Make your home a meeting place for scholars; sit at their feet and drink in their words.
--Rabbi Yose ben Yoezer, Pirke Avot 1:4
After I got my master’s degree early last fall and moved off campus, I began to feel disconnected from the world of academic linguistics. All my colleagues who hadn’t already graduated were keeping to themselves, working on their own theses, so I never really felt like I got to talk to people I knew about a thing I cared about enough to have spent six years studying it. Fortunately, the Internet turns out to be a great place to meet linguists and talk about linguistics.
The Twitter hashtag #lingchat is home to a regular series of discussions on topics related to language and linguistics. Participants tweet using the hashtag, and follow the hashtag to follow the conversation. (Scheduled tweet chats turn out to be a pretty common thing on Twitter; here is a list of many of the hashtags where they are conducted.) I had attended a few #lingchat events while working on my thesis and gotten along well with the host, Michael Maune. He invited me to co-moderate the chats, and we began brainstorming topics last August, after I’d defended my thesis and before my graduation.
Our first topic of the semester was a belated back-to-school chat. Mike led the discussion, and I tweeted a series of questions we’d prepared. The turnout was decent; less so the day we talked about my thesis topic, which turned out to just be me awkwardly explaining fifty-year-old theories about speech acts to Mike and one of his colleagues. It was a learning experience. Since then, we’ve moved on to topics of broader interest like constructed languages and the linguistics of swearing, and scholars, teachers, and enthusiasts alike have joined us to be excited about linguistics together.
As the school year has progressed, I’ve taken the lead on more and more chats, and I occasionally lead on my own when Mike has scheduling conflicts. As I’ve done more leading, I’ve gotten a better sense of what kinds of questions promote discussion and become more confident in my ability to keep a discussion on track and make sure disagreements stay cordial. Those will be useful skills whether I return to academia or not.