Ep20: Mind Your Language!

February 2, 2016 in Season 2
Linguistic symbols written in the sand.
Linguists have jargon too. Image credit: Jenneke van der Wal.
One of the great joys of science is the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. However, one common theme unites many scientists: we are all speaking english.
Photograph of Jenneke van der Wal.
Image credit: Jenneke van der Wal

I sometimes really feel handicapped, searching for words

English the adopted language of science - if you attend an international conference the presentations and posters will all be in english. That’s great if you’re a native speaker, but what if english is not your mother tongue? I’d had a taste of working in another language while studying as an exchange student in Germany, but I wanted to find out more.

For this episode I interviewed Dr Jenneke van der Wal, a researcher in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge. Originally from the Netherlands, Jenneke not only understands the mechanics of language, but also has first-hand experience of living and working in the english.

We also discuss jargon - the technical words and phrases that pervade throughout all sciences. It’s sometimes essential to the job - a shorthand for communicating quickly and accurately - but often makes academic studies seem opaque and confusing.

Photograph of Jenneke van der Wal working.
Linguists at work. Image credit: Jenneke van der Wal

Jenneke taught me about academese - the deliberate use of jargon to obscure the underlying meaning - along with the superb Postmodernism Essay Generator - which can churn out a complete essay of something that looks impressive, but has no underlying meaning. It’s good fun to try out.

Throughout the episode I also speak with scientists Keehoon Kang, Angela Wittman and Fanny Allayaud about their experiences and tips for effective communication.

Bis gleich!

(Literally: until soon!)