Caveat emptor

Bernhard Waelchli bernhard at LING.SU.SE
Tue Sep 17 12:05:29 UTC 2013

Dear pessimists and optimists!
My experience is a bit different from Dan’s and I hold with much of what 
Sebastian is saying. As I see it, many (not very many, it is true) 
typologists have had astonishingly good job opportunities in recent 
years (not all of them permanent, it is true, but a considerable number 
of typologists have got tenure in recent years). By this I certainly do 
not claim that things are ideal in our field. However, I do not think 
that things have gone all bad in typology all of a sudden. It is 
probably not worse now than a decade or two decades ago. When I started 
my Ph.D. in Stockholm in 1997 I was certainly not sure that I was going 
to be a linguist all my life. I thought Stockholm would be a good place 
so I would at least learn Swedish if nothing else was resulting from all 
this in the long run. As a matter of fact, in comparison to other 
linguists, typologists seem to have much better chances on the academic 
job market at least in Europe than linguists pursuing other approaches. 
(And compare this, e.g., to the art business: all the musicians, dancers 
and singers without permanent jobs!) A major issue as elsewhere in 
academia (and art) is mobility. In academia you cannot expect to get a 
job where you live at the moment and where your family is at the moment 
(there are country differences here, there are some residues where this 
still seems to be possible). There are hundreds of good things about 
academia, but in this respect some other professions have some 
advantages. Many talented linguistics students of my acquaintance who 
have left the field more or less against their intentions have not been 
willing or did not have the possibility to look for jobs abroad (there 
is perhaps also a gender bias in this in some countries). (By this I do 
not imply that you always can get a job if you are willing to go 
somewhere else.) Interestingly, a researcher’s willingness/possibilities 
to go somewhere else for doing fieldwork seems not to correlate much 
with somebody’s willingness/possibilities to go somewhere else for life. 
Any time a student tells me s/he thinks of the possibility of a career 
as a researcher I tell them that it is important for them to know that 
they cannot expect to get jobs where they are just now or where their 
family is. Otherwise I will certainly not tell promising students not to 
try to opt for research if they really want to try this. And yes, many 
people’s joy of doing what they do fades as years go by. Again, I think 
typology is not particularly bad off in this respect.



Bernhard Wälchli
Stockholms universitet
Institutionen för lingvistik
SE - 106 91 Stockholm
Tel +46 8 16 23 44

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