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Suggested Minimal Requirements
For the Advanced Study of Linguistics


The following document is entitled "Minimal Requirements for the Advanced Study of Linguistics" and deals with certain problems that may yet turn out to play an important role in all areas of "Language Studies." Your direct and personal reactions to these ideas are respectfully requested in a friendly, collegial manner, so by all means let me know how you feel. Your criticisms may well play a role in revising this piece.

I realize of course that one immediate criticism of these proposals is likely to be that these qualifications are too stringent to be met by the majority of those now working in the language field. I do not take this criticism too seriously, partly because I know a few people who do satisfy these or comparable requirements, partly because I believe an undue emphasis on specialization in language studies and a divorce between their practical and theoretical aspects have led to a distinct imbalance in the overall understanding of this field.

I began these points while working with a translators' organization, but I am fairly sure that the criticisms they embody will apply to many other language specialties, not least of all the allegedly supreme study of Linguistics itself. I believe that other organizations and branches of the "Language Studies" have been equally hobbled by an emphasis on specialization and the absence of a broader outlook. One need only briefly mention the Chomskian or Pikean approaches in linguistics or the decon/recon movement in literary criticism as examples.

If I have chosen the word "Linguistics" in my title, it is not to denote the petty activities of rival theorists too often associated with this area today but to stand for the larger all-embracing science the combined field of Language Studies could yet become.

It also seems to me that there should be a single organizing theory rooted in the practical and connecting all the various branches of study dealing with language—translation, interpreting, "creative" writing, technical writing, journalism, editing, literary criticism, linguistics, computational linguistics, the teaching of native or foreign languages, and even public relations and advertising. And yes, I believe such a theory is possible—I will be unfolding pieces of it over the months and years to come, and I hope that the following proposals can provide a tiny foretaste of what sort of people its practitioners will be. Wherever language is applied or studied, I hope that a single theory can shine through with iridescent light.

This is of course far from being the case in today's professional and academic world. It is my hope that the "Minimal Qualifications" I have suggested will point all those involved in these studies towards a meaningful change in their own area. The crucial underlying problem has of course long been that few people live long enough to achieve mastery even of a single language. Yet it remains my experience that some individuals capable of overcoming this limitation do dwell among us. At the very least, I hope these points will provide food for thought, perhaps something that can take all language professionals beyond the petty squabbles and rivalries of their various groups.

[NOTE: throughout these qualifications I have made a distinction between those who have learned the foreign languages they "know" as infants or young children and those who have learned them later in life. There is already a fair amount of evidence suggesting that these two forms of language-learning may be different in a number of ways. Many of those now regarded as "linguists" have in fact followed the first path and by so doing may have missed some important insights into language-learning afforded by the second approach.]

Minimal Requirements for the Advanced Study of Linguistics
(Version for Candidates Whose First Language Is English)*

1. Ability to a) speak fluently and almost indistinguishably from a native, and b) read with ease at least three well-known Indo-European languages besides English. At least one of these—and ideally all—should have been acquired during adulthood. "Reading a foreign language with ease" shall be defined as follows: upon being handed a non-fiction work of over 300 pages in length and of moderately technical style and subject matter at 6 PM on day one, the candidate must be able to submit a detailed and competent report on this book by 12 noon on day two without recourse to any reference material or secondary sources on the subject.

2. Detailed and thorough knowledge of at least one non-Indo-European language, acquired during adulthood.

3. At least three years of professional experience in writing one of these languages, not including authorship of academic articles. Those whose experience has limited them to writing English must provide evidence of fully professional published or produced works in both the American and British forms of that language over at least a five-year period.

4. At least three years of experience as a professional translator working between at least two of their languages together with a knowledge of the principles of terminology management in those languages.

5. Proof of at least three years residence in a country where one of these languages is spoken, but not in a country where a language learned during infancy or childhood is spoken.

6. Intimate familiarity with the workings of computers and their language-related applications, such as CAT and MT systems, etc. Some knowledge of computational linguistics and the overall scope and limitations of computational methods should also already have been attained or should be acquired during the course of one's studies.

7. At least a rudimentary familiarity with the history and basic theories of mathematics, as they may apply to linguistic concerns, with especial emphasis on possible mathematical models for mapping linguistic structure.

8. Familiarity with all the major theories of linguistics, though with no vested interest in any of them, plus first-hand knowledge of the physiological basis of language, ideally gained while studying both western medicine and oriental systems of movement.

9. Professional experience in spoken language applications, i.e., radio, TV, films, acting, etc. in at least one of these languages.

10. At least one year of active experience in revising the writings of others as an editor, technical revisor, and/or stage Dramaturg.

11. A willingness to begin learning a truly exotic or little-spoken language.

12. At least five years of professional experience in a field unrelated to the study of language, preferably a field with a highly developed technical vocabulary, such as medicine, law, chemistry, light or heavy industry, etc.

* Comparable but contrasting standards can be devised for non-English speakers, including variations appropriate for multi-cultural candidates.

This piece is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.

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