A Linguist Does Not (Necessarily) Speak Many Languages

by David

I was minding my own business, reading the news when I came across this tidbit.

Former colleagues said Levinson, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of City College, was a master linguist who taught himself Spanish in less than two months.

There are two things I find interesting in this statement. Many people have the idea that a linguist is someone who speaks many languages. Now, a linguist could speak several languages, but a better definition of a linguist is someone who scientifically studies language.

Chopsticks and Spanish
Me trying to simulate
chopsticks with a pair
of drumsticks.

My second observation was the claim that this guy taught himself Spanish in two months. That makes me think of Spanish as if it were a pair of chopsticks. You learn how to eat with them and then you’re done– you have nothing more to learn. The truth about language learning is that you’re never done. I’m fluent in Spanish, but every now and then I hear a word in conversation that I’ve never heard before, and I often run across new-for-me words while reading Spanish. So don’t be discouraged when you hear that some smarty-pants autodidact taught themselves Spanish in two months. Just remember that they’ve learned a certain level of Spanish, which might very well be below the level that you’re currently at.

2 Comments  leave one »


28.Apr.2007 - 3:16 am

David, i was also thinking writing about this but you have asked first. I really don’t know if it is true to call someone who is bi/trilingual as ‘linguist’. But i can say that i have read the definition of ‘linguist’ on some resources and people who can speak more than two-three languages are also regarded as ‘linguist’. But they are not same with those who study it scientifically. What is linguistics, anyway? Scientific study of languages. So, how are they called ‘linguists’? But it is not that problem i think. i would call polylingual person as ‘linguist’ too but i would keep the other ‘type’ of linguists in my mind, too 🙂

Spanish and two months! Wow! It is possible, i believe but as you say, the learning process never ends! I still sometimes correct my Turkish 🙂

 
#1
30.Apr.2007 - 3:25 am

Could you please help me conduct some research? If you are a bilingual Spanish/English speaker could you please fill out the questionnaire at http://www.spanishassist.blogspot.com
It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes and I would appreciate it greatly. THANK YOU
Cris

 
Spanish Assist
#2

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