Name: Pat Johnson
Nationality or Ethnicity: American
Where do you live? Princeton, NJ
Languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese
What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I got into linguistics at the undergraduate level because I wanted to become a professor of linguistics one day. I was always fascinated by diverse cultures and my older sister got me into languages when we were kids because she had these wonderful books about foreign languages that fascinated me at that young age. My Masters-level work was on the phonology of German, and now I'm working on a PhD in linguistics (but don't ask me about the research question yet!). Although my set of languages is largely Indo-European, I spent a few years teaching English in Japan and so picked up Japanese while living there. My wife is German so I keep practicing German and Dutch with her all the time.
Which language do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
I feel like my Japanese is getting a lot weaker since I left the country three years ago. Hopefully I'll be able to make a trip there soon to refresh my memory.
What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Well, I'm not sure if it would be counted by HYPIA, but I'd like to master Swiss German as well. After that, I'd like to learn the Dutch creole languages that have sprung up in different parts of the world. For people studying linguistics, creoles are like a treasure trove of information.
So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I guess I'd have to say 'French', but I think they're all sexy in their own way.
What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
So a lot of students in linguistics aren't actually fluent in that many languages. Being actually able to speak enough languages to be considered a Hyperpolyglot is rarer in linguistics than you would think! and I'd say that this is a leg-up for me in my field and I feel great about that.
Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
It's clear that a lot of languages spoken by small populations will die out, but I wouldn't say that 'just a few languages' are going to be left over because of that. Gotta remember that there are 6,000 of them in the world right now!
What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
You don't need to be signed up for a PhD in linguistics to enjoy languages. In fact, I think studying languages sometimes takes away from the natural pleasure of communicating with so many people. So even if you're not studying languages full time, it's still a lot of fun to study them and use them in real life!