January 27, 2006

Bring the bling

David Giacalone at f/k/a, commenting on Ben Zimmer's post "Blawgs, phonolawgically speaking", observed:

After this brief exposure to linguistics, it seems to me that linguists are science-minded persons, who like words more than numbers, and are too nice to want to be lawyers.

After giving some thought to this hypothesis, I've concluded that it's roughly true, except that the sorting process is an imperfect one, and a certain number of people who should have been lawyers have ended up as linguists. Perhaps the errors are statistically symmetrical, and a certain number of linguists have also ended up as lawyers.

David's kind observation about the niceness of linguists, in any case, is a sort of rhetorical head-fake to set up a carefully-worded complaint. Linguists may be too nice to be lawyers, he concedes, but

Like lawyers, however, they apparently do tend to take liberties when describing the positions of others. Thus, where I said I was surprised, Benjamin says I am "shocked." Where I merely gave a prominent example, he says I am "troubled."

One thing for sure, I bet Benjamin and Mark would be quite annoyed, if someone wanted to permanently call their weblog a "bling", merely because weblogs by linguists are so unique.

We're certainly as unique as they come. But speaking for myself, I don't think I'd be annoyed by someone's desire "to permanently call" Language Log a "bling", though perhaps I don't adequately understand how that desire would impinge on me.

Meanwhile, Denise Howell at Bag and Baggage, who invented the term blawg, came up with two nifty titles for a comment on Ben's post -- "Pain In The Low Back" and "Better Than A Stick In The Eye-Dialect" -- before deciding on "I, Sandwich Dominatrix". All three titles are hilarious, in a quiet word-nerdy sort of way, but it'll spoil the jokes to explain them, so you'll have to read the sequence of posts.

This back-and-forth between law and linguistics reminds me, for some reason, of Walker Percy's proposed solution to the perceived problems of teaching poetry and biology in a way that allows "a student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet [to salvage] the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented". He describes two methods that he rejects as impractical -- catastrophe and apprenticeship -- and concludes that

since neither of these methods ... is pedagogically feasible ... I wish to propose the following educational technique which should prove equally effective for Harvard and Shreveport High School. I propose that English poetry and biology should be taught as usual, but that at irregular intervals, poetry students should find dogfishes on their desks and biology students should find Shakespeare sonnets on their dissecting boards ...

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 27, 2006 10:35 AM