Coming Home Baby. When I left the processing center a day late I was into my second year. I wasn’t too happy about it but had no choice. When I finally got on that plane and we were airborne it was a real relief.
The Airline must have chosen all babes for my flight cuz these ladies were gorgeous. This stew spent most of the trip in this position talking to all of the GI’s. This is my lone surviving slide of the flight home. I spent a lot of time sleeping.
Our flight was from Dong Tam to Ben Hoa to Japan to Fairbanks to Oakland for leave processing.
Ben Kuroki was the only American of Japanese descent in the United States Army Air Forces to serve in combat operations in the Pacific theater of World War II. Kuroki fought for the country that institutionalized racism against his ethnic background, in order to attempt an end of the biases themselves. Kuroki died on September 1st, 2015 at the age of 98
“You’re a Linguist? How Many Languages Do You Speak?”
Linguists get this question quite often whenever they reveal their field of study.
There are as many reactions to the question as there are linguists.
I do want to talk about this question, because I believe that linguists can often be unnecessarily harsh about it.
Here are some important points:
Linguists are not translators or interpreters.
Linguists are scientists who study phenomena that take place within languages.
In order for a linguist to do his/her job, he/she does not need to fully competent (able to speak, read, and write) in the language of his/her study.
There are probably two main types of people who ask “How many languages do you speak?” 1) The ones who believe “linguist” is merely a fancy term for “translator” or “interpreter,” and 2) those who believe that in order to do linguistics one has to have some level of competency in various languages.
The first people are simply mistaken. It is, true, however, that the term “linguist” is used in that manner. Normally a response with an elaboration of one’s job will clear that up.
The second people are onto something. And this is why I believe people are often unnecessarily harsh about it.
Here’s why I believe they’re onto something:
In order to do research, one has to be able to understand data and other research. If someone is studying, say, something about Spanish syntax, then either 1) one is working with raw Spanish data, 2) working with Spanish data that has been interpreted in a language that is not the one’s language, or 3) working with Spanish data that has been interpreted in one’s language.
In other words, either you yourself are dealing with a language foreign to your own, or you are reading someone else’s research which the researcher (or someone else) translated into your own language.
Given that 2 of those 3 options involves having competency in another language (and here I openly admit we’re disregarding research into one’s own language and other forms of communication that do not involve spoken language), it’s not irrational to expect a linguist to have some competency in another language.
I’m not here to claim that any one form (or part) of research is more valid than the other, mind you. I’m just stating facts.
We’ll also add that the farther one goes in academia (particularly in the humanities,) the more languages one is expected to have some competency in, in general.
For example, philosophers are expected to have proficiency in German, French, Ancient Greek, or Latin. At the doctoral level, you have know at least two one modern language (German or French) and one ancient language (Greek or Latin.) Other fields that often have language requirements are International Relations, Political Science, Business, Sociology, and Religion.
In my personal experience:
My mentor is a person who has commendable competency in perhaps a dozen languages. He has refused to list off all the languages he has studied. I believe one of the reasons he is so good at his job is because he knows so many languages and that he has access to a myriad of books and papers and data that one cannot have access to when one hasn’t studied a language for acquisition purposes.
Research, for me, has tended to lead me to raw data. Translated materials start with more than basic information start to become scarce very quickly.
Then one enters a phase where everything one reads is raw data or research papers written in a foreign language (either the language one is studying or a common research language like French or German.) [I once had to read a Latin text talking about Byzantine Greek. That was rather… unpleasant.]
Then the third phase one enters is when one is reading very recent research papers, which are often in English or in the language one is researching. The trade-off here is that they’re so technical that you often understand each word individually but can’t make heads or tails about what they’re talking about all together.
The fourth phase is when you want to start truly doing pioneering work where you’re either studying very historical things, so looking at an old version of a language (like Middle English, Old Japanese, Classical Armenian, etc.) or a regionalized version of a language that nobody really writes down very often. People who are interested in Kansai-ben, the “Western dialect” of Japan, often spoken by one or two characters in any given anime, quickly discover that there isn’t a lot written in Kansai-ben, that it is not really taught as a language, and that almost all information on it is in Japanese. It’s at this level that you really have to be competent in another language. There is no getting around it.
It’s very likely that a linguist has to know another language. I’d personally bet that on average a linguist has a high proficiency is one other language and a minor proficiency in yet another. The linguists who know a huge amount languages are in the minority, but they do exist, and this ability of theirs does help their research.
Okay, so how many languages do I speak? Since I’ve been writing about this, it’d be wrong for me to not speak about my situation. The short answer is that I speak four languages: Spanish, English, French, and Japanese. I can also read German and Ancient Greek.
What languages are on my learning list? For work reasons, I will eventually need to know Middle Japanese, Old Japanese, Middle Chinese, Classical Chinese, and Korean. I don’t have to learn these. For personal reasons, I will probably eventually end up studying more German, French, and Latin.