How to define ‘Linguist’?

This is a little experiment. Before looking up the dictionary definition for Linguist I am going to express some thoughts of my own… let’s see if they coincide.

Yesterday I was talking with some friends about my daughter’s obvious skill in languages. Maggie is bilingual, and so is my son. But although Joe’s Spanish is as perfect as can be – and with a much commented on local accent to boot – his interest in languages is far outstripped by that of his sister.

Indeed, Maggie is always playing with words. She watches UK TV and mimics the accents she hears (long gone are the days when you only hear the ‘Queen’s English’ on UK television; these days you are more likely to get a thick accent than not). She is often to be found writing on a blackboard in her bedroom. And I cannot imagine Joe doing private Arabic lessons, as Maggie does.


In the conversation with my (Spanish) friends I explained that I do not consider myself a linguist in the mould of my daughter. No, I would describe Jim’s linguistic skill as moderate in comparison. My feeling is that a true linguist goes to a dictionary to check a new word he hears; wants to know the root of it etc.

While my Spanish is of a very high standard, I put that mostly down to time spent with it rather than to linguistic genius!

And the definition of Linguist? Let’s have a look at what says…

1. a specialist in linguistics
2. a person who is skilled in several languages; polyglot

Interesting. That pretty much confirms what I suspected!

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