Idaho Falls, Idaho 83415, USA *
=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*= NeXT Mail accepted here! *=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=
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Message 5: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 10:54:12 ED3.429 How did we end up linguists?
From: "Nancy Frishberg" <nancyfwatson.ibm.com>
Subject: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

I'll put myself in the foot-in-the-humanities & foot-in-the-sciences
camp. I remember, from my senior year of high school, doing the dishes
with my father (a sci-fi fan and long-time reader of 'Scientific
American') and having a discussion about what I would study in college.
I told him I liked English but mostly grammar, not lit-crit, and I
tested well in math. He said, "Sounds like linguistics to me." And,
right he was!

And the half&half story still holds: now here I am, remaking myself
(again) in private industry, from a Humanities specialist (that's how I
got hired into IBM) to a Multimedia researcher in a computer science
group and now to a Usability engineer. When I pinch myself, it's still
me.

Nancy Frishberg (nancyfwatson.ibm.com)
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