Math + language = what?

I have been on vacation running this crazy relay race:

But now I am back, enhobbled and all, and it's time to reach into the mail bag to answer one of the most popular questions I've received from readers:

What is the name "Loneliness of the long-distance linguist" all about, anyway?

Hey, I've been on vacation. I have to start back slow. Plus the topic feels appropriate, in light of the recent relay race and all. I'm working the lactic acid out of the ol' posting muscles.

Once upon a time, at a university far, far away, I was a theoretical linguist. I worked mainly on syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. I moonlighted in computational linguistics and child language acquisition. I was pretty much like everyone else I knew in grad school, looking at kind of a mix between linguistics, computer science, and psychology.

So fast forward a couple of years and I find myself at Microsoft, working in a group filled mostly with people with more traditional backgrounds in software. Some CS majors, more self-taught, occasionally someone with a different background entirely (design? typography? finance? whoa!). But, for the first time in a while, pretty much no one like me. It was different, and occasionally a little lonely, but it was good-different. And sure, there are folks in other groups whose backgrounds are more similar to mine, and I work with many of them. But on a day to day basis, I'm mostly learning from people who know about different stuff entirely. That's pretty cool.

And yes, I'm a long-distance runner. So. Yeah. But the distance thing is more than that in this case. I decided to start in this approximate field 14 years ago when I started college, almost half my life ago. I didn't end up in the exact place I would have predicted, but that first basic choice has set the groundwork for all the subsequent choices. I'm still a linguist, in the end. And I expect that that choice will carry me through other choices to come, whatever particular technology I end up looking at. See also: long-distance.