June 26, 2004

Psycho linguists?

Psycholinguistics was mentioned on NPR this morning by Jim Fallows, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, who was talking about the communication styles of John Kerry and George W. Bush, and the explanation for the latter's evolution in the direction of inarticulacy. The program host, Scott Simon, seized the opportunity to interrupt to say he'd never heard the word psycholinguist, and to ask whether it meant a linguist who's crazy. Ha! Ha! Oh, my sides are aching!

Get a grip, Scott. If someone mentioned psychopharmacology, would that elicit a similar joke? You can guess what compounds with psycho- mean. The difference, I think, is that people realize that pharmacology is a scientific subject that they may not personally know much about, so they accept psychopharmacology as a name for a psychological variant of it; but they don't think there is any such thing as the scientific study of language (everyone's an expert on that; failed sports reporters and political journalists can easily turn their hands to writing books about language), so the term psycholinguistics seems fit for a giggle. Us linguists don' get no respect.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at June 26, 2004 07:36 PM