Tag Archives: linguistics

Second week

Picture of a pig wallowing in muckI’m in hog heaven.  This week, I’ve been to a seminar on sign language impairments, learned some Lindy Hop, signed up for Korean classes and an interdisciplinary conference, hosted a queer theory/mediaeval art lecture screening in college and eaten home-made kimchi.  And I’ve met warm, inspiring, thoughtful people in college and the department.  I only had one evening with my partner – which is not enough and needs to change! – but overall this is everything I hoped for, and more.

Despite all the extra-curricular activity, most of my time has been spent on the course.  And as it’s second week, the first signs of storming have emerged: the inevitable group negotiation of roles, boundaries and mutual expectations.

The boundaries are appearing at all levels: the implicit rules of the group, but also theoretical boundaries between sub-disciplines, between sounds and meanings.  I’m  tripping over them: using the wrong explanatory framework, focusing on a phonetic distinction in a phonology class, confusing grammatical case with syntactic function.   I feel like I’m learning a whole set of new languages and at the same time trying to figure out what they have in common, and why the differences are important.  The linguistics of linguistics, if you like.  (Stop me if you think I’ve just spiralled up my own academic backside!)

This is an adult learning environment and I’m responsible for my own learning.  It’s my job to draw my own map of the subject and make sense of it.  I see many parallels between postgraduate study and my last role: the need to handle ambiguity, understand multiple competing representations and perspectives, choose a course of action and justify it in the wider context, and have the same conversation in different ways with different stakeholders.  But this is also a structured foundation programme with classes and homework.  There’s real temptation to pretend I’m back at school and hand responsibility back to the faculty.

As you would expect, the course tutors have different styles, preferences and approaches which overlay the differences in the subject matter, and I’ve realised this week that these differences are actually very helpful.  The variety provides an opportunity for comparison, and therefore to build hypotheses about what’s driving it and what’s going to be important in the long run.   For me, the best approach so far is where the tutor’s assumptions are clearly stated and tested, and where the structure of teaching supports me to distinguish between the core concepts of the subject, the competing theoretical approaches and a tutor’s personal academic viewpoint.  But where that isn’t as clear for any reason, I now have a framework and some tools to engage in discussion with the tutors and build my understanding: my own personal contribution to the storming.

So I’m looking forward to third week, but it’s still early days and I’m sure that I’m not noticing loads of stuff.  What do you think?  What have I missed?

Becoming a blogger

Like most of my friends, I started off on social media with Facebook.  Having resisted for a long time, I progressed rapidly from silent lurker to poster, commenter and sharer.  LinkedIn came later, when I realised that I wanted a connection to colleagues without them being aware of all my social adventures.  Somehow I was never as active there as on Facebook, and since I left paid employment at the end of June, I’m not quite sure where my LinkedIn presence is going to go.

Then I found real-time linguistics, and real-life linguists on the net, through Twitter and the Feedly blog reader.  All of a sudden, I realised what I had been missing. People were pointing me towards interesting articles and sharing their work.  They had good advice, and provocative questions.  And they wanted to interact.  I was already interested in language, and spending increasing amounts of time reading around the subject.  Blog posts and tweets brought the subject alive, and helped inspire and motivate me to take the plunge and move into full-time study.

Thus far, so good.  But why a start a blog now, given everything else I’m taking on at the moment?  I have to thank Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Get a Life, PhD, which is helping me build a bridge between my old life and my new one.  She has written many helpful posts about personal effectiveness, time management, prioritisation and the like.   These topics are familiar from the old life, and make a lot more sense now that I have more control over the shape of my working day.  What’s new for me is the reflection on the skills and mind-set I will need as a baby academic, and that has been incredibly useful.

The message that comes through loud and clear from Get a Life, PhD is to write every day.  Every day. There is no getting round it: writing is the crucial core skill for any academic. All those hours of reading, analysing, listening, thinking, that I’ll be putting in over the next two years, all those hours are going to be worth nothing if I can’t convert the results into a structured, compelling message, whether it’s in a peer-reviewed article or, more urgently, in a three-hour examination.  It’s also a skill that has fallen away, rather than been honed, over the twenty-odd years of work since my MSc. In other words, it’s one of the biggest changes of emphasis that I’m facing.

So I need to practise: essays, outlines, articles, blog posts, anything that strengthens my writing muscles.  And like any kind of exercise, a training programme and training buddies will help me keep disciplined.  In this context, signing up to do the Bodleian’s 23 Things was a no-brainer.

Over the next term – and maybe longer – I will be using this blog as a place to reflect on the process of becoming a linguist, as a postgraduate, a mature student, and a returner to Oxford after a long gap.  I hope to make contact with other people who share some, or all, or none of those characteristics.  And I’m really interested in your responses to my reflections.