All right, that’s a bit misleading—no linguists were harmed in the making of this article—but no more so than the Times’ headline, “How to Say Lemur and Quiddich in 11 Languages” (which led me to expect a quirky new dictionary). Reg. req., and if you don’t want to take the trouble, here are the parts about languages:
As a Yale undergraduate, she planned to study comparative linguistics. She studied Latin in high school, picked up French and German from her father’s translation of vocal concerts and later her own classical singing and learned Russian in college. But, early in her sophomore year, she was shopping for one course to fill her distribution requirements and was urged by a friend to try physical anthropology.
Dr. [Eleanor] Sterling, who still resembles a graduate student in jangling silver bracelets and a peasant skirt, was riveted by the professor, who studied lemurs in Madagascar. “I was mesmerized by how she spoke.” Dr. Sterling said. “I took every class she taught from then on. I’m sure I would have been happy doing something else. But that was the turning point.”
Dr. Sterling’s gift for language complements her science. “I was lucky to come from a linguistic background to this,” she said.
To write a book about the natural history of Vietnam, which will coincide with a museum exhibit next year, she had to read the so-called gray literature — unpublished papers, many in Vietnamese. So she hired a tutor. She is fluent in Swahili, from African fieldwork, hard at work on Spanish and has lately taken up Lao and Burmese, for a total of 11 languages.
Her husband suggested a novel study method when Dr. Sterling set out to polish her Spanish for a speech in Bolivia. A nephew was peppering her with questions about Harry Potter. She had read the books in English but strained for details. So she re-read them in translation. “Killing two birds,” Dr. Sterling said, using an unlikely figure of speech given her profession, “with one stone.”
An impressive woman, no?