Home > Home life, University life > How I got into sociolinguistics: A story (part 2)

How I got into sociolinguistics: A story (part 2)


So we left the last part of this story when I joined Glasgow Uni after not being allowed to join the RAF. Since the only thing I was really good at in high school was English, I decided that going to university to study English Literature was as good a route as any. My expectation was that I would finish up university and probably become a teacher, and I was ok with that. In September 2000, I joined as a dewy-eyed fresher in one of the most stunning university settings in Scotland (check out pictures if you don’t believe me) and started my undergraduate degree in literature.

Now, in order to be able to graduate with honours in English Literature at Glasgow, students also had to do a year of English Language. But my only experience of language studies at this point had been doing Latin grammar and I wasn’t particularly psyched at doing a whole year of grammar-type work… I remember bitching and moaning to my English teacher about having to do linguistics and he assured me that it would involve a lot more than just amoamasamat type declensions.

Anyway, I girded my loins and signed up for a first year of English Literature, English Language and Scottish Literature (mainly because I didn’t like the look of any of the other modules…), and by about week three of the course I found out that I. Hated. Literature. And I was completely unprepared for it. I don’t quite know what it was, but I hated the navel gazing, the whole I wandered lonely as a cloud schtick that was going on, the self-satisfied smugness of the lecturers, the…. pretentiousness of it all. It all just killed literature stone dead and as the year wore on, I couldn’t buoy myself up to be enthusiastic about it. Don’t get me wrong, I had some interesting conversations, read some great books I would never have read otherwise, and developed some important analytical skills, but it seemed to me that so long as you could argue your point convincingly, your points didn’t need to necessarily have… a point.

But in linguistics, I had a subject that inspired and interested me. I remember one of our first Old English lectures with Professor Jeremy Smith (who is brilliant). He started talking about noun paradigms and things like accusative case, nominative case and so on and I realised that I KNEW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. This was the same kind of stuff I had done in Latin and it all made sense. Unfortunately, the only thing I remember of OE noun paradigms now is ‘-um on the end of nouns, dative plural. Dative plural, -um on the end of nouns’. Anybody who did OE lectures with Professor Smith at Glasgow University is bound together by that phrase. The rest of the course, sociolinguistics, phonetics, child language acquisition etc etc were all brilliant, and it made the next choice pretty straightforward.

So after my first year of university, I decided to ditch English Literature and concentrate on Scottish Literature and English Language. But I still had to take one more module, so I took… French, primarily under the pretense that it would help me with my linguistics. But the less said about that part of my degree, the better.

In my third year, my focus was purely on English Language and I took a combination of historical and contemporary modules, including History of English, Sociolinguistics, Grammar, Pragmatics, and Contemporary Scottish Fiction (I still loved Scottish Literature bizarrely enough…). The lightbulb moment where I realised that I wanted to become a lecturer was during my sociolinguistics class. We had been given a topic to present to the rest of the class and I had been given Wallace Lambert’s work on matched guise tests in Canada. I thought that the results were fascinating and put a ton of effort into my presentation, including dressing up in a suit and tie, PowerPoint slides and a handout. The works.

When I had finished the presentation and answered a few questions, I remember walking back to my seat thinking ‘this is what I want to do with myself’, and I think it’s at that point I finally had a path that I wanted to pursue. All I had to do was finish up my degree and then do a post-grad course.

Of course, the future is anything but smooth sailing…

The Social Linguist

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  1. November 8, 2016 at 9:20 am

    That’s exactly how I feel about sociolinguistic research! And it’s funny, I feel the same about literature, although I love reading! 🙂 More posts please!

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