The Internet (and people) never fails to surprise me. I can’t believe I stumbled across a linguist with a sense of humour — or maybe it’s just me starting to find linguistics funny:
Field linguists are like boys in the locker room. When you come back from the village they want to know one thing: Did you do it? Pity the poor linguist who doesn’t earn the right to swagger. Swaggering rights are granted in various ways. Being fluent in an obscure language is the best way. Publishing a New Testament in an obscure language is OK but others are going to want to know if you did the front translation or were just a consultant. Way down on the list is having a paper published in a linguistic journal. To paraphrase the old saying, ‘Those who can do field linguistics, those who can’t publish unworkable theories in prestigious journals.’ I probably shouldn’t tell you this. Field linguists and theoretical linguists are like Ford and Chevy, Mac and PC, Republican and Democrat, Coke and Pepsi, etc. But those dualisms don’t quite capture the difference between these two groups. Hatfields and McCoys. Now we’re getting closer.
Trouble is, all us field linguists secretly envy the theoretical linguists. They blow into town, collect data for two weeks, and then return to their cushy academic existence while folks like us are stuck in a hostile country dealing with mosquitoes, plumbers and other annoyances. It’s not fair. The theoretical linguists think we’re undereducated bumpkins, but we think they’re hapless city slickers coming to town loaded down with their fancy diplomas and high-falutin’ theories but helpless to actually jabber away in a real language.