November 17, 2004

A riddle

Question: What do the 22 words food, gourmet, toilet, peace, hunger, family, development, ecotourism, information, tech, freedom, climate, comics, Buddhist, nanotechnology, economy, flu, finance, mediation, women, student and religious have in common?

Answer: If you ask Google about the pattern {"world * summit"}, your first 100 of 267,000 hits, in page rank order, include references to the World Food Summit, the World Gourmet Summit, the World Toilet Summit, the World Peace Summit, the World Hunger Summit, the World Family Summit, the World Development Summit, the World Ecotourism Summit, the World Information Summit, the World Tech Summit, the World Freedom Summit, the World Climate Summit, the World Comics Summit, the World Buddhist Summit, the World Nanotechnology Summit, the World Economy Summit, the World Flu Summit, the World Finance Summit, the World Mediation Summit, the World Women Summit, the World Student Summit, and the World Religious Summit.

One thing about this list: there's nothing about speech and language on it. Where's the world literacy summit, for example? That string gets one feeble hit, which I would call worse than nothing: apparently they held a World Literacy Summit and no one heard about it. Not me, anyhow. There have also apparently been two initiatives calling themselves the "world language summit", one of which gets three hits while the other gets one. I know pets with a better web presence than that. Let's compare the "world toilet summit", which gets 29,100 hits. The string "world * language summit" comes up empty, as do "world speech summit", "world speech * summit", "world ESL summit", "world EFL summit"; and don't even mention the idea of a "world X summit" for X=phonetics, morphology, syntax, semantics or pragmatics.

This is pathetic. I surmise that the whole "world thing summit" business is mainly a junketeering and networking opportunity, but if NGOs and others are going be spending their (=our) money on these gabfests, why not focus a couple of them on some of the very real issues connected with the activities that most humans spend more time on than anything else -- talking, listening, reading and writing?


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 17, 2004 05:55 AM