Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Linguist vs. Polyglot

These two terms are often confused. There is technically a difference between a linguist and a polyglot, and a person can be one without the other. Let me explain. A linguist is technically someone who specializes in the science of linguistics, which, as Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it, is "the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language." Many linguists are not polyglots, and many polyglots are not linguists. A linguist can be monolingual, speaking perhaps only English, but can research and analyze different languages without truly learning to speak them. A polyglot (from Greek poly, many + glotta, language) is someone who speaks several languages. I am a polyglot who also happens to be a linguist. I began learning to speak various languages as a teenager. I have only recently, however, in the last six years, become a linguist in the scientific sense of the word where I am actually documenting and analyzing the inner workings of languages and the similarities and differences between them.

1 comment:

rob said...

I just barely saw this, now I need to comment.

I am a polyglot and a linguist (or at least a student of linguistics). I also work for a translation firm. The translators at my firm are called linguists. It feels weird to me to hear myself called a linguist in a context that isn't really linguistics.

Anyway, as a linguist, I feel I am better with the languages I choose to learn and translate. I am given an advantage by understanding what makes it tick and the social context and the semantic framework that helps a native speaker. Anyway, I know several linguists who only speak their native tongue. I guess as someone who seeks to specialize in Semitic languages, particularly classical Semitic languages, it befits me to understand the language