Love and Linguistics I

by | January 25, 2016 |

Love and Linguistics I & II are blog posts about me and my work. At the same time I’m hoping they’ll provide occasions for you to think through your passions and life career choices.

I am often asked two questions: How does it happen that I am both a professional linguist and a romance writer? and Which came first?

The first question suggests that the combination is unusual. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be asked. I will address the assumption behind it more fully in Love and Linguistics II.

Here I’ll answer the second question: My two professions arose together. And still today, in my daily life, they weave around each other. Writing this blog is an instance of their interweaving. Unpacking the answer to this second question will help answer the first.

As an undergraduate I had never heard of linguistics. I was a French undergraduate major and went on to get a Masters in French Language and Literature.  In my first semester in grad school I wandered into a course on French phonetics. I instantly loved it. I got the Masters in French then switched to get a PhD in Linguistics.

I love language. I love learning languages. I love figuring out how the speakers of different languages have organized their vocabularies and how they have chosen to put one word after the next. When I was studying Vietnamese, I got a thrill out of learning that the phrase in English “when I finish studying” translates as “when I study finish.” The order of the verbs is chronological. Very cool!

I teach the History of English, among other things. I love seeing how radically this language has changed over time so what is now called Anglo-Saxon – and what was then called englisc – is a foreign language to the modern English speaker.

On that note, I’ll point out that for the past 1500 years commentators on English have consistently bemoaned how the language is being corrupted. The modern sociolinguist knows, of course, that no generation of parents has ever said, “We sure do like the way the kids are talking these days.”

Language and the brain? Don’t get me started. Yum. The evolution of language? Double yum. Sociolinguistics? Tons of fun. I’m still enjoying the topicality of the phrases ‘Netflix and chill’ and ‘Hulu and commit.’

Note: See my post The 2015 Words of the Year Have Been Chosen

You get the picture. There is no aspect of language – biological, neurological, historical, cultural – that doesn’t interest me. I’m just glad there’s an entire field of study devoted to it and that I’m a part of it.

Now on to romance. Before entering high school I loved reading historical novels, ones that usually involved some kind of love story. By the time I entered high school I had absorbed the cultural proscription that smart girls don’t read romance. They read higher-minded stuff. So I read the higher-minded stuff. By the time I got through my Masters, I’d read a ton of it – and liked some of it, but it didn’t grab me and I didn’t want to study it professionally. I wanted to study linguistics.

In the first year of my PhD I attended the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute. There a fellow student handed me a copy Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion for leisure reading. Another instantaneous connection. This was the kind of story I liked to read before I thought I needed to read “better stuff.”

And these were the kinds of stories I would tell myself upon going to sleep at night. I’ve been doing this since I was about twelve. I thought everybody did it until I found out that not everybody does. What’s more, Cotillion gave me the idea that I could write these stories down. What a concept! It had never occurred to me before.

I began writing my first romance, My Lord Roland, at the same time that I began writing my PhD dissertation, Linguistic Crossroads of the Eighteenth Century. And every moment since then the two writing activities have been wrapped around one another.

For years I kept getting the message: “Choose! You have to choose one or the other!” It’s hard to say whether the message came from the inside or the outside. But I could never figure out which one to give up. So I’ve kept doing both.

Next I’ll explain how the two writing activities make perfect sense for me.


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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