The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective
Are you in a world of linguistic hurt? The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective (SLAC) will offer you empirical, empathic, emphatic advice you can use!*
Remember, if you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don’t need advice! So, if you need advice, trust us—and cut yourself some SLAC!
I have always been passionate about theoretical linguistics, especially Whorfian philosophies and post-colonial phonotactics, but my friends and family want me to pursue something that might get me a job, like Economics or Translation Studies? What should I do?
✢ ✢ ✢
Dear Not ’N Sync,
I feel I must question your passion. It seems improbable that one could be passionate about theoretical linguistics and not be interested in syntax. Seems like you are doing it wrong. Also, there are really only two positions available within theoretical linguistics: Noam Chomsky and linguistic worker drone. You aren’t in the running, so you will be a worker drone, which requires vows of poverty and of social isolation. Come back when you no longer care about money, and you’ve driven away all your friends and family.
—SLAC Unit #54726579
✢ ✢ ✢
Come to the Translation Studies side. We have biscuits and jobs. And every Tuesday, we have a piñata. Just, please, don’t feed the literary translation theorists. They get snappy.
—SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e
✢ ✢ ✢
Dear No Doubt,
First, let me start by saying how excited I am to answer a question posed by my favorite radio-friendly ska-punk crossover act from the mid 90s. I think it’s great that you’re interested in linguistics! Whoever says you can’t get a job with a degree earned by specializing in highly theoretical syntactic frameworks and seen-as-embarrassing-by-the-greater-linguistics-community Sapir-Whorfian claims is crazy! Here’s the thing—people tell you that in order to be a great linguist, you need to actually be a computer scientist. But what they don’t realize is that if you had any interest in making philosophical handwaving work in any meaningful, testable way à la computational models, you wouldn’t be in the linguistics department! No way! Think that I write my papers in anything other than Microsoft Word 1998? No way! I don’t even know what an NLP is! I wrote a well-respected dissertation-made-book back in 1977 just like all my other colleagues, and look at us now! All tenured and about to retire to our beautiful vacation homes in the Catskills. Nothing has changed since 1978 and so you really shouldn’t worry. Based on a sample of all my colleagues, all of them got great professorships right out of their Ph.D. I think that’s a pretty great success rate, don’t you?
Love and admiration,
✢ ✢ ✢
—SLAC Unit #5a6163
SLAC Unit #5a6163,
Your only sense of taste is in your mouth. No Doubt (the band; I’m reserving judgment on the other such entity) sucked rocks; their only good song, “Just a Girl,” is infinitely inferior to “American Girl” by The Miggedys, and the rest of their oeuvre cannot be mentioned in the same state of the union as Distemper or even, alas, Sublime, never mind true geniuses like Hepcat, The Slackers, or The Toasters.
Oh, and N. Doubt? Why don’t you become a ska musician by night and daylight as a theoretical linguist? Looks like you’ve already got the start of a fan base up in the Catskills.
—SLAC Unit #4d696b61656c
✢ ✢ ✢
You’ve wasted your time writing to us. Sure, we can answer your question, but whatever answer you pick is going to be like putting a band-aid on a brain hemorrhage. What you have is a deep psychological problem, most likely stemming from something your mother said to her own mother. I urge you to get real help. Go to a psychiatrist. They’re the only ones qualified to deal with symptoms like yours.
(Don’t forget to double the prescription medicine coverage on your medical insurance first.)
—SLAC Unit #4b65697468
✢ ✢ ✢
Dear N. Doubt:
While you should definitely consider an employment-boosting backup plan, you should pick something more closely related to your interests and in a field less problematic than the ones you listed. From all reports, “Translation Studies” means different things to different people, and although the fine folks at Google have yet to automate translation fully, they’re getting closer and closer to hitting that magic “fourth grade English” level that renders texts understandable by marketers and middle management. Economics may seem attractive on first inspection, since its devotion to formally precise yet oddly untestable models lets you transfer skills from Linguistics. But, N. Doubt, Economics is, quite literally, dismal.
From your references to Whorfianism and post-colonialist phonotactics, I would venture a guess that you’re keenly interested in the relationships, or possible lack of distinctions between, thought and language; your phonotactics indicate a high tolerance for buzzwords and the ability to maintain focus on marking in-group distinctions through language use. Have you thought of becoming a political consultant? You could dismantle hegemony from within, or at least constipate it most righteously.
—SLAC Unit #42696c6c
* Advice is not guaranteed to be useful, practical, or even possible. Do not attempt at home. Consult a doctor (of linguistics, philology, or—in a pinch—anthropology) before undertaking any course of treatment. This advice is not intended to cure or treat any disease or condition, inherent or contingent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except when it is not. “Empirical” means that we asked at least two other “people” whether our advice was good; one or more of those “people” may be voices in our own heads. “Emphatic” means that you may print out a copy of the advice for personal use in a medium, semi-bold, bold, heavy, black, or ultra-black weight of an italic or oblique typeface using an enlarged font size. “Empathic” means that deep down, in the darkest recesses of our blackest heart of hearts, we really, really care ♥—just not necessarily about you.