July 07, 2006

A linguification from an unusual source

Here's a clear example of linguifying discovered by Glenn Branch, who is the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. It is the source in which it was found that will surprise you. First, here's the example:

The angriest [response] I know about was from Bruce Derwing of the University of Alberta, who in 1979 published an article in which my name appeared alarmingly close to a rash of phrases like ‘failure to recognize the nature of the problem’, ‘pure sloth and accompanying ignorance’, ‘arrogance’, ‘narrowness and inflexible mind’, ‘thoroughly anti-scientific’, and ‘disreputable and isolated’.

Notice that the underlying claim is that Bruce Derwing criticized the writer for various failures to be scientific, flexible, etc. But the linguified claim talks about where a certain name was in running text, specifically, that it was close to certain phrases. Even if it is taken to be true, it does not entail the underlying claim. Clearly, the name could be close to phrases of a deprecative sort without those phrases being attributed to the person named. Proximity does not necessarily have anything to do with the matter at hand. So this is an absolutely classic linguification — of the sort where the linguified claim is true, rather than the kind where it is false, but a classic plain vanilla piece of linguifying nonetheless.

Now to the source. The above sentence appeared in the linguistics journal Natural Language and Linguistic Theory in 1983. It was in an opinion column entitled "The revenge of the methodological moaners", in the "Topic...Comment" series (see volume 1, no. 4, pp. 583-588). It is reprinted in a 1991 collection of essays by the same author called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language (University of Chicago Press, 1991). The above quote appears on p. 124.

The author of the original essay and of the book: Geoffrey K. Pullum.

Yes, that would be me. I used the device of linguification in something I wrote in 1983 (I didn't realize that until Glenn pointed it out). And now I'm raising the question of why anyone uses this trope, and by implication casting aspersions on the writing skills of people who do. What can I tell you? Nothing, except what grownups say to kids when caught smoking, swearing, drinking, fornicating, or putting their elbows on the table: do as I say, not as I do. Style advice-givers never follow their own advice. Didn't you know that?

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 7, 2006 06:42 PM