“I’m a linguist” “you’re a what now?”

Following up on the conversations that have emerged from my “What’s Linguistics?” post…

If there is one thing that I know to be true of the job search, it is that each of us can and must be constantly challenging ourselves to practice articulating what it is that we mean when we say that we are linguists.

And as it turns out, this conviction of mine is actually tied up within my understanding of what kind of a linguist I am.  I am trained as an interactional sociolinguist, although in most cases, I won’t use the term “interactional sociolinguist” because term can often cut conversation off right at the pass.  If my goal is to foster contexts for conversational interaction, because my training and my experiences have taught me to value the power of these contexts, I will look to find a way to use language in such a way that it brings my interlocutor along with me to be able to see what it is that I do.


So, here is the latest version of my elevator pitch (something that you might be able to say over the course of an elevator ride), to help someone see what you mean when you say that you are a linguist.  Picture this in response to “I’m a linguist” and the response: “you’re a what?”

Well, I see my job as being that of a “interaction champion”  Because I am uniquely invested in their power, I seek and protect and defend and foster  conversational interaction.  I am always looking for conversations which could be happening but aren’t or where they aren’t proceeding as smoothly as they might do where I can bring the tools that I possess by virtue of my skills and training as a linguist.  When I find one such, I work to first identify the barriers to communication and understanding then create and promote smooth contexts for interaction.

Now, as you all know, I am a linguist who is interested in Careers.  What this means first and foremost is that I believe that as linguists, we need to be having more conversations about career – open conversations that explore broadly and invite curiosity – that in so doing, we learn from one another and we learn more about ourselves and what we have to offer.

  • We need to have these conversations because the world of work by and large does not know what we have to offer, and we by and large don’t know what we have to offer the world of work.
  • Career conversations themselves are the means by which we learn about what we offer the world of work.  These interactions teach us what we might be doing and they afford us opporutnities to practice talking about ourselves and to ask and receive feedback on whether (and how) it is coming across.
  • We must therefore actively work to remove the barriers to having career conversations.
    • Many of these barriers are structural: the contexts simply don’t exist for having the conversations that we need to be having, many of the voices which need to be included feel silenced, etc.
    • But I also see barriers that arise out of lack of awareness and understanding about what conversations could be happening but aren’t (or what to do about that), and it is here where I can that I might make a difference!
  • My perspective also means that I see interaction as the way in to career.  Careers come about as the result of a series of interactions.  If you want to get yourself started working on your career, start thinking about what interactions you could be having,  but aren’t (yet).



When we pay attention to the texts and interactions that comprise the job search, we pay better attention to the people we talk to and how, and the language that we use when we talk to them.  And this increased attention of course must include attention to what conversations we could be having but aren’t, and removing the barriers as we become aware of them. In bringing our attention to our language in these contexts, we can be career linguists for ourselves: bring our heightened awareness of language and all of our critical analytical skills to the meaning which we construct about our skills and abilities to ensure that the language that we use to talk about ourselves in jobseeking interactions is the very best that it can be.

After all: we are language experts, there is no reason why our resumes and cover letters shouldn’t be the very best ones out there!!!

Ultimately, when more of us are using our skills and training to solve the problems that we feel called upon to solve, well, more of us are solving the problems that we feel called upon to solve, and isn’t that  why we all chose linguistics in the first place?

So I start here, by asking you:

What problems do you feel called to solve?  How are you uniquely equipped to solve them?   What do your skills bring to the conversation, what do they enable you to DO? Who benefits?  What are the implications?

With whom can you be sharing this information RIGHT NOW? What interaction can you create THIS WEEK to start using an interaction to help you begin to figure all of this out?

….and here’s to what comes next!!

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