With the rise in machine translation, forensic linguistics, literary linguistics and <shudder> the internet, there is growing lexicographical confusion over the meaning and scope of the term “linguist”.1
In an effort to resolve this confusion once and for all, we interviewed three “linguists” for their views. Linguist A is a professor in unintelligible constructed proto-
Our criteria for being a “true linguist” were three-
Q1: How many languages do you speak?
Linguist A: Well, I am more versed in langue than parole. I don’t so much use languages as chew them over, consider them, write books on their morphologies and see interesting patterns in their syntax.
Interviewer: Could you order a burger in any other language but your L1?
Linguist A: No. But I can trace the etymology of any language’s word for “burger” back over 500 years.
Linguist B: I speak 6, can write 16 and can read a further 4. Do you think that is enough or should I add 10 more to keep my clients happy?
Linguist C: I don’t do speaking, as such. I just write programs that do unnatural things with this big corpus, which has nothing to do with a dead body at all. Nothing at all.
Score: Linguist A, 0 points. Linguist B, 1 point but only because I don’t want to get on his bad side. Linguist C, 0.5 points but only because that was quite creepy.
Q2: When was the last time you read a work on theoretical linguistics?
Linguist A: I am reading one right now, in fact. It is my latest work, The Morpho-
Phonetics of West Siberian Soap Opera Dialogue: A Contrastive Historical Approach Using Post-It has the shortest title of any book I have ever written. I am reading it so I can change 5% of the content, add a new chapter with irrelevant material and repackage it as a “Revised Edition”. Hold on, am I meant to admit to all that? Chomskyan Feminism.
Linguist B: Theo who? The last book I read was 100 Ways to Find Clients Who Pay Quickly and Offer Great Rates, No Questions Asked by Ima Businessperson and Hugues Envoice. It’s a classic. I am now reading Totally Legal Torture Methods for Late-
Paying Clientsby Emma I Five and Kay Geebee.
Linguist C: I don’t so much read books as digitize them and then construct algorithms to extract their contents into my corpus. I then construct another algorithm to go through the corpus and present any useful content in the form of an infographic. Look, I made this one yesterday from a book called How to Get a Date from a Girl. It got 1,352 likes on Nerdbook.
Score: A, 1 point for that incredible title. B, 0 points. C, another 0.5 points because I might want to read his research.
Q3: How do you define “linguist”?
Linguist A: A linguist is someone who has become honed and expert in looking deeply into languages, stratifying their specifications, presenting them in charts with lines that never cross, offering native speakers help with their performance errors and writing books that function as dust traps.
Linguist B: A linguist is a professional who knows how to deliver the right product to their clients in a timely, accurate and smooth manner. They also know how to hire a small team of trained ninjas to find clients who don’t pay on time.
Linguist C: According to my corpus, a linguist is someone who knows stuff about languages and can make really cool bilingual puns, as well as attract people to the field. Apparently, they have problems getting jobs and, sadly, dates. But then that last definition only comes from a single data point.
Score: A, 0 because I have no idea what he was talking about. B: 0.5 points because that sounded convincing until the ninja bit. C: 1 point for showing that a corpus does have some uses, even if it doesn’t get you dates.
Final Score: A: 1 point, unfundable. B: 1.5 points, on time but the proofreader hated it. C: 2 points, statistically significant!
The true linguist, apparently, is C. I will let you draw your own conclusions.
1 Which is ironic considering that there are no debates at all on the meaning of the words “lexicographer”, “patent attorney” or “footnote writer”.
2 Motto: Watching everything you do but not for any nefarious reasons, honest!
3 We rejected the production of useful work as a criterion because reasons. Of course, one could also add criteria such as: goes to movies to see how they say things; uses family members, friends, and strangers in airports as research subjects without their knowing it; appears to be an attentive listener but you never know what they’re listening to.
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