George reflects on completing his PhD, and talks to those conlangers who might be considering graduate study in linguistics.
Script below the fold:
Welcome to Conlangery, the podcast about constructed languages and the people who create them. I’m George Corley, and we’re back! We’re going to have a short episode today, just to catch y’all up on what I’ve been doing while I was gone and maybe to give me a chance to be a little reflective.
As I write this, I have submitted the final version of my dissertation for deposit. Most likely, by the time you are hearing this, it has been put into the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. I’m not going to link to it, for reasons that will become clear, but if you have access to that database, you can look it up. If you don’t, I’ll happily email a copy.
What I want to talk about today, is just a little reflection on getting my PhD in Linguistics and what that means. My main hope is to inform listeners who might be interested in going into graduate study for linguistics, since I know some portion of this audience will be. To put things right up front, I do not believe that a graduate degree in linguistics is necessary or sufficient to be a good conlanger. There are many good conlangers that don’t have advanced degrees in linguistics, and they do very well. An advanced degree in Linguistics, especially a PhD, is for someone who wants to make a career of it.
My graduate study was a bit different from other conlangers who take this path. As far as I have seen, most conlangers who are in academia seem to gravitate toward documentation or historical linguistics. That makes sense, they’re fields that are very connected to conlanging, especially naturalistic conlanging, which benefits strongly from broad knowledge of other languages and historical development. My dissertation… is experimental phonetics. Specifically a second language production experiment. The kind of narrow phonetic analysis I was doing is not that connected to what I would do as a conlanger. As a conlanger you just don’t really need to be looking at spectrograms and pitch curves. Which works out just fine for me. I like conlanging, and working on the interacting parts of the grammar, and I also like acoustic phonetics and all the analysis that goes into it.
I wouldn’t say that my academic work has no bearing on conlanging. Some listeners might recall a while back a short where I focused on how conlangers need not be all that picky about how they represent sounds in IPA, especially vowels. That comes directly from my experience and training in phonetics and phonology — the categories are usually fuzzy enough that you don’t usually have to bother with whether your /e/ needs a lowered diacritic. The contrasts are what matter. But I would say the bottom line is that I chose to study linguistics, and chose the particular specialization I took for its own sake. If you choose graduate study in linguistics, that’s where your head needs to be — you need to want to do LINGUISTICS research.
I also want to emphasize another facet of being a PhD: It doesn’t mean I know everything. Many of you will be nodding your heads or even rolling your eyes, but I feel it’s important to say. Earning a PhD just means I was able to focus on a very narrow topic, study it, and learn something new about it on my own. It wasn’t a major breakthrough, and it’s not perfect. It’s just a little something I worked out that hasn’t quite been done yet. Yes, along the way I picked up a lot of general knowledge about linguistics, but linguistics is a big field with lots of nooks and crannies. I can put a “doctor” before my name, now, but understand I might still say things that are wrong, and there are massive gaps in my knowledge on a lot of things.
As final advice, if you want to go to graduate school for linguistics because you want to make linguistics your career, I’d encourage you to try. It is a long, hard road, especially for a PhD, but it can be very fulfilling. If you are more interested in linguistics to help your conlanging hobby — graduate school is not necessarily the place for that. If you’re still in undergrad, you can consider picking up a linguistics minor or second major. Otherwise, so many in our community study languages and linguistics independently, and there are more resources than ever to do that. At most, a master’s in linguistics might be interesting for you and also give you some good career prospects that are not necessarily in academia.
But if you do feel you want to do academic linguistics as a career — be it documentation fieldwork, historical reconstructions, experimental studies, what have you — and you have the means, graduate school can be rewarding. It’s also grueling and time consuming, so be prepared to work hard for small rewards, but if it truly is your passion, you can do it.
As for Conlangery, we’re going to be returning to regular episodes as soon as possible. I just need to arrange things with a co-host or two and hopefully get a discussion episode up soon. In the meantime, if you want to support me and the show, hit up that Patreon to pledge or send a one-time gift to our Ko-fi. Anything you can pledge will be much appreciated.