Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Routes to linguistics

  1. Emily Finn in NYTimes: How I learned to stop worrying and love linguistics.

    My college admissions essay said it all — if only I had stopped and listened to myself at the time. I was more concerned with finding a hook that would set me apart from the tens of thousands of other applicants, who were, of course, trying to do the same thing. [...]

    At my affluent public high school, potential pre-meds and Wall Streeters (yes, at age 17) lined the hallways. Foreign languages were a more unlikely passion. So I seized on that, choosing to narrate my journey from middle-school Francophilia to full-blown foreign grammar nerd.

    Looking through the brochures accumulated on endless campus visits, I didn’t find many schools that offered bachelor’s degrees to people who studied a random assortment of languages, and wanderlust made me reluctant to choose one. But most offered a major in something called linguistics. Maybe by professing my appetite for such a charmingly obscure course of study, I could win over the admissions officers.

  2. In a post linking to Finn's article, Mark Liberman recounts how he ended up choosing linguistics as his major:

    My own reasons for majoring in linguistics were even more accidental. I entered college with sophomore standing, and so I had to declare a major right away. I wanted to major in math, but this required an interview with the department chair, Prof. Gleason, who was distinctly not encouraging.

    "Tell me, young man," he said, peering at me coldly over the top of his glasses, "what new theorems have you proved?"

    "Well", I said, taken aback, "just the ones I was assigned for homework, or on tests. But those weren't new, I guess…"

    "Exactly," he said. "As a rule, we find that mathematical talent shows itself early. So if you haven't made an original contribution by the time you enter college, the chances are that you won't ever do so. I tell you this for your own good."

    I felt somewhat disappointed, since no one had told me before that perfect scores on the SAT mathematics and AP calculus exams were an inadequate qualification for undergraduate study in mathematics. But I could take a hint, and so I decided to seek my fortune elsewhere.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    My father said that he took the group 'Logic, Physics, Chemistry' when he entered the university. It seems that he started with 'Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry' but friend told him that Logic lecturer was giving very interesting lectures, and started attending Logic classes instead of mathematics. After a few months, the principal found out what he was doing and changed the group; there was such a grouping those days. Later he taught History and English.