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Re: Languages and research (was Re: Untranslated notes)

From:Boudewijn Rempt <boud@...>
Date:Thursday, April 18, 2002, 19:11
On Thursday 18 April 2002 20:41, you wrote:
> What are linguists actually needed for?
Yes, I know, I know -- this is basically the question people have been asking me about linguistics for as long as I know, like the woman who was studying medicine ("why do you do linguistics? It doesn't help people. Medicine does.")
> - Work on dead or dying languages > - Teaching (includes linguistic theory) > - Writing dictionaries and so forth >
> The dictionary writers will almost always do it in their L1.
No. Most dictionaries written for previously undescribed languages are not written by L1 speakers.
> If not, then > they'll do it in languages that they are equally fluent in, though there > is almost no need for this, since there are linguists and philologists > from almost every country, speaking most current languages. > > Linguistic theory starts after the writers of dictionaries and recorders > of grammars are finished. At that point, they are dealing with snapshots > of language. Enough of those yield a good picture of language change, > which is what a lot of language theory deals with. >
So, basically you are saying, 'Ok boys, we're done. We have enough data.' But actually there are very few dependable descriptions of languages. Most of the data theorists work with (if they use data at all) is really bad. Often even worse than 'yes, I took this language down from a 70 year-old dying woman who hadn't spoken it since her tenth.'.
> Dead languages aren't going anywhere. Dying languages don't generally > need a lot of help from the whole linguistic intelligensia. >
Dead languages are _gone_ unless described. For ever. Not to return. You will _never_ get the linguistic diversity we have had _ever_ again. Not even if civilisation completely collapses. Too much has been lost already. Dying languages need all the help they can get. Everyone who is a linguist at a university who hasn't done fieldwork, who hasn't described at least one part of one un- or under-described language hasn't the right to call himself a linguist, in my eyes.
> Now, if it is necessary to communicate with people and there is no common > language between, there are two ways of dealing with the problem. The > first is to find someone who can use a language you know to help. That > way, you don't need to deal with translations or learning more languages > when you haven't the time. The other way is to use translators. A skilled > translator does _not_ mangle the translation because s/he has mastered > the nuances and shades of meaning in both languages.
Yeah, right. And the physics professor who wants to use a quote in his paper is going to hire a translator.
> > Most high schools in the world don't offer German as a language. Also, > there are many other languages for linguists to write articles in. One > person cannot be expected to stay fluent in over twenty languages at once > and still have time for linguistic research. Obviously, translation is > the best solution.
Yes, one person can. I know that person: my university teacher. He is fluent in more than twenty languages, and has written linguistcs papers in at least six (of which I have read five).
> > Linguistics will stay, and stay very much the same. It's just all those > blighters called details that change all the time. >
No -- the discipline will change. Just like it has changed a lot over the past hundred years. The subject will stay, but most of the data will be lost. Irretrievably. Irreparably. Unreplacably. -- Boudewijn Rempt |