September 20, 2004

I used to be really smart.

Not just smart, but really smart.

I know this because I just came across the senior thesis I wrote as a linguistics major in college. It was about Abhkaz, a language spoken in the northwest Caucasian mountains and in parts of Turkey. I did not speak Abkhaz, but I worked with a native speaker who worked in a Store 24 near campus. I was analyzing the word for “who” and where it could go in sentences. It seemed to be able to go in places where, according to linguistic theory of the time, it shouldn’t have been able to go; I proposed that the only way to account for the data was to revise linguistic theory to allow for rightward movement. I graduated summa cum laude and my professors wanted me to turn the thesis into an article.

If you like, you can see a small sample of the utterly incomprehensible thesis here, here, and here. At the time, every word was as clear to me as Austrian crystal. Now I can understand “the” and, in some cases, “now,” but the rest might as well be Linear A. Nonetheless, here is proof positive that, though I am now as dumb as a box of bricks, this has not always been the case.

Though the fact that somebody figured out a year later that the word I’d been translating as “who” was actually not a noun but a verb, thereby rendering the entire thesis wrong from start to finish, makes me think that this thesis is perhaps not the best evidence to use in support of that assertion.

Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to I used to be really

  1. Jess says:

    I can relate very well to how you feel. I used to be the star student, scoring the highest scores around. I could figure out heavy-duty mathematical problems in my head. I could analyze all kinds of situations and find solutions of which others had not thought.

    Now? Well, now I am lucky if I can figure out what I did with my car keys or manage to balance my checkbook successfully. I chalk it up to early senility!

  2. PeeWee says:

    Hey, you can’t be hot AND smart!

  3. brechi says:

    lol..just had to say that i love the phrase “proof positive”

  4. You used to be a linguistics major?

    Jesus. You think you used to be really smart….You no doubt told me this on multiple occasions, and we had extensive and hilarious conversations about the state of the discipline. None of which I remember, because I’m an aging retarded schmuck.

  5. Jess: Maybe you and I can live next door to each other in the nursing home.

    PeeWee: I cannot believe you are correct. I’m searching my brain for a counterexample, but, since it’s before 6:30 in the morning (the hazards of dating a doctor doing his residency), I can’t think of one. I will return as soon as I can.

    brechi: I’m glad. My favorite phrase (one that occurs, coincidentally, in the first sample page) is “heretofore we have treated wh-movement in Abkhaz.”

    Mike: I think I mentioned it the first or second time I e-mailed you, suggesting that the only way I could like your site better was if you named it I’d forgotten enough linguistics even by then, however, that it hardly seemed worth discussing at length; it would only have been embarrassing for both of us.

  6. Eric says:

    You probably don’t have to go as far as college linguistics. How much *algebra* do you remember? But I still think this says more about the (un)importance of algebra than it does about the brainpan.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Hmm. From this thesis to gay advice columnist. My you’re moving up in the world, huh?

  8. jt says:

    and that is why i went to art school

  9. Joe Clark says:

    Oh, for fork sakes, another lapsed linguist. You should have read some of my sign-language papers (printed out in glorious ImageWriter II typography).

  10. Convivia says:

    And, so? I used to be able to read Old Norse. And Anglo-Saxon. And Middle High German.

    This isn’t “Flowers for Algernon” territory, it’s “not keeping up on arcane terminology that I don’t need” territory.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *