August 03, 2004

Blog cultures, academic and otherwise

Phonoblog is developing nicely, with a fascinating exchange between Eric Bakovic and Travis Bradley on Bill Richardson's Spanish. There are lots of language-oriented weblogs -- see our blogroll on the right for a long and doubtless incomplete list -- but the flavor of the mix has been different from that of the philosophical blogosphere, which is older, larger and more academically oriented. The subdiscipline of semantics has a number of philosophy-style weblogs (e.g. semantics etc.), probably because semantics is academically bicultural.

Jordana Lewis had an item in the July 26 Newsweek on philosophy blogs, which I learned about from Brian Leiter's comment. Lewis invites public participation, suggesting that "you don't need a Ph.D. to participate, but don't fake it," which seems like good advice to me. Brian Leiter has a less charitable perspective on pro(fessional)-am(ateur) interactions. I've commented previously on professionalism in language commentary, and also discussed the quality of discussion in weblogs versus more authoritative sources. This is a very troublesome set of issues.

I think it's worth distinguishing at least three questions about would-be participants in serious discussions:

  1. Do they have a genuine interest in the issues, an understanding of the methods of rational investigation, and a willingness to apply them?
  2. Do they know a relevant set of facts and techniques?
  3. Are they familiar with the (recent) intellectual history of some particular academic discipline?

In my opinion, (1) is the price of entry; (2) is almost always necessary to be able to make a contribution (other than bringing up interesting questions); (3) is worthwhile, but is too often overvalued by those who have it, and undervalued by those who don't. Degrees and institutional status are relevant only insofar as they are often reasonable proxies for positive answers to these three questions.

Of course, for participation in non-serious discussions, there's a different set of requirements. As a recent example, I'll point to my favorite bit of convention-blogging: Wolf Blitzer's interview with Fafnir and Giblets.

Anyhow, phonoblog is shaping up as a place where folk who care about such things can get right down in the details of the sound structure of language, or comment on interesting new papers, or even discuss who got what job or which institution is moving in which direction, like those philosobloggers do. I look forward to participating.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 3, 2004 10:05 AM