May 19, 2004

Fitting names for linguists

Bill Poser recently remarked, in a post submitted at 1:39 a.m. on May 18 (make sure you get some sleep, Bill) that although there is an evolutionary psychologist called Fitness and there used to be brain scientists called Brain and Head, "I can't think of any linguists whose names reflect their profession."

Ha! I am amazed. Shocked, in fact. There are quite a few. It's surprising that Bill, who seems to know so much about so many subjects, was not aware of them.

To begin with the most celebrated instance, the most distinguished linguist and phonetician at University College London for many years was (after his knighthood for services to speech sciences) Sir Thomas Tongue. His contribution to the study of errors in apical consonant articulation are world famous. The term slip of the tongue was actually coined in his honor. Sir Thomas used to take pleasure in demonstrating his ability to say Berth both boats beneath, forsooth, in unique New York, unique New York, unique New York lest six swift thrifty Swiss ships stuffed with sifters swiftly shift three times in less than two seconds. Regrettably, while performing this trick after dinner one night he suffered an acute lingual tangle and fell dead before even tasting his dessert. Coffee was delayed for more than eight minutes while he was removed.

There are many other linguists with appropriate names. I think particularly of the fine Montague semanticist Anastasia Lambda; the well-known Italian X-bar theorist Enzo Centric; the Japanese phonologist Yuri Mora; and syntactician Sandy Clause.

All right, I admit it, the above is all a complete load of nonsense and I made it all up, just like I made up a post once about universities named after linguists for Mark (apparently a number of people thought it was for real).

But listen: there is one person who should have become a linguist but didn't, a guy with a name so fantastic I would strangle a kitten on network TV to have his name for myself. He is the BBC's main corrrespondent in Moscow, and I swear I'm not making him up: His name is Damian Grammaticas. Now is that is a gorgeous, perfect name for a linguist or what.

[Formerly this point had "Grammaticus", which does get ghits, and would be even better, with its Latinate connotations; but "Grammaticas" is correct (thanks to Keith Ivey for setting me right), and that's good too.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 19, 2004 10:36 AM