January 14, 2004

Authorization: Who or what? (Plus: Tracing the origins of The Language Log)

All entrances to the Fort River School property, down the street from my place in Amherst, Massachusetts, are marked with signs that read
Let's ignore the apparent but perhaps unavoidable redundancy and consider instead what the sign means. Does it ward off unauthorized individuals, or does it militate against unauthorized activities?

There are basketball courts on the property. So, presumably, playing basketball is an authorized use of the property. Does this mean that anyone can wander onto the property and play basketball? Or must one first obtain authorization to do anything (even authorized things) on the property? This is a serious concern to area sporting enthusiasts, who can freely play basketball on the property on one interpretation but cannot on another. It should also be a concern to, e.g., Fort River schoolteachers (authorized users of the property) who are interested in holding poker tournaments on the property (presumably not currently an authorized use).

Note: The above note originally appeared in WHISC (What's Happening in South College), the new weekly newsletter of the UMass Linguistics Department. Both the idea for the newsletter and its name are "inspired by" (swiped from) the weekly newsletter of the UCSC Linguistics Department, WHASC (What's Happening at Santa Cruz), which is the work of Connie Creel.

The UMass newsletter is somewhat livelier than WHASC tends to be. It boasts pictures, puzzles, and general observations about the department and its researchers, in addition to day-to-day news. But WHISC's style and tone clearly take their cue from one very special issue of WHASC: May 29, 2002. Readers of The Language Log will not be surprised by the signature at the bottom of that page. In retrospect, one can hear its author crying out for a regular outlet for things like this. Posted by Christopher Potts at January 14, 2004 09:40 PM