Each year during Fund Drive, LINGUIST List has the honor of bringing you the autobiographical accounts of how some of the field’s top scholars came to be linguists. Every week, we’ll bring you a new tale of a linguist’s sagacity, perseverance, and wisdom as inspiration to fledgling and veteran linguists alike!
Over at the Hall of Heroes, our first LINGUIST of the Day is François Grosjean; Dr. Grosjean has worked in psycholinguistics, language processing, and bilingualism, to name just a few of his research topics. His tale begins:
When I think about my first linguistics course, my mind wanders back to a large lecture hall in the mid-sixties at the University of Paris. Around 300 of us were attending a lecture on English Linguistics taught by Antoine Culioli. Suddenly, in his quiet voice, Culioli asked, “Is François Grosjean there?”. I raised my hand and he continued, “Tell me, in British English, would you say …(X)… or would you say …(Y)…?”. Because of my secondary schooling in England, I was one of the (quasi) native speakers that lecturers would call upon as linguistic informants. I don’t remember the two alternatives Culioli gave me but I believe they concerned some very subtle difference in the use of a preposition. With 299 pairs of eyes looking at me, and not really seeing how the two alternatives diverged, I ventured, “The former, I think!”. Culioli nodded his head and replied, “Yes, that’s what I thought”. He continued his lecture and I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. Since then, I have the greatest respect for people who are informants!