When You Are The Linguist

When You Are The Linguist

The Linguist Or The Grammarian?

The modern term Linguist is preferred (over grammarian) because it refers to someone who studies and understands how language works as system from a scientific point of view (linguistics).

Traditional grammarians are concerned with notions of “correctness” and their approach is prescriptive – laying down the law about what is right and wrong is usage. Early Birds are interested in how people actually use the language – a descriptive approach.

As well as grammar, the Linguist will consider the other two key systems that are Lexis (vocabulary) and Phonology (sound systems which include phonetics).

The Role Of The Linguist

The function of a Toastmasters Linguist will be to offer insight into how speakers actually use the language – well, effectively, and (sparingly) not so well. Therefore the focus should be on how vividly, interestingly, stylishly, and personally (i.e. avoiding cliché), speakers use words (especially in terms of image, allegory, alliteration, analogy, aphorism, hyperbole, gravitas, metaphor & simile, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, paradox and other figures of speech).

Perhaps you may choose, during “your” meeting, to concentrate on one element and challenge the speakers to adopt it (but not use it as the word of the day); mould it and utilise it as they deliver!

Consider this: Style is not applied like icing to a cake, but permeates like whisky that has been incorporated into the mixture and gives the cake its characteristic flavour.

Our Linguist should recognise how the use of language supports and reinforces what each speaker has to say. So, as Linguist, what you seek from today’s speakers is effective terminology, structure and a style that brings out the beauty of the English language. Let’s comment positively by identifying colourful word pictures and eulogising on descriptive oratory that harmonises the senses.

The function of the Linguist’s role is to note vocal fluidity – not to police our speakers’ performances, as that is the function of an evaluator. Similarly, we don’t include in this role an “Ahh Counter”. Leave it to the Evaluators to comment on ‘filler words’ such as: umm, ahh, err, etc.

Being supportive can be very helpful and encouraging for the speakers.

The Linguist as Evaluator

In 2013, Early Birds re-designated the Linguist as an evaluation role with the Linguist’s Report taking place just after the speech evaluations. The reason for this was to encourage more critical thinking and more insights for the audience to benefit from. Rather than simply repeating the phrases that are considered “good”, as Grammarians at other clubs often do, Early Bird linguists are invited to offer up why they are good, and what linguistic techniques they employ. What can the audience learn from the usage of language that day?

It’s suggested that it is not necessary to talk about every role on the agenda – Linguists should feel free to focus on fewer specific examples in more detail. And, as with any evaluation, recommendations as well as commendations help us all to better our usage of language.

Before Thursday

Competent Leadership

  • Review your Competent Leader manual to identify the project you are completing
  • Ask this week’s Sign In to review your performance and sign off your project, either in your Competent Leader manual, or using the evaluation slip by your name badge
  • Review “The Competent Communicator Project 4 – How to say it”; this will help to refresh your mind on rhetorical devices and effective use of words


The English language has a huge array of rhetorical devices that can add spice and impact, so it’s worth reading up (or refreshing your knowledge) on some of them ahead of time to know what you can listen out for. From Alliteration to Epizuexis to Zeugma, each changes the effectiveness of a message in a different way. The Linguist is there to give the audience that appreciation of these fundamental tools of speech-craft. You can find information online at sites such as:

The Word Of The Day

This should be one that the Linguist has encountered, perhaps, in reading or listening and which he or she had to look up/check out.

Choose a word that you’ve partially recognised – but you’re never quite sure of its meaning e.g. from the unusual words that one glosses over when reading a book or article. Try not to pick one that’s so obscure that no one has ever heard of it. Pick a word that people can easily weave into their talk. Adjectives and adverbs are more adaptable than nouns or verbs, but feel free to select your own special word. If you know the theme for the meeting, use this to help you select your word.

On Thursday

Before The Meeting Starts

  • Arrive at 6:45AM!
  • Write out the word of the day and make it visible to all. You can also include its part of speech (adjective, adverb, noun, etc.) and a brief definition.

During The Meeting

Introducing Your Role

  • You typically have 1:30 minutes to introduce the role
  • Pronounce your word. Maybe spell the word
  • Provide its definition and, perhaps, give an example of the word in a phrase or sentence.

Presenting Your Feedback

  • You have 3 minutes to present the interesting uses of language that you have noted
  • Keep the phrases very short. As there are usually 13 functionary roles (including the President) at a meeting and, assuming that there are say 6 people that present a table topic, that’s a total of 19 people to report on – less than 8 seconds per person!
  • Be sure to recognise how each element  supported and reinforced what the speaker had to say – avoid enumerating words and phrases without analysing their impact

After The Meeting

  • Take note of feedback for improvement suggested by the General Evaluator
  • Ask a member to complete your leadership project, This week’s Sign-in will provide you with a Competent Leader evaluation; please do the same in return. In the event that they do not have their manual with them, you will find an evaluation form next to  your name badge
  • Bask in the glow of a job well done and enjoy breakfast!

Linguist Introductions & Feedback

These are some introductions and feedback that Members have previously delivered.

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