Linguistic Odyssey: The Hero’s Journey

by | November 5, 2015 |

My Linguistic Odyssey begins with understanding The Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey: A 12-Step Program

American mythologist Joseph Campbell established the hero’s journey in his book Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949). He took inspiration from Austrian psychologist Otto Rank’s The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (1909). Campbell turned the journey into a 12-step program where the hero:

One: first encounters the ordinary world

Two: hears a call to adventure

Three: refuses the calllinguistic Odyssey

Four: meets with his mentor

Five: crosses the threshold into another world

Six: tests allies and enemies

Seven: encounters an ordeal

Eight: faces his greatest fear

Nine: finds his reward

Ten: replays the ordeal at a higher level

Eleven: is resurrected and

Twelve: returns with the elixir.

Here you have all the plot elements of the original Star Wars trilogy, the great space romance.

Different heroic narratives downplay or enhance different steps.

My Linguistic Odyssey: The 12 Steps

One: I am in the ordinary world of disciplinary linguistics. I teach the course Introduction to Linguistics in the traditional way.

Two: I begin to realize introductory linguistics textbooks have lots of problems. I start to point them out in class.

Three: One day a student suggests I write my own introductory linguistics textbook. I immediately scoff and refuse.

Four: I speak at length about language theory with my mentor, a senior professor.

Five: I leave the discipline of linguistics. I cross into other worlds. These include philosophy, behaviorism, neurobiology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology, psychology. I wander around these worlds for years.

Six: My enemies are traditional linguistics.

Seven: I set out to write an alternative introductory approach to linguistics. When I contact Harvard and MIT Press they are interested in my manuscript. My reviewers dismiss my work as worthless nonsense.

Eight: I realize my manuscript isn’t ready. I’m fitting lots of pieces together, but I can’t make them all work. My greatest fear is that I won’t be able to pull off what I set out to do. That I’m on a fool’s errand.

Nine: I acknowledge the dignity of my effort even in the face of possible failure. I persist and finally encounter the final piece.

Ten: I need a publisher but am rejected at every turn. My mentor abandons me. One of my closest colleagues belittles my work. I continue to revise my manuscript.

Eleven: I’m dead in the water for a good three more years. Helen Barton at Cambridge University Press is looking for book projects and contacts me. She likes my manuscript enough in my work to send it out for reviews. The two reviewers she chooses love what I’ve done.

Twelve: My book is published in 2014 as Linguistics and Evolution. A Developmental Approach.

My Linguistic Odyssey: Commentary

Steps Seven and Eight were hard, if not horrible. Even worse were Nine and Ten because I know the stages of the hero’s journey. It’s not over until you complete Step Twelve. I was sure I had the elixir (the solution to the problems deviling introductory accounts of language). I was frustrated that I was unable to get on the road back (find a publisher). But, finally, my linguistic Odyssey came to an end.

Here is a more succinct and less heroic account of my journey. British physiologist J.S. Haldane has outlined the Four Stages of Acceptance of a Theory:

One: This is worthless nonsense.

Two: This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.

Three: This is true, but unimportant.

Four: I always said so.

At this point the acceptance of my work is beyond “worthless nonsense” but far from “I always said so.” It might still be hovering at “perverse.”

You might find it illuminating to outline these stages for any uncertain, slightly scary adventure you’ve undertaken. My linguistic Odyssey lasted longer than Odysseus’s.


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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