LINGUIST List 3.457

Tue 02 Jun 1992

Disc: How did we end up linguists, Z. Harris

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Directory

  1. Debbie Berkley, Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  2. , The linguist bug
  3. "Michael Kac", Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  4. ANNA MORPURGO DAVIES, RE: 3.435 Zellig Harris
  5. , Becoming a linguist
  6. , Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  7. , RE: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?
  8. Kean Kaufmann, Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?
  9. "Michael Kac", Re: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?

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

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 14:22:41 EDT
From: Debbie Berkley <dberkleyastrid.ling.nwu.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Are there many others who, like me, excelled at languages and took as
many as they could? But when I got into the higher levels of French,
my chosen major, I was uncomfortable with the emphasis on literature.
What I loved was playing around with sounds and words: making up
languages, trying rearrangements of the sounds in words to see if that
made another word, finding out the patterns in language. The
introductory linguistics course I took my soph. year at UCLA was a
revelation--other people actually like this stuff, too! There's not
much that can beat the thrill of discovering that you can actually
major in--and then devote your life's work to--something you thought
was just a game you had sort of made up.

Deborah Milam Berkley
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Message 2: The linguist bug

Date: Wed, 27 May 1992 8:36:58 GMT
From: <MCCONVELL_PDARWIN.NTU.EDU.AU>
Subject: The linguist bug

For about as long as I can remember - at least since the age of 8 - I have
been fascinated with language and languages. At 8 I remember poring over
etymological dictionaries and trying to construct Old English sentences in
school; longing for the time to come when I could start learning French;
having started French being caught by the teacher reading grammars
of Caucasian languages in class (at about 12) while he interminably
revised material I knew - offering as an excuse the fact that the books
I was reading were in French etc.

What puzzles me is that my background is absolutely infertile ground
for this kind of thing. Strictly monolingual working-class English family;
I never even sighted a foreign language speaker until I was 10 or so.

Jeff Leer (who was similarly struck down in youth) and I discussed this
a couple of years ago when I was visiting Alaska and concluded it must
be a virus.

Patrick McConvell, Anthropology, Northern Territory University,
PO Box 40146, Casuarina, NT 0811, Australia
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Message 3: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Tue, 26 May 92 14:28:45 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <kaccs.umn.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Zvi Gilbert and Margaret Winters both suggest that the desire to do some-
thing that combines elements of the sciences and the humanities is part of
what leads people to linguistics, and I agree -- not merely because it de-
scribes part of my own motivation (a second language learning experience
played a role too) but because I have heard others say much the same thing.
Example: some years ago when I taught Introduction to Linguistics I was
approached after the first class by a young woman from the class who said
that she had always done well in both math and English and thought that
maybe this field would be interesting for that reason. She ended up majoring
here as an undergraduate and then getting a Ph.D. (elsewhere). She has since
left the field, though my impression from the last conversation I had with
her was that it was disillusionment with academia and not with linguistics
that was responsible.

Michael Kac
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Message 4: RE: 3.435 Zellig Harris

Date: Wed, 27 May 92 21:22 BST
From: ANNA MORPURGO DAVIES <MORPURGOvax.ox.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: 3.435 Zellig Harris

After Hellen Prince's announcement noone has written
anything about Zellig Harris's death. Probably few people
knew him. It is natural to say that with him ends an era.
But he was also a man of astonishing intellectual power
(that he kept to the end), of very wide and deep culture
and of total devotion to his subject. In a period when
departments of linguistics may be proposed for closure
at a moment's notice, we ought to remember that he founded
the first department of linguistics in the United States.
Those who (wrongly) see Harris as a man only concerned with
narrow formalisms may try to read his 45-page long review
of Sapir's Selected Writings (Language 1951) and see how natural
it is to apply to him what he said of Sapir: " So refreshing is
his freshness and criticalness, that we are brought to a
sharp realization of how such writing has disappeared
from the scene."
 Anna Morpurgo Davies
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Message 5: Becoming a linguist

Date: Wed, 27 May 92 10:31:12 EDT
From: <maxwelljaars.sil.org>
Subject: Becoming a linguist


 I N T E R O F F I C E M E M O R A N D U M

 Date: 27-May-1992 10:30am EDT
 From: Mike Maxwell
 MIKE.MAXWELL
 Dept: Language Center
 Tel No: 6369

TO: UUCP user linguisttamsun.tamu.edu ( _linguisttamsun.tamu.edu)



Well, the real reason I took my first semester of
linguistics was that I wanted to work in Bible
translation, and for that I needed linguistics. At that
point I didn't know how to spell "lingrist", three
months later I were one. :-)

All seriousness aside, before that point I had a general
interest in language, but an aversion to learning
languages. The structures were interesting, but
memorizing the vocabulary was a pain. I had even read a
book on linguistics by Mario Pei (which did not,
however, make a big impression). But two incidents
stand out, both in eighth grade or so. One was when I
"discovered" the verb paradigm in Spanish, which in turn
made Spanish interesting enough to bring my grade from a
"D" to a respectable note. The other was doing sentence
diagrams (in English). My English teacher insisted that
the major division in the sentence was between the
subject and the verb, whereas it was obvious to me that
there was an equally major division between the verb and
its objects. Twenty years later, my PhD thesis was on
that topic (among other things). I hereby publicly
confess that Mrs. Shellenbarger was right.

Like Vicki Fromkin said, there are probably as many
reasons why people become linguists as there are
linguists.

********************************************************
Mike Maxwell Phone: (704) 843-6369
JAARS Internet:maxwelljaars.sil.org
Box 248
Waxhaw, NC 28173
********************************************************
~Z
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Message 6: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Wed, 27 May 1992 15:10 EST
From: <CL235501ulkyvx03.louisville.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

I wound up studying linguistics because of an exceptional (if I may praise
myself) facility with both English and foreign languages and a monumental
incompetence with just about everything else.
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Message 7: RE: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Thu, 28 May 92 02:53 MET
From: <WERTHalf.let.uva.nl>
Subject: RE: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?

What strange things we do find to talk about in the wee small hours (in my case)
 .
). Does my career choice have explanatory adequacy? I must join what seems on th
 e
e basis of the answers I've read to be the tiny minority of people who were
just plain interested in language (in my case, it was etymology first - nothing
to do with my present interests). I'm also with the foot in both camps brigade
in that I have lit interests as well (and at the moment am a passive member of
PALA and the Assoc. of Lit Semantics) - but I must confess that my main interest
in lit now is that it gives you such damn good examples. Much better than the
usual John & Mary stuff.
 Greetings ------- Paul Werth
q
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Message 8: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Fri, 29 May 92 12:08:50 EDT
From: Kean Kaufmann <kaufmannacsu.buffalo.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.429 How did we end up linguists?

I concur with the foot-in-each-camp account; for me, the camps were
poetry and computer programming. My first conscious awareness of
language qua language (form as apart from content) came through poetry.

Explaining to my hiskool English teacher why I chose linguistics over
lit-crit, I used the analogy of the animal-lover who majors in animal
behavior rather than biology: "I want to watch them play, not cut
them up."

Science fiction was also a significant influence, though I'd rather
call it 'speculative fiction' and reserve the modifier 'science' for
stuff with equations in the appendices. For instance: Samuel R.
Delany's incredible novel _Babel-17_, which takes the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis and runs with it.

Has anyone else thought of an undergrad course on "Linguistics through
Fiction"? Since so many linguists seem to have gotten a boost from
s.f. (whatever you want the initials to stand for), and since there are
so many works of s.f. dealing directly or indirectly with linguistics,
I'd imagine such a class would be ideal for recruitment purposes.

Kean Kaufmann	(kaufmannacsu.buffalo.edu)
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Message 9: Re: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?

Date: Sun, 31 May 92 21:42:27 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <kaccs.umn.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.437 How did we end up linguists?

One quick correction to Mark Hansell's attribution to me of the claim
that linguists are superior language learners. For the record, what I
hypothesized was that it was typical for linguists to have been strongly
affected by a second language learning experience.

But another observation he makes is, for me at least, very telling, namely
his description of the language learning process as dreary and inefficient
without shortcuts. Ah yes, exactly. Here's my own story.

In the fall of 1955, at the age of twelve, I found myself in a public school
in Geneva, Switzerland not knowing a word of French. I had a classic immersion
experience, which is a tale in itself, but not the one I wish to tell here.

In the second half of the year, we began the arduous process of memorizing the
paradigms of the notorious French irregular verbs. This included having to
learn the dreaded imperfect and pluperfect subjunctives, despite the fact that
these forms were completely obsolete. To the surprise of everyone, I soon be-
came one of the best performers on the regularly administered exams in this
subject. And it was for precisely the reasons that Hansell mentions: I began
to see patterns even among the irregular verbs and the task of learning the
paradigms became simplicity itself.

Actually, what is truly shocking about this episode was the fact that if *I*
could discern these patterns for myself surely they were known to the teacher
and the designers of the materials that we used. But no, the whole task was
treated as one of rote memorization which one began de novo as each new verb
was considered.

Which brings me to another possible common characteristic of linguists -- cer-
tainly one that I see in a great many of my own friends and colleagues in the
field: an inherent rebelliousness and a sense of having a vision that others
(especially in the world of education) either can not or will not see. Let's
see if we get any takers on that one.

Michael Kac
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