Taxing My Understanding

Of course, when you see that list, you can see that the word grapheme literally – LITERALLY literally – already means 'marker.'

Taxing My Understanding

Last night, I stayed up until about 2 a.m. working on my taxes. I've always done my own taxes, as I figure that I have to do all the organizing anyhow, so why pay someone else to do the easy part of entering data into a tax software program? I have a system, and I kind of enjoy putting the puzzle together.

Many tax preparation software programs use a kind of socratic, question-asking, interviewy way of getting all your data put together, just like many accountants do. Unfortunately, the program I've been using for years had a glitch this year that required me to delete my whole business profile and rebuild it from scratch: industry, home office, all of it. That wasn't so enjoyable.

"What kind of business are you in?" it asked me. <L-i-n-g-u-i-s-t-i-c-s>, I typed in, and the software entered that into the "Work Description" field. Then it wanted me to choose a "Work Industry." It gave me a list of suggestions. "Do you mean translation?" It asked. "Writing? Education? Speech therapy?" I am not primarily a writer or a teacher or a translator, though I do or have done all three.

Damn thing kept trying to put baby in a corner.

So I selected "Education." I mean, I do educate people. I teach kids and families, I volunteer in schools, I offer professional development. I am a teacher, in a sense, even though I am not at all what most people think of when they hear the word "teacher."

Now, being self-employed, I have a lot of expenses associated with my business, and I need to deduct those expenses. Travel for work, online subscriptions, computer equipment, a home office, research materials. I am an honest taxpayer, and I keep excellent records. Nonetheless, my tax prep software kept flagging my expenses. When I'd go through the review at the end of the federal return, the software would tell me, repeatedly, that I was at medium risk for an audit, because, for example, "Your travel expenses are higher than normal for someone in education." Sure, because classroom teachers don't travel for work a whole lot, or meet with clients. Or "Your business equipment purchases are higher than normal for someone in education." OK, sure, again, because my tax software can only imagine one kind of educator, and they're pretty much never self-employed.

So last night, I went back into my profile to comb through the details.

"What kind of business are you in?" it asked me again. <L-i-n-g-u-i-s-t-i-c-s>, I typed again. But this time, in response to the list of non-linguist "Work Industry" choices that it wanted me to select from, I selected "Other," and I typed <L-i-n-g-u-i-s-t-i-c-s> into the second box. I am in the business of linguistics, and my business is in the field of linguistics.

And just like that, all my audit flags disappeared. Just like that, I went from medium audit risk to low audit risk, because apparently, tax prep software has no idea what linguists spend on equipment or travel, so they can stop comparing me to people who are not like me.

Today, a colleague and I were talking online about our joint work, and she said to me, "See, what you do? It's not Structured Word Inquiry."

I've been hearing this a lot lately from my clients, most of whom also study with other people. "I just don't get this depth of understanding anywhere else." Or "No one explains the big picture like you do" – something the dyslexics especially benefit from.

"Right," I said. "That's because what I do is orthographic linguistics. SWI is lovely, but that's something developed and run by teachers, and the people who are in that line of work think like teachers, not like linguists." She nodded. "That's why," I said, "SWI people sit around and have debates about graphemes and markers, or whether you can analyze cranberry, because they are trained to think like teachers, not like linguists. So they just ping around a bunch of teacherly guesses in their heads, without having any scientific parameters for discernment." She nodded.

And you know what? I don't care if that makes me sound arrogant.

What I have come to realize this year in completing my dissertation is this: morphology is cool and all, but what I have to offer is not primarily morphological. SWI does that; I've even caught its strongest proponents referring to 'morphology' when they actually meant the whole writing system. And while I think that I can nudge people toward an understanding of broad etymological relationships better than most people, and while I'm ever so grateful that I was able to bring the gift of Douglas Harper into this study community, the etymology is also not my biggest gift to anyone.

It's the orthographic phonology, guys. That's where my understanding is one that really no one else can offer you. If you have the LEX Grapheme Deck, you know that there's nothing else like it in print anywhere on Earth. It's a deep departure even from the old Orthographic Phonology disk in the Real Spelling Tool Box. And if you have just one conversation with me about a graphophonemic problem you can't solve, you'll see that everything I'm writing here is true.

Here's a recent example of linguistic clarity that you won't find elsewhere:

Terms and conditions apply.