August 25, 2008

Transferable Skills Part 2: From Linguist to Librarian

In my former life I was a linguist, or at I least aspired to be. I wouldn't describe this as a complete waste of time (even though I hurried back to school to get my MLS after only two years on the job market with my MA in linguistics). Au contraire...studying syntax got me into programming, and programming got me interested in information science.

One of my favorite topics in linguistics, and the fastest way to explain the field to those who think it is the work of William Safire, is to describe the interplay between prescriptive and descriptive approaches to language use. In a nutshell, look up the word unique in the American Heritage dictionary and compare what you find there with the Oxford English Dictionary's entry for the same word. Not all dictionaries are created equal. Linguists can create a whole curriculum based on dictionary comparisons...but does the average person even know who wrote his or her dictionary?

The same can be said of search engines. People like to claim that their information came from an authoritative source, without knowing much about that authority. "Google said so" is not a far cry from "it says so in the dictionary." Get to know your sources. There is more than one way to write a dictionary and build a search algorithm and to the lay person these distinctions are often overlooked. There are ways of diplomatically explaining this and reaping the benefits of all sources. It starts by acknowledging that there is more than one place to go for information.

But it begs the question: is there truth, or is there only information? What do you think?

No comments: