Caveat emptor

Tue Sep 17 13:29:30 UTC 2013

I think that the important thing here is that programs discuss these issues, not that we reach a consensus. Each program in each country is going to be a bit/significantly different.

But the decisions have to be made for the good of the students and the field and not simply because the professors think that linguistics is worth knowing about. I think we all agree with the latter.

When Peter Ladefoged was the chair of linguistics at UCLA (and perhaps this predated him), he sent a letter to all PhD applicants. As I recall, the letter said something like "In the next few years there will be over 300 new PhDs chasing less than 100 jobs." (Could have been even less.)

Students should know that their job prospects in academe are dim (and going to get a lot dimmer in the US as many liberal arts colleges with small endowments probably fail over the next decade). And faculty should have careful discussions of the admissions policies and objectives - using real employment facts and figures. Departments should carefully track their alumni's careers (I realize that many already do).

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But I think that a discussion of this from time to time is important.


On Sep 17, 2013, at 8:05 AM, Bernhard Waelchli <bernhard at LING.SU.SE<mailto:bernhard at LING.SU.SE>>

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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