Linguists Know Lots of Languages

Repost from the old site.
This is a common misconception. A variation being that a Linguistics program will not accept you unless you are a polyglot, and certainly will not if you are a monolingual.
Many older people even think the word “linguist” is a synonym for “polyglot.”
I have a Master’s in Linguistics and I only speak, read and write only one language well – English. My Spanish is ok, but it’s not really fluent or even near-native. I know a bit of Italian, French, Portuguese and Chukchansi Yokuts* but my Spanish is far better than any of those.
You don’t need to know more than one language to be a linguist. For instance, I got about 1/2 way through a dictionary and phrasebook of Chukchansi Yokuts, but the Hell if I can speak that language. I simply acquired the data, organized it, analyzed it, and organized it into a lexicon and some learning materials.
My program did not require you to even be bilingual to enter the program. There were lots of monolinguals in our program. True, there were lots of foreign students too, but they were all getting ESL degrees to teach English as a Second Language overseas.
All we do is study languages. You don’t really need to learn languages to study them. A lot of people can’t seem to figure that out for some reason.
It’s definitely true that lots of linguists do speak, read, write or have knowledge of more than one language.
The argument keeps coming up again when people question my ability to work on Chinese languages considering that I do not know how to read, write or speak Chinese. But you don’t need to. One of the world’s top Sinologists told me that this is a common misconception, that you can’t do good work on Chinese history, culture, sociology, language, etc. unless you know Chinese. Sure it helps, but it’s not necessary.
*A California Indian language.

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