Monday July 24, 2006

Linguist vs. Linguist

There's been an interesting exchange going on over at Anggarrgoon between that blog's author Claire and Steve Kaufmann of (see the posts and comments here and here).  The discussion has to do, in part, with the distinction between two senses of the word linguist—one of which means 'a person who knows languages' and the other, 'a person who studies linguistics'.  Steve is a linguist(1), and doesn't seem to have much use for linguists(2).  Claire has been arguing that the two kinds of linguists aren't really that far removed, and that linguistics should also be of interest to linguists(1), but Steve doesn't seem convinced.  It's a linguist cage match!  (It might not be a fair fight, though, since Claire is both a linguist(1) and a linguist(2)—I think she has him surrounded.)

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I don't see any use for definition 1. What does that even mean, "a person who knows languages"? Everyone knows at least one. If you know more than one, you're a "polyglot", a.k.a. "statistically normal within the population of the planet" or "solidly in the minority in the USA"...

I think he's just trying to justify the domain. :)

Posted by: Marcos at Jul 24, 2006 5:31:50 AM

Thanks! I'm not sure how we would score the rounds, though.

Posted by: Claire at Jul 24, 2006 12:57:29 PM

The funniest part is that Kaufmann seems to think that Claire is a man named Anggargoon.

Posted by: Neal Whitman at Jul 24, 2006 7:04:00 PM

Which one is black and which one white?

Posted by: AJ at Jul 24, 2006 8:12:47 PM

Neal, to be fair, there's no indication of Claire's name on the individual post pages, and her comments are preceded by "anggarrgoon says:". Not that that excuses any assumption of maleness.

Posted by: KCinDC at Jul 25, 2006 6:29:28 AM

I'm always curious about what the various arguers think they'll be accomplishing. It's not as if, as a result of the discussion, one of the definitions is simply going to vanish. "Oh!" the English-speaking world at large will now say. "We didn't know that. Thanks for clarifying, and henceforth no one will use 'linguist' to mean 'polyglot.'"

AFAIcan see, the only thing that will happen is that one or the other of the arguers will "win" and ... uh, that'll be it. Nothing else will change ...

Posted by: mike at Jul 25, 2006 11:27:39 AM

And what are you "accomplishing" with your comment? Not trying to be nasty, just suggesting that most communications are not made with the intent of accomplishing anything except the momentary satisfaction of the communicator.

Posted by: language hat at Jul 26, 2006 7:23:00 AM

Unfortunately, definition 1 is the older. Heck, it's a job title in the US armed forces ... as I should know. Linguists(2) brought it on themselves; they should have stuck with "philologists" as their field ;-) ... or "tonguewits" as someone (Bruce Nevin? I don't remember who now) once suggested in a discussion of this very point.

Posted by: the Ridger at Jul 31, 2006 12:57:45 PM

Unfortunately, definition 1 is the older...

Yeah, that's pretty much what I said (at greater length and with references) in my previous post on the subject, which is linked above on the word linguist. (BTW, I'm leaning more towards linguisticist these days.)

Posted by: The Tensor at Jul 31, 2006 2:00:34 PM

Let's ask this "linguistician"! She'll tell you that extraction is rarely unbounded ...

Posted by: ACW at Aug 3, 2006 10:53:05 AM