July 29, 2004

A birthday card from the Trib

Nathan Bierma, whose own weblog Nathan's Notebook is in our blogroll, focuses on Language Log in his column this week in the Chicago Tribune [registration required -- a copy is here].

As Nathan points out, his article appears on the anniversary of Language Log's first post, give or take a day: "Wednesday marked Language Log's first birthday, a major milestone by blog standards."

Though I say it as shouldn't, I'll quote the article quoting Erin McKean:

"Language Log excels not only at delivering readable, witty and informative entries about cool language topics, but also at pointing out the places where linguistics has something pertinent and interesting to say about current events," said Erin McKean, editor of the language quarterly Verbatim and Chicago-based senior editor of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

One of the things that struck me about this article was its headline, "Linguists share love of words with amateurs via Weblog":

Back in April, Geoff Nunberg wrote about the "culture of polarization" in the language area, looking at amazon.com's "customers also bought" lists for a sample of popular books on language. He found a striking division between what he called "popularizations of linguistics" and "books by language mavens and word-lore collectors".

As a bunch of academic linguists, we're definitely on the "popularization of linguistics" side of this gulf. In fact, Geoff's list of P of L authors includes three Language Log contributors (if I add him, as he modestly failed to do).

The headline phrase "love of words" evokes the "language maven and word-lore collector" side of things -- maybe the alternative headline "Linguists share love of language with amateurs via Weblog" would have expressed our purpose better. It would have fit in the same space in the on-line version of the paper, as shown above, which has plenty of white space after "with". Of course, I haven't seen the print version, where the space constraints might have been different.

But judging from the links and email that we get, I believe that our readers come from both sides of the linguistic divide. For that matter, many don't seem to be consumers of either kind of book. I'll take this as confirmation of my conviction that language ought to be intrinsically interesting on many levels to almost everyone, and I'll take the headline to mean that our stuff appeals to the word lovers as much as to those with other orientations.

I'll even come out of the lexicographic closet and admit to being a word lover myself, though my affections are not limited to that aspect of language.

[Headlines are usually added by an editor, not written by the journalist responsible for the article that runs under them, so this should not be taken as a criticism of the writer. In fact, it's bad manners to complain at all about such a nice birthday card. I'm just sayin', is all... ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 29, 2004 12:10 PM