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International Q&A with FSI-Humanities Center Visitor Adams Bodomo

by Marie-Pierre Ulloa

Why did you become a linguist?

I studied linguistics and became a linguist for two reasons. First, I wanted to be a top diplomat for my country, Ghana, which would involve being posted around the world to represent my country. I figured that if I studied linguistics and foreign languages at the University of Ghana that would increase my chances, so I read Linguistics, French, and Swahili. Second, I wanted to help document and preserve my mother-tongue, Dagaare, a small language in northern Ghana. I succeeded in writing the first grammar sketch of the language, published here at Stanford University titled The Structure of Dagaare.


Adams Bodomo

What are the three or four seminal books in a linguist's library?

It’s hard to pin down four seminal books as linguistics has many branches. But if the criterion is to select those books that have revolutionized aspects of linguistics I am familiar with, I would select A Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand Saussure. This book revolutionized structural and descriptive linguistics, and I am a structuralist. Chomsky’s book, Syntactic Structures, revolutionized generative linguistics. Every linguist should have two reference books, one on languages of the world and the other a dictionary of linguistics. I would select David Crystal’s A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics and Garry and Rubino’s Facts about the World’s Languages: Encyclopedia of the World’s Major Languages – Past and Present, which I helped edit.

Who are your models and mentors, if any?

I have no models because my journey is too unique to model after someone. I do have many mentors back home in Ghana, in Norway where I did graduate studies, here in the US where I have worked, and in Hong Kong where I now live and work. I am a lucky man; I am where I am today because of many men and women–great linguists and academics–who mentored me, but I don’t want to mention names as some would be disappointed since I don’t have space to list all of them.

Which are the most critical skills in order to become a good linguist?

One, a critical, enquiring mind, two, attention to detail for discovering the intricacies of human mental processes through the use of linguistic structure, and three, the creativity to grasp the nuances of other people’s languages and cultures.

What is the mission of the Humanities and how do the Humanities and Social Sciences complement each other?

The mission of the Humanities is to discover the inner nature of the human creature, including the intricacies of language, thought, and culture, and how this creature relates to its environment, leading, hopefully, to an appreciation and celebration of its inner beauty. The Social Sciences also study how humans relate to their environment. Humanities and the Social Sciences have intertwined missions but different methods of inquiry, so these groups of scholars can learn from each other about deep, introspective methods of inquiry in the Humanities to empirical, experimental and quantitative methods in the Social Sciences.

Tags: International Q and A