There’s this thing that happens to me sometimes on first dates. It always starts out with small talk. Specifically, it starts with the guy asking me what I’m studying. Which is a pretty normal first date thing to ask.
So I’ll say that I’m studying linguistics. Then they’ll ask me how many languages I speak. Which I hate because basically what I learned in my last Japanese class was that I do not by any stretch of the imagination actually speak Japanese. So I’ll just say that I actually do all my research on English. He’ll look really unimpressed.
I then try to explain that linguistics isn’t just studying a bunch of different languages. It’s more to do with studying how language works. Not convinced, he’ll say something like “Tell me something interesting about linguistics.”
At this point my mind will go completely blank. Sure I eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff. But when someone asks me to give them a random interesting fact on the spot, my mind goes completely blank. It’s like that mini identity crisis you have when somebody asks you to tell them about yourself and you’re suddenly like WHO AM I?
Inevitably, my brain will race through a bunch of scattered thoughts about my thesis and other not-actually-that-interesting things. Everything I’ve ever learned about language becomes a blur.
After a somewhat awkward silence, I will suddenly think of this guy David Harrison who goes to all these remote parts of the world to record dying languages. He’s basically the Indiana Jones of linguistics aka super interesting. This really isn’t at all close to my area of emphasis, but whatever. It’s interesting.
With this in mind, I’ll say “There are an estimated 10,000 languages in the world and over half of them are on the verge of extinction.” Which to me is a super interesting fact. But I’ll say that and without fail the guy will just be like
Like, really? You can’t even pretend like my random fact was interesting?
Sometimes it gets worse. Sometimes he’ll be like “Isn’t a good thing that everyone is learning to speak English? Doesn’t that make things easier? Does it really matter if the languages die? Who cares?”
At which point, I’m kinda like
Well, sir, I care. And I am now trying very hard not to go on a total rant about how people can still learn a universal language like English without losing their native tongue and besides, a language is a masterpiece of human creation and why don’t you just go burn down the Sistine Chapel while you watch all the languages go extinct?
The date usually just goes down hill from there. He doesn’t call back, and it’s just as well because I don’t really want to go out with him again.
Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that small talk is hard and first dates are usually the worst. Which is why pets are always an option.