Career Choices


Blog Name:
Quaint Little Head
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Location: The Ivory Tower of Babel : United States
Blog Summary: I am a fourth-year Ph.D. student in linguistics at Purdue University.
This blog has been active since: April, 2006
Post: Career Choices / 14 March 2008

Career Choices

It so happens that not one but two linguistics professors are married to jazz musicians, and it so happens that they usually play together (I suppose it wouldn't do for them to compete, would it?), so when Alex suggested we go see them play last night, I went.

One of the two is her advisor's husband, and one of the two is my advisor's husband. Unfortunately, the latter was out of town, so I am hoping he won't think I snubbed him by coming to see his band the one time he wasn't there. I paid $2.25 for a Coke just so the bar would think they were getting some business out of having this band there (although I did get two free refills, so that actually wasn't too horrible). Then I sat and wondered about how exactly it works, and how much the band gets paid, and how amazing it is that regular average people in this regular average town can actually make a living playing jazz music, and reconsidering whether, given the fact that I've only made about $14,000 a year since completing my super-fancy triple-major B.A. with all sorts of honours, having stuck to music might not actually have been a more profitable occupation.

One of Alex's friends showed up and inquired as to whether our Linguistics Association "band" (also known as our linguistics association pipe dream) actually rehearses, and what kind of music we play, and why we don't actually perform somewhere (how cute, we have a fan!). It was thus established that, since two of us play recorder, we must do the progressive rock stuff (this came out of the other guy's mouth, not mine!), and lo and behold I discovered that I have met three people under 30 "in this sleepy bedroom town" who have actually heard of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whereas, during my former life in the supposed "Live Music Capital of the World," I met not one single person of any age who had ever heard of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (although, to be fair, I did meet one 22-year-old in the music department who owned "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," although he later betrayed his progressive rock ignorance, or else a gross overestimation of my age, by asking whether I had seen Peter Gabriel perform with Genesis).

Apparently, then, by some magic unexplained stretch of the imagination, Lafayette is actually a haven for all four of the world's known progressive rock fans under 30; so, would it not be wise at this point for me to wonder whether a career in the local bars would be more profitable than the Ph.D.? Don't all the other linguists think it's much more cool that I always beat them at music trivia than that my conversational data appear to show differences between schisming patterns in English and German? Was I a fool to give up my music major when there's clearly a niche for me here?

I tried to put the thought aside as I went to bed, knowing that I would have to get up early to come to school and edit another student's dissertation. But it is very hard to put all thoughts aside at 2:00 a.m. with three glasses of Coke's worth of caffeine coursing through your veins. So my mind started wandering, Joycean style. First I thought of how funny it is that people always assume that since I'm a Christian and I don't drink, I must not drink because I'm a Christian, when really I just don't drink because I think most alcohol tastes nasty, and costs far too much to taste so nasty, when, if I wanted to taste something nasty, I could go eat White Castle for a fraction of the price.

Then I thought that I've been guilty of the same sort of thoughts, because I remember being shocked when Barbara's sister said that she used to work at a bar in Salt Lake City (they have bars in Salt Lake City? And Mormons work at them?). Then I thought about that time Barbara absolutely could not beat me in Jenga. Then I thought about how Bob said Scrabble was her absolute favourite game and how she actually plays, and wins small amounts of money, in Scrabble tournaments. And then I thought about how much I hate Scrabble.

You would think a linguist would enjoy Scrabble, but I think the reason I don't is that it's not necessarily a reflection of your linguistic ability. There's no right answer to figure out. You can know tons and tons of words, but if you pick a bunch of tiles that you can't make good words out of, you still won't get many points. I spent one summer with my brother spending hours at a time playing "Text Twist" on Yahoo, which is where you have to unscramble a word before a timer runs out. I like that, because I get points for being smart and fast. In Scrabble, neither necessarily matters.

And then I thought about that first Simpsons episode (or, probably more precisely, the first Simpsons episode to air outside the confines of the Tracey Ullman Show). Remember it? Where Bart's unfortuitous seven tiles are "kwijybo," so he puts them all down and makes up a fake definition for the supposed word "kwijybo?" So then I lay in bed and decided to see if I could think of the longest word you could make with the tiles in "kwijybo."


I wasn't doing so well. I tried really hard to think of whether there were any four-letter words I could make out of "kwijybo." I thought again that this must be why I hate Scrabble. And then I had an epiphany.

You don't have to use all your tiles at once. So, assuming there's a good chance that somewhere on that Scrabble board is a free "a" with nothing attached to it, you could use all but the "k" to spell "Ojibway." If you had to wait a turn for the free "a" to show up somewhere, you could always waste a turn by getting rid of that "k" by sticking it onto Lisa's "id" to form "kid." And then, when that "a" came around, you could get a lot of points.

Which brought me back to my original line of thinking: where did I get this fabulous word-knowledge that allowed me to think of "Ojibway?" Thank you, linguistics? No. Thank you, Shania Twain. Once again the profit appears to lie not in the career I have chosen, but in the knowledge gained from the one I abandoned. Linguistics, have you taught me nothing that I hadn't already learned from Vh-1?

Then, sadly, just before succumbing to mental exhaustion and sleep, I thought of something else. The rules of Scrabble. No proper nouns. And THAT is why I hate Scrabble so much.

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