For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.
Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.
Today we are happy to share the words of Maja Ina Ruparčič, a second-year undergraduate at the University of Ljubljana. She is most interested in syntax, semantics, and contrastive analysis. Her independent research includes survey- and corpus-based inquiry into the expression “it is (high) time” and speakers’ choice of the verbal expression following.
We Odd Wugs
As David Crystal so eloquently put it at a conference I attended recently, ‘we linguists are sad people.’ A quote that resonated with me, for like Professor Crystal, I too have spent many an hour digging through dictionaries and corpora for reasons that might appear trivial to the average individual. As a second-year undergraduate currently pursuing my studies at the University of Ljubljana, I have had the chance to immerse myself in the world of language, literature, and research with special focus on English and French. Considering the wide array of possibilities that a linguistics related major offers, I find it challenging to choose a clear-cut path that fully echoes my interests, which might, like language, evolve over time and away from my current predisposition for theory.
Crystal himself can be considered one of the revolutionaries that have popularised linguistics as a scientific field and, to a certain extent, helped mollify the rigid prescriptivist perception of modern language change. For this reason, I suspect future trends will chiefly relate to its practical usefulness rather than theory – a phenomenon neatly illustrating the interplay between the call for utility and its influence on the rapidly changing society. I am not surprised by the flourishing status of fields such as computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication, and (foreign) language acquisition. These echo the current political and economic situations all around the globe. Our world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and language has had to accommodate to its needs; the demand for a politically correct, inclusive language, as well as new word formations due to the emergence of social networks and technological advances are just some examples of this phenomenon. Moreover, the process of globalisation has established the supremacy of English in all areas, often at the expense of impoverishing weaker languages, which makes the preservation and investigation of endangered tongues one of the quintessential tasks for any future linguist.
Despite the many strata of applied linguistics being so en vogue and necessary at present, my own fields of interest mainly (but not exclusively) cover theoretical studies. Although I will readily admit the value and necessity of applicability, this somehow represents too utilitarian an approach to language study for my liking. An overly traditionalist attitude, perhaps; but even we odd birds must exist to ruminate on the philosophical and other abstract aspects of language that, so it seems sometimes, do not excite my peers all that much. More specifically, I like to delve into the realms of syntax, semantics, and contrastive analysis (examining structural differences and similarities between English, French, and my native Slovene, for instance). My university courses often provide me with food for thought when it comes to examining language variation, language attitudes, and various sorts of analyses – I have, for example, been intrigued into writing a short paper on language change addressing the verbal form after the expression ‘it is (high) time’, which was immensely entertaining and something I can see myself doing time and again.
Although I doubt translation, sociolinguistics, fieldwork, and similar practical, hands-on areas of linguistics should fall into my primary scope of interests, I do not intend to neglect them in my research work altogether, but will rather attempt to link the two evoked spheres of language study in the years to come. Building on the knowledge I acquire at university, I hope to learn through my own contributions as well (including but not necessarily limited to paper writing and participating at student conferences).
Every eager young linguist hopes to fill in the blanks, resolve the controversies, and bring about a revolutionary breakthrough – and it can be discouraging to discover how much information is yet to be acquired in order to make relevant contributions. My personal inclination for theory should not be regarded as an appeal for a backward step to the glorification of it and the neglect of practical use; instead, odd wugs such as myself could bring young, fresh ideas into the community to re-evaluate the unsolved problems and suggest innovative answers.
If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.
If you have not yet–please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.
The LINGUIST List Team