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Helen Barrett, "‘Ça plane pour moi’ was a burst of Belgian punk with a dark twin", Financial Times 6/1/2020 [emphasis added]:

Meanwhile, the perennially lucrative “Ça plane pour moi” may not be all that it seems. Bertrand mimed it in TV studios, but whose is the bratty voice on the record?

It is a question that has been the subject of several court cases. Bertrand initially insisted it was him, then changed his story, telling a newspaper in 2010 that he did not sing on the track, despite being credited. During a court case that same year over royalties, a Belgian judge commissioned a linguistician to examine the original. Expert evidence suggested the true vocalist was of northern French origin. Deprijck, who has claimed to be the real vocalist, is from northern France.

The term "linguistician" struck me as a neologism. But not so: the OED has an entry, glossed "An expert or specialist in linguistics",  with a first citation from Edwin Fay, "Agglutination and Adaptation" (1895), who identified it as a neologism 126 years ago:

1895 Amer. Jrnl. Philol. 16 10 This identification of the earlier ‘linguisticians’ has been latterly abandoned. [Note] This neologism should be as good as ‘statistician’, ‘logician’, etc.

The term "linguist" is indeed much less neologistical — the OED's sense 3 ("An expert in or student of language or (later) linguistics; a person who specializes in the structure or historical development of one or more languages; a philologist.") has citations back to the 17th century:

1605 W. Camden Remaines i. 13 Whenas it is a greater glory now to be a Linguist, then a Realist.
1695 J. Edwards Disc. conc. Old & New-Test. III. i. 3 Here Linguists and Philologists may find that which is to be found no where else.
1735 London Mag. June 297/1 Studies are difficult, tedious, and irksome… How then is our recluse and industrious Linguist to rise?
1749 D. Hartley Observ. Man i. iii. §1. 320 A Light in which Grammarians and Linguists alone consider Words.

It's not clear why Edwin Fay felt the need to coin a new term, but in any case, it didn't work — Google Scholar estimates 303,000 articles containing "linguist", 531 times more than the 571 hits for  "linguistician".  Limiting the search to articles published since 2000 yields estimates of 91,800 for "linguist" vs. 260 for "linguistician", a ratio of merely 353.

But it's normal to pursue different analogical directions in navigating the quasi-regular patterns of correspondence among words for things people do and words for the people that do them. Here's a small quasi-random sample:

linguistics linguistician linguisticist
syntax      syntactician  syntacticist
phonetics   phonetician   phoneticist
pragmatics  pragmatician  pragmaticist
politics    politician    politicist
mathematics mathematician mathematicist
music       musician      musicist
magic       magician      magicist
logic       logician      logicist
algebra     algebraician  algebraicist

psychology   psychologist    psychologer
theology     theologist      theologer
geography    geographist     geographer
cryptography cryptographist  cryptographer
geometry     geometrist      geometer      geometrician

Yet another example of the quasi-regularity of derivational morphology — "The evolutionary psychology of irregular morphology" (4/10/2008) for discussion.

The complexities under discussion arise from analogical processes operating on different historical sources — the OED explains, for example:

-ian, suffix: Representing Latin -iānus, i.e. an original or connecting vowel -i-, with suffix -ānus: see -an suffix 1a, ‘of or belonging to’. Formed by adding -ānus to stems ending in -i, as Italia, Italiānus, Fabius, Fabiānus, Vergilius, Vergiliānus, Christus, Christiānus. Hence, in many English words adapted or formed from Latin, in which the suffix forms both adjectives and nouns, as antediluvian, barbarian, historian, equestrian, patrician, saturnian; and in modern formations from proper names, the number of which is without limit, as Addisonian, Arminian, Arnoldian, Bodleian, Cameronian, Gladstonian, Hoadleian, Hugonian, Johnsonian, Morrisonian, Ruskinian, Salisburyian, Shavian, Sheldonian, Taylorian, Tennysonian, Wardian, Wellsian, Wordsworthian; Aberdonian, Bathonian, Bostonian, Bristolian, Cantabrigian, Cornubian, Devonian, Galwegian, Glasgowegian, Johnian, Oxonian, Parisian, Salopian, Sierra Leonian. There are also sportive formations, as any-lengthian. See also -an suffix.

-ician, suffix: a compound suffix, in French -icien, consisting of -ian suffix (Middle English and French -ien), added to names of arts or sciences in Latin -ica, French -ique, English -ic suffix, -ics, to denote a person skilled in the art or science; e.g. arithmetic-ian, logic-ian, magic-ian, music-ian, physic-ian, rhetoric-ian; mathematic-ian, mechanic-ian, optic-ian, politic-ian, statistic-ian, tactic-ian; sometimes formed by analogy on names not ending in -ic (though there may be an adjective in -ic), as academ-ician, algebr-ician, geometr-ician, Hebr-ician: cf. also patrician n.1, < Latin patrici-us.

But other processes can give rise to  such quasi-regular patterns as well, and a key factor is the willingness of linguistic communities to preserve the patterns as well to create them.



  1. Scott P. said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 7:51 am

    It seems to me here that the '-ist' in 'linguist' is generally perceived as the same as the active suffix we see in 'artist', 'botanist', 'philatelist', etc., denoting someone who devotes their time to a particular activity. Whereas in 'statistician', there is no competing 'statist' (well, other than denoting someone in favor of centralized polities…).

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 8:02 am

    One might argue that for a practitioner of statistics, 'Statisticist' would be a valid coinage, parallel to 'artist', 'botanist', 'philatelist', etc. Sadly the OED does not recognise it. [*]

    [*] To my utter amazement, I found only this week that the OED similarly does not recognise "derny", a motorised bicycle used as the pace-setter in Keirin races, etc.

  3. David Denison said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 8:13 am

    Isn't the — or at least a — reason for coining 'linguistician' that for the non-specialised academic world, 'linguist' means someone who speaks a lot of languages? At least one of the older scholars I knew of when I was younger was careful to use 'linguistician' in order, I always assumed, to keep the senses distinct.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 9:03 am

    A 2010 Guardian article about the very same Belgian court proceedings over the very same who-sang-it dispute also uses "linguistician," a decade before the FT article (which I can't access due to paywall issues). I suspect that this is not a coincidence and that either the FT writer had the old Guardian article to hand or that they both drew on a common source. It seems possible in the abstract that some technical French term (perhaps even one specific to Belgian court proceedings) got Englished in an overly obscure way, perhaps by someone (if we assume the Guardian writer in turn relied on another news account) who was not an L1 Anglophone? But I don't know French in general, much less the Belgian-legal-jargon variety thereof, so I can't propose a candidate French word that might have led to this word choice in English.


  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 9:14 am

    And speaking of statisticists, google advises me that the fellow teenager (at the time) who introduced me to “Ça plane pour moi” over 40 years ago has forged a career for himself on the actuarial side of the insurance industry.

  6. Chris Button said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 9:32 am

    I’m with David Denison. “Lingusitician” would be a great word to distinguish the academic sense of “linguist” from the more standard use of the term as someone who speaks (or is good at learning to speak) lots of languages.

  7. Chris Button said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 9:33 am


  8. Bob Ladd said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 11:34 am

    David Denison and Chris Button are surely partly right about the motivation for wanting a word like linguistician. But as an American linguist transplanted to the UK in the mid-1980s, I also sense that a lot of older British academics, especially people with a languages-and-literature background, used to use linguistician to express some degree of skepticism (well, scepticism) about what all those Americans were getting up to. I also definitely have the impression that linguistician was commoner in the UK than in North America, which a Google n-gram search on (linguistician / linguist) in the AmEng and BritEng corpora confirms. It's certainly on the decline here.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

    Scott P.: The OED lists "statist" meaning "statistician", with the note "Now historical (chiefly Australian in later use)." It gives citations from 1796 to 1995, the last being a biography of the Australian Federation Father Sir William McMillan. By the way, its first citation for "statistician" is from 1800.

  10. 번하드 said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 4:00 pm

    Why would people want to abuse/overload 'linguist' when there's the beautiful word 'polyglot'?

  11. Joe Fineman said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 5:34 pm

    Unfortunately, "linguist" has suffered a worse fate that being used for "polyglot". In vulgar usage, for a long time and on both sides of the Atlantic, it has meant anyone who knows any useful amount of any foreign language. Accordingly I sympathize who would prefer "linguistician".

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 6:00 pm

    I would have preferred for practitioners of the linguistics discipline in Anglophone academia to continue to stake a claim to the good old occupational noun "philologist." There are rival claimants there, but certainly not more so than for "linguist." I will note, that cumbersome as it may seem, "linguistician" is still one or two syllables shorter than the magnificent "Sprachwissenschaftler[in]."

  13. Terpomo said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 8:20 pm

    I've heard some 'linguisticians' object to the use of 'linguist' other than for their profession, despite its use for a polyglot/translator being much older and still common outside of academia.

  14. Viseguy said,

    October 27, 2021 @ 9:38 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I sympathize with people who love words (philologists) and those who love wisdom/knowledge (philosophers). But the problem I have with "philologist" as a professional/occupational marker is that it leaves out the tongue — the lingua. So much of linguistics — as I've learned from this blog — is about not only the word, but *how* (and how often, and when, and why…) the word is spoken; "philologist" doesn't capture that dimension. What's more, "philo" (love) as a prefix is strong in a way that "bio", in "biologist", or "geo", in "geologist", is not. Biologists write words about life, and geologists words about earth, but philologists, dang, they just love those words! Whereas linguists love, and write about, *language* (tongues). Absent a credible alternative — and, somehow, I don't find "linguistician" credible — linguistic(s) scientists may have to just live with "linguist".

  15. R. Fenwick said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 1:05 am

    @Viseguy: But the problem I have with "philologist" as a professional/occupational marker is that it leaves out the tongue — the lingua

    Sign language linguists would no doubt have a problem with your problem. From the etymological point of view (which is something of a fallacy in any case), the word – or more specifically, the λόγος – is absolutely the core of modern linguistics. In classical Greek λόγος has many meanings, but the semantic core of all these senses is centred upon the outward expression of the human capacity to reason. It means not only a spoken word, but a phrase, sentence, story, narrative, proposition, discourse, discussion, topic, subject, concept, idea, thought, reason, or reckoning. All of these are fruitful areas for linguistic enquiry to a greater or lesser extent, and it seems to me that λόγος is an excellent encapsulation of what human language is: it's the primary tool with which humans communicate our processes of reasoning.

    What's more, "philo" (love) as a prefix is strong in a way that "bio", in "biologist", or "geo", in "geologist", is not.

    Given the long heritage of the terms philosopher and philology as unit concepts, and the prefix's almost complete unproductivity elsewhere, it's become rather semantically bleached in these terms. For that reason I'd disagree that philo– carries as much strength as all that – especially when compared with its suffixal cognates, –phile and –philia, which have become very much more productive.

  16. Andreas Johansson said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 1:06 am

    It's surely just a reflection of the kinds of things I tend to read or hear in English, but I confess to surprise that the meaning "polyglot" should be said to be more common than "practictioner of linguistics". I had the impression the usage was rare and old-fashioned.

    "Philologist" to me suggests someone who works with literary, especially dead languages. Using it for someone doing fieldwork on unwritten languages would strike me as quite strange.

  17. Andreas Johansson said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 1:13 am

    Wiktionary has only a few dozen English words prefixed with phil(o)-, most quite obscure. Besides "philosophy" and "philology" (with derivatives), the the least obscure is perhaps "philhellene", which isn't exactly an everyday word.

    Perhaps more common, but missing from Wiktionary's list, is "philharmonic".

  18. Peter Taylor said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 7:09 am

    @Viseguy, @R. Fenwick, there's always the option of trying to claim logologist, but it is somewhat overloaded already.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 8:54 am

    I am not distracted by the etymology of "philologist" because the etymological fallacy is, indeed, a fallacy, but two points:

    1) Sure, maybe "comparative philology" conjures up the era when the core task of the discipline was reconstructing Proto-Indo-European, which meant using old texts from dead languages as the primary data, but no matter how much importance we might wish to place on fieldwork on underdescribed living languages of non-literate speech communities, as a practical matter the whole discipline ends up relying for data on any given language on someone else's fieldwork they have not personally confirmed. So when undergraduate me was sitting in an underground seminar room in 1986 having meandering conversations about ergativity in Dyirbal, we were all at the mercy of the hoped-for accuracy of the written descriptions of Dixon et al, and had no more direct access to the raw data of the language than we did to Old Irish.

    2) "Philanthropist" is perhaps another good example of the semantic bleaching of phil- as a prefix.

  20. Bob Moore said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 1:26 pm

    The only other time I came across the word was a reference to "linguistician Noam Chomsky" in a flyer being passed out by followers of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon Larouche in the late 1970s or early 1980s. If I recall correctly, the flyer was an attack on artificial intelligence, but threw in Chomsky as being allied to AI pioneer Marvin Minsky. I found this amusing, since Minsky and Chomsky were very much intellectual adversaries, but anyone who remembers Larouche will know that his political views were too bizarre to be classified as either left or right, so lumping Minsky and Chomsky together wasn't any stranger than most of what he said.

  21. Viseguy said,

    October 28, 2021 @ 6:30 pm

    @R. Fenwick: I take your points, but doubt whether sign language linguists would have a problem with my problem if they don't have a problem with being called "sign language linguists".

    @J.W. Brewer: I appreciate your preference for "philologist", and if the language evolved that way, I would have no trouble embracing it. Although my problem with "philologist" was stated in terms of etymology, at bottom it was likewise an expression of personal preference, so I don't see how the etymological fallacy comes into it, unless to disagree with a preference is to be fallacious.

  22. Alexander Browne said,

    October 30, 2021 @ 11:03 am

    How about "chemistrician" to differentiate the scientific profession from "chemist", a formulator/dispenser of medication, in UK English? (As an American, I'd call the latter a pharmacist…)

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