September 07, 2004

Being a linguist, doing linguistics

A colleague was approached some time ago by someone considering advanced degree programs in linguistics, someone with a masters degree in a related field but no actual knowledge of linguistics. My colleague's question: what books to recommend that could provide some inspiration, some sense of what the goal is like? In my reformulation; what books could give a potential linguist some sense of what it's like to be a linguist, to do linguistics?

I found this a surprisingly difficult question. Not-bad introductions to linguistics aren't hard to come by, and there are some pretty good surveys of what has (or, actually, had) been done in the field: some of the chapters in Shopen's set Language Typology and Syntactic Description and in Newmeyer's Cambridge Survey of Linguistics, for example. But such works present the product of doing linguistics, not the activity.

For a feel for what it's like to do syntax, maybe Green & Morgan's Practical Guide to Syntactic Analysis.

For a sense of what it's like to do fieldwork and to discover something about the structure of a language, the two Shopen volumes Languages and Their Speakers and Languages and Their Status.

And for thought-provoking reasonably brief essays, the two books that I most often give to non-linguist friends who are interested in language: Bauer & Trudgill's Language Myths and, especially, Pullum's Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.

But I'm a professional linguist and don't entirely appreciate what it's like to come at the field from the outside. (My first assigned texts were Gleason's and Hockett's, from another era, and the first surveys I read were Sapir's and Bloomfield's, wonderful books that I return to, but even older than my first texts.) I'm hoping that some of the readers of Language Log can point to things they've read -- not necessarily books, of course -- that they've found illuminating.

E-mail me at the address below, and after a week or two has gone by I'll summarize the results here.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 7, 2004 08:20 PM