Linguist or Polyglot  

Posted by Upul Gamage in

Who is a linguist? To answer this question let us see at the common thinking patterns of the society. If this question is raised to a person who is external to the discipline of linguistics, they would answer in this manner: the person, who speaks a number of languages, is a linguist. This also happens if the person has got to know at least a bit of linguistics but most of the people would ask first what linguistics is. If we introduce ourselves as linguists to somebody else, sooner the question would raise that how many languages do you speak? Why? Because this is the meaning that is known by populace with reference to the linguist.

If somebody has got to know a number of languages, he is acquainted as a polyglot, not a linguist. Nobody could become a linguist by knowing more than one language; he or she has to go beyond that acquisition to become a linguist but some grammarians who lived in early days also believed that the people who speak more than one language are called as linguists, which is not correct. It doesn’t emphasize that the polyglot can’t become a linguist; depending upon the approach of the language study even polyglot can become a linguist but just speaking a number of languages, no one can become a linguist, even if he speaks ten languages, he is not legitimate to claim for a linguist.

So who is a linguist? The linguist may speak only one language, sometimes he may speak more than one language; the implication is, this is not a contingency with language speaking capabilities. So, very simply linguist is a scholar who studies the language in a systematic manner, in other words the person who studies the language in a scientific manner. The linguist looks at the language in order to understand how it works but not how it uses. He doesn’t want to learn how to use the language whereas studies underlying structure of the language. This can be very simply understood once we defined what linguistics is. Linguistics is scientific study of the language or let’s say that it is a systematic study of the language. The person, who does this, is a linguist.

Traditional grammarians are called as linguists time and again which is totally wrong. Eminent Sri Lankan scholar: Kumarathunga Munidasa is acquainted as a linguist by some writers without understanding the status of a linguist. Even though his studies deal with the language and speaks more than one language, it’s not adequate enough to claim for a linguist since he has already become a traditional grammarian.

Now it is obvious that the linguist is not a person who speaks more than one language, most probably he would be a polyglot as far as he doesn’t study the language in a scientific manner in order to understand how the language works. Taking into consideration a metaphor, this can be understood very clearly: there are people who are able to drive number of vehicle kinds but they don’t know how those vehicles are operating whereas a mechanic may not be able to drive even a one vehicle but he knows very well how this vehicle runs with all kinds of requirements. In that sense a mechanic is similar to a linguist whereas a driver is similar to a polyglot if he drives more than one vehicle type.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, February 24, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment