Poor Linguistics, Always Misunderstood.

As a Linguistics major, I feel it is my duty to share this with you all.
We're so terribly misunderstood.
This article really simplifies the subject, but because it's a subject known by so few I think it best that it be super simplified.

(I study a little more than walk vs walked.)

(like IPA)

(and waveforms of Hungarian vowels)

(and x-bar in my theoretical syntax class)
[Betcha didn't know "Jack appears to have given an elephant to the zoo" was so complex.]

And no, I don't speak Mandarin, Thai, French, Portuguese, or even have a solid grip on the British or Australian English dialects. Yes, I speak a bit of Spanish.  No, this does
not make me a linguistic failure.  If we ever run into each other on the way to the gym, or in line for Subway, or see each other at an intersection, and we just so happen upon the topic of the rest of our lives.......please do not ask me how many languages I speak.   

Also, for all you out there* asking, Well, what are you going to DO with THAT?:  it's actually a very viable major.
Even a preferred one by law schools and many graduate programs.
I know exactly what I want to do.
So no need to fret or fuss.

Want to know more?  
Read this.

* concerned family members

Poor linguistics, always misunderstood

The first thing I am asked when I tell people I studied linguistics – aside from “What is that?” – is “So how many languages do you speak?”
Well, one. I could carry on a relatively boring conversation in French if I brushed up on a few grammar points, but that’s not really what they’re asking. What many people don’t understand is that linguistics isn’t about learning to speak multiple languages; it’s about studying the science of language in general. The next question I get after I explain this is, “Okay…like what?”
This is a loaded question.
I’ll explain a few sub-fields of linguistics in layman’s terms – because what’s the use in explaining it to a non-linguist using linguistic jargon (ling lingo, perhaps)?
Syntax is the way words come together to form sentences. Even something as simple to us as changing a statement (“You are there.”) into a question (“Are you there?”) is actually quite complicated under the surface. Words hop over each other in getting from the meaning of what we say to what we actually utter.
Phonology is the sound system of a language, and how these sounds interact and convey meaning. Have you ever wondered why we don’t pronounce the two t’s in “button”? It sounds more like “buh-in”. That’s because the noise we’re making is actually a sound called a glottal stop – but in English it’s often understood as a “t”.
Morphology is the structure of words. “The structure of words?!” I can imagine you saying. “Words don’t have structure! They’re just…WORDS!” But they do. Words are made up of morphemes, which are the smallest meaningful units in language. Think about it – “walk” is different than “walked” because of the –ed. So –ed is a morpheme – it contributes the meaning of the past tense.
Those are just a few of the topics linguists study. If you’re interested in learning more, try looking up semantics, sociolinguistics, cognition, etymology, second-language acquisition, anthropology…the list goes on. And as you can see, linguistics can cross over into studies like psychology, sociology, and anthropology. That’s because language is so important to humans!
So next time you meet a linguist, keep in mind they might speak less languages than you do. And if you still want to know…make it your second question!


Paige Montgomery said...

Fascinating! I will admit I never knew just what it was all about. Side note - I laughed an ironic (?) laugh when I saw the woman wrote "less" languages instead of "fewer" :).

Paige Andy said...

I know! I noticed too. Isn't that hilarious? Linguists, not grammar teachers :) Just goes to show the difference I suppose!