Latin Extended Essay

Oh man, it’s been a while. (I assume that you’re referring to this post.)

I wrote my IB extended essay on the problem of translation, comparing four different English translations of a particular Latin passage in St. Augustine’s Confessions that was itself about translation. Very meta. It was more along the lines of philology/philosophy of language than linguistics, but I’d been studying Latin so at least I got to use that, and I didn’t know as much about linguistics at the time, plus it was the closest topic that any of my teachers could advise me on. (My advisor was an English teacher who also had a background in classics/theology.)

My advisor and I had several discussions about whether we should register it in English or Philosophy: I’m pretty sure we ended up going with English, but it probably should have been Philosophy in the end. The reason why I say this is that I ended up getting a B on the essay, and the next year one of my teachers emailed me asking me if I’d mind if they used my EE as an example of essays that would have done better if they’d been marked in a different category, as part of a workshop with IB teachers from other schools. Ouch. 

The difference between the A and B didn’t end up mattering to me, as based on how I’d done in ToK I would have gotten the same number of bonus points anyway, but it’s stuck in my mind as evidence that writing extended essays that don’t fit in solidly with one particular subject area might be a bad idea. 

It’s a pity, because otherwise I’m a huge fan of the IB and the IB diploma approach to evaluation and curriculum design, I just wish they offered a linguistics course. I mean, they have economics and psychology and other courses that aren’t typically part of a basic high school curriculum: I think linguistics could be a great fit. (If anyone has any contacts among the IB higher-ups, you should definitely send them my way. I’m just saying.)

If I were advising someone now on how to make their IB diploma experience as linguistics-y as possible, here’s what I’d go for: 

1. Take as many languages as possible, at the highest level you can manage. If your school offers more than one group 2 language, you can take the other language as a group 6 or even a seventh course if you’re up for it. I learned more in the IB ab initio language courses than in the subsequent university beginner language courses that I took: they’re very much worth it. Take a non-Indo-European language if possible. Not all linguists speak lots of languages, but having another language or two at some level of fluency comes in handy a lot. 

2. Related courses that may touch on linguistics-y topics include psychology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, and computer science. Take one of those if your school offers them. 

3. Your extended essay will not be pure linguistics, because that isn’t an IB course and see above for why you should fit in an IB course. However, you may be able to think of a linguistics-related topic in one of the other areas: for psychology, for example, you could do something in psycholinguistics (how the brain processes language) or developmental psycholinguistics (how kids learn language), or you could do an anthropological/sociological study like how people talk in your area and what that means about culture, or you could do something computational in Natural Language Processing (NLP), like voice recognition or machine translation. 

Counterintuitively, it is probably actually a worse idea to attempt to do a linguistics-y extended essay in a particular language, because if I recall correctly, the requirements are that you a) write the essay in that language and b) write the essay about things that were written in that language (i.e. you can’t write about works from a translation). I mean, if you’re into literature, go ahead, but it’ll be harder to make that about linguistics. The only way that I can think of is if you can find works that are themselves linguistically interesting, such as if they involve a conlang or the transcription of a particular dialect, and you write about how the author does that. (Check out #lingfic or the fiction section of the Conlanger’s library for some ideas.)

Has anyone else done IB and tried to write an extended essay on a linguistics-y topic? Or if you’ve done science fair or another major project that you’ve shoehorned into linguistics, that would also be interesting. (I converted two high school science fair projects into linguistics and those went quite well in comparison, although that’s probably because I got permission from my teachers in advance.)

I also can’t let this post go by without recommending NACLO and the protolinguist series.

Ø      American or English Literature

Ø      Biology

Ø      Business and Organization – e.g., schools, charities, governmental bodies, hospitals, businesses

Ø      Chemistry

Ø      Classical Greek and Latin

Ø      Computer Science

Ø      Design Technology

Ø      Economics

Ø      Environmental Systems

Ø      Geography

Ø      History

Ø      History of the Islamic World

Ø      Information Technology in a Global Society

Ø      Mathematics

Ø      Music

Ø      Peace and Conflict Studies

Ø      Philosophy

Ø      Physics

Ø      Politics

Ø      Psychology

Ø      Social Anthropology

Ø      Theater Arts

Ø      Visual Arts

Ø      World Religions


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