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Question about embarking into linguistics

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, German
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 Message 1 of 3
03 March 2009 at 8:50am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles,

For most of my life I have been seeking a way to weave languages into my life. I considered being a translator or interpreter, but have since decided that is not the path I want to go. For the past few years, however, linguistics has become more and more fascinating to me. My dream is to travel and "collect" languages, or rather collect information from them, hopefully learning as many as I can while becoming acquainted with their various cultures, as well. So far I have tried traveling around to Mexico and Germany to learn Spanish and German while studying, but the languages that I am especially interested in "minority" languages (I'm not sure what they are called, actually) - languages that are not the major languages of the world and especially those that are in danger of dying out or languages that are going through processes of being revived, like Wamponoag. I am interested in the relationship between culture and language.

So those are my interests, but I have no real idea how to pursue them. I graduated from college with a double major in International Studies and German, and have joined the Peace Corps to gain more experience working in cultures outside of my sphere. I am in an area of Peru that speaks only Spanish, and I was hoping I would be placed in a site that speaks Quechua. But I at least I am now able to improve my Spanish. I have considered the field of linguistic before, but my knowledge is so vague that I always felt overwhelmed. I felt at times that linguistics was too technical, dealing with how sounds form, for example, or really minute technical aspects. I still don’t know much about the field yet, but I now I better understand there are several areas, some that I think would suit my personality and tastes. And so here I have arrived once again considering a career in linguistics.

I’m not sure where to turn now, however. I don’t know how to go about asking many linguists (or where to find them even) about advice on what to read, what schools to consider, what other more specific fields there are. To give you a name, a lot of Kenneth Hale’s work is of major interest to me. I’m not sure about teaching Native or Aboriginal peoples how to teach others their own language so it does not die out (although I certainly agree that it’s valuable and should be done by more natural teachers than I) but I am very interested in the idea of meeting with speakers in the field and collecting linguistic data from them in the hopes of preserving language and culture as well as learning more about how the human mind deals with language such with Universal Grammar.

I’m planning on reading “Teach Yourself Linguistics” to gain a better idea about the academic field as well as hopefully familiarize myself with some of the terminology. I also plan on reading Steven Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought: The Ingredients of Language” and “The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language”.

I don’t have access to the internet very often due to the location of my job, but I would appreciate any advice you have. Thank you.

Tristan Foy

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Senior Member
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 Message 2 of 3
04 March 2009 at 3:49am | IP Logged 
If you have specific questions about linguistics (I think the above would be too vague to get anything out of them), I strongly recommend Ask A Linguist:

Also you can very likely stuff reading their archives of past questions. (The prefer the same exact question not be asked twice!)

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United States
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 Message 3 of 3
05 March 2009 at 8:10pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Foy,

I concur with what Mr. Wilson wrote above, and I also suggest that you search the archives of this very forum, for I know that similar queries were discussed in the past, though unfortunately I would not know how to direct you to their specific location.

In brief, although there are those like Kenneth Hale, anthropological linguists, and even a few language museums around the world that engage in the kind of preservation of endangered languages that interests you, in the main the field of linguistics actually has surprisingly (i.e., disappointingly) little to do with the study of actual foreign languages and far more to do with an abstract and abstruse construct of "Language." I am doing all that I can to establish my perhaps unfortunately named branch of "polyglottery," however, and perhaps by the time you finish your Peace Corps service, there may be a center where you can study.

Best regards,

Alexander Arguelles

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