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Not Why They Hired a Linguist

February 4, 2016
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il_fullxfull.484268216_q56jWe received a resume this week listing every language from PL/1 to PHP. This fellow has some good experience, and a degree in linguistics. Someone remarked that linguistics is the master skill for programming, and then I told my story about Greg Turner.

Greg was a linguist I worked with years ago in the Wayne County public schools. He had funding to develop speech prostheses for handicapped children. Think Stephen Hawking and his artificial voice.

In the 1970s, personal computers were just coming out. The county could never afford to help these kids, except that Greg was building custom gear from scratch. We would crack open a See ‘n Say, pull out the speech chip, and order the rest from the Motorola parts catalog. That’s how I remember it. I honestly don’t know how the stuff worked.

If you studied a foreign language at university then you probably have, next to your foreign language dictionary, a grammar reference. My French grammar is the Cours Superieur. For Greg, the chip catalog was a grammar reference. It told him which chips he could use with other chips, and in what context.

I was the programmer on this project. The third member of our team was an actual EE. “Unbelievable,” he said, shaking his head. Without any training, Greg would read the specs, order from the catalog, and then build these wonderful contraptions. Salvaged joysticks and homemade head pointers. We all agreed it was unbelievable. The children just said “thank you,” with their tinny, synthetic voices.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 10, 2016 1:58 am

    > The county could never afford to help these kids …

    The county did afford to help those kids. And others. You and I amongst them.

    Greg was a beautiful guy. Its almost sad the way his brilliance overshadowed his empathy. Principally I would say that Greg succeed because he loved people. He was driven by compassion. I remember his disappointment when I began working in the Defense industry.

    Perhaps you would not have known the teachers in the Title-9 classroom? Anne Heller was the director of the project and was selflessly responsible for securing the funding that kept Greg employed. She was a Heroine.

    Linguistics? People express competencies according to their Nature.

    .

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