Linguistician -- Sic transit gloria mundi

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Wed Mar 7 12:00:20 UTC 2001

Note on the subject title:

Gloria's car was fixed on Tuesday.

Paul Frank wrote:

> As a translator I hate the question "how many languages do you speak?",
> which I'm always asked when I tell people what I do for a living.

>>> material snipped here <<<

> I'm curious, though. Is it helpful for a
> linguist to have a good knowledge of one or more foreign languages? By good
> knowledge I mean the ability to read, write, or speak a language well, not
> the ability to analyze it and decide whether it is agglutinative or
> whatnot. Apologies if my question is silly, naive, or both.
> Paul

Your question is neither silly nor naive.  My answer could be both.

For the purposes of answering Paul's question, I choose to ignore the
possibilities of etymological comparison or historical analysis that
might accrue from a linguist's knowledge of more than one language.

Linguistic theory in the U.S., both BC and AC (before and after
Chomsky), appears to make the linguist's knowledge of more than one
language unnecessary.

Those who were trained in the old school of descriptive linguists held
that __for linguistics__ the only legitimate question related to meaning
in language is "do these two words mean the same thing, or are they
different?" Knowledge of another language doesn't answer that question.
Linguistic analysis AC includes the assumption that only a native
speaker of a language is qualified to decide whether a statement is
grammatical in that language.  By themselves, linguists cannot make the
critical judgments necessary to a solid analysis of any language but
their own.  In either case, if you stick to the basic assumptions that
underlie linguistic analysis there is no particular advantage to a good
knowledge of more than one language.

That answer simply doesn't satisfy me.  On a practical level, a good
analysis depends on the linguist's awareness that the particular
features of any specific language exploit only a limited selection of
possible alternatives.  Knowing two languages, even if they are closely
related to each other, provides the advantages of stereoscopic vision.
It gives depth to a detailed analysis of either one.

All of which puts me in the center of a target for the rest of you to
shoot at.

-- mike salovesh  <salovesh at>  PEACE !!!

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