What Kind of Linguist Should You Be?

I know, I know, online polls, but how could I resist this one? My one concern was that my variety was so out of fashion it wouldn’t even be included, but no, it placed me properly:

Historical Linguist

Latin, Ancient Greek, Hitite, etc… are far from dead to you. You have a firm grasp on phonological processes and philology. You memorize etymology texts in your free time. The Brothers Grimm are so much more to you than fairy tale writers, and you can explain every spelling discrepancy for both English and French. You are social, but mostly with illuminated texts and Shakespeare. You are SO over current trends and know that modern technology is only good for improving our understanding of the past.

Silly, but it improved my morning just a bit, and I’m passing it along in case it might do the same for others.


  1. Almost everyone I saw on social networks had Historical linguist, and me too. I wonder if something in the test is conducive to this particular answer.

  2. I saw it on Bill Poser’s Facebook feed, and the person who commented there got Phonetician, so it’s certainly not funneling everyone to historical linguistics, though it would be hilarious if it were.

  3. The test may be doing just that – it got historical for myself too – albeit I was able to channel a computational linguist who I know from the tango.universe and to retake the test, and it did call my channeled ego a computational linguist. Some of the answers I had to pick on the 2nd try were pretty weird though, I doubt if many sincere test-takers will get there. And did anyone get any other answer besides historical and computational?

    Or perhaps the only sizeable intersection between pro linguistics and amateur interest in linguistics *is* historical linguistics; and since there must be so many more amateurs than pro’s, perhaps that’s the reasons the historical wannabees predominate?

  4. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Syntactician, for me, but as many of my answers were arbitrary the decision probably is too.

    The website didn’t endear itself to me by saying this:

    “This website would like to remind you: Your browser (Firefox 4) is out of date. Update your browser for more security, comfort and the best experience on this site.”

    I wasn’t using Firefox 4 (why do web designers think they can deduce what browser people are using when they can’t?), and the one I am using is not out of date. If I thought the website would pay any attention I’d tell it to mind its own business, but if it must send out unwanted advice it could at least get its facts right.

  5. I should be a phonetician, apparantly. I “love phonetics because it is quantifiable. Among all the sub-fields of linguistics, you love that you can measure and calculate concrete aspects of language. Articulation, acoustics, and auditory processing are nature’s most beautiful works of art. You can read spectrograms and speak fluent IPA. You are socially functional but catch yourself thinking more about HOW people say things more than WHAT they say.”
    Needless to say, I’m not sure what 3/4ths of this means and the remaining quarter is false.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    I got “phonetician” too. Unless I am very lacking in insight (possible, alas) this is pretty much exactly wrong. I think it’s because I picked Adyghe over Irish … (what do you mean, VSO is rare! all my ancestors spoke VSO languages!)

  7. You know you didn’t have to pick just one language, right? I think I picked four, including both Adyghe and Irish.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah. Always read the rubric carefully …

  9. Yeah, I missed that point too, but wound up in historical linguistics, where I undoubtedly belong.

  10. Trond Engen says

    Three times now, trying different, fairly honest choices. 1st time an historical linguist, then a syntactician, and finally a phonetician.

  11. Athel: why do web designers think they can deduce what browser people are using when they can’t?

    But they can. When 1) a browser is programmed in accordance with HTML standards, and 2) a site server is ditto, then the server knows the make and version of the browser that has sent a request for a site page. There have been major changes in standards and browsers over the years, and this make-and-version business has become rather complicated, but it’s not guesswork.

    Assuming that you’re using a standard, publicly available browser, I would say that the mistake is on the server side. And it’s probably due not to web designers, but to the programmers of the software the designers use.

    The following shows how this works. It’s part of the HTML page that a server might return to a browser. As you see, it’s not the “server over there” that figures out make and version of the browser *before* sending a response page to it. Rather, the browser executes code in the response page *after* receiving it.

    <script type=”text/javascript”>
    if (navigator.appVersion.substring(0, 1) == “4”)
    alert(“Oh, ein Browser der 4. Generation!”);

  12. One sentence that I wrote above is misleading: “the server knows the make and version of the browser that has sent a request for a site page”. Unless specially programmed otherwise, a server usually doesn’t try to find out the makes and versions of all the browsers that contact it, in the sense that it might extract such information, save it, and be able to retrieve it even after the browser users have closed their internet connections. Tracking software might do so, but not a plain old web server.

    The server instead sends response pages containing code that is intended to work on any browser. The code looks like this: “if InternetExplorer then do_this else if Mozilla then do_that else do_the_other”.

  13. The server at the quiz link is returning pages with crappy Javascript. In Firefox I can’t even reach the site, in Chrome and IE I can. There is interference between the Javascript returned from the server and a Facebook plugin in my Firefox. I’ve never experienced that with other links.

  14. That I couldn’t honestly answer even the first question I took as a sign that I should not be a linguist. Which is, after all, no more than the case.

  15. Trond Engen says

    “Fairly honest” meaning “not grossly dishonest”, I’ll add. I first said hieroglyphics, because I wanted that to be true. Not unexpectedly, that was the path that led me to historical linguistics. The next two rounds I said Facebook, since that’s the only one of those social media I’m actually using.

  16. Ian Press says

    It made me smile so much when it told me I was a ‘historical linguist’. You can never be sure of your answers, but I let my gut feeling take over. Just knowing lots and lots about lots and lots of languages, and comparing them, has always been the passion. It allowed me to avoid talking too much to people for ages, but decades later I’ve resigned myself to oral communication and it’s great to know that the formal foundation I gave myself is firmly there and means I can get talking almost any of my (living) languages in a week or two; and I don’t fuss too much about mistakes any longer. In fact, you can start straight away if you feel the need and have patient interlocutors!

  17. Just knowing lots and lots about lots and lots of languages, and comparing them, has always been the passion.


  18. I got phonetician, too. I think it’s because I pickef Ladefoged one question about favorite linguists.

  19. John Roth says

    I suppose saying my favorite language was one I wrote, and then C++, was a dead giveaway. (Neither is true, but both are closer to the mark than the other choices.)

  20. As a non-linguist, I was curious what it would suggest for me. I got “computational linguist,” which is probably an accurate representation of where my existing research skills could most easily be put to use. However, it’s not one of the area of linguistics that I find especially interesting. I was also amused that it asked me where I went to graduate school, which wasn’t very relevant in my case.

  21. I was not so amused that it didn’t include my graduate school (but it had goddam Harvard and MIT, of course).

  22. Maybe Yale should move to a real city.

  23. Like Cambridge? Surely you jest.

  24. Cambridge is just Boston living under an alias.

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