April 03, 2007

LibraryThing for linguists

The LibraryThing site provides a way for people to catalogue their books and share information about their libraries with other people on the site.  The site provides for interest groups, among them I Survived the Great Vowel Shift, described as:

A group for linguists, armchair linguists, would-be linguists, budding linguists, linguists-in-training, linguistic anthropologists, and/or anybody interested in the scientific study of languages. If Noam Chomsky is your hero... you can join, too. :)

There's a list of the top ten books shared by the 288 members of the group.  And Language Log has a presence on that list.

The IStGVS top ten picks (with number of members sharing each book):

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (86)
The Odyssey by Homer (78)
The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (77)
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (72)
The complete works by William Shakespeare (72)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (69)
The language instinct by Steven Pinker (49)
A course in phonetics by Peter Ladefoged (25)
The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax, and other irreverent essays... by Geoffrey K. Pullum (23)
The World's major languages (23)

(capitalization as in the original).  Tolkien and Pinker are no surprise to me; when I talk with young linguists about what got them into linguistics, Tolkien's invented languages and Pinker's Language Instinct figure prominently in their stories.  Homer and Shakespeare are general intellectual background for Western culture.  The Ladefoged and the Comrie certainly belong on the list for their scholarship, though neither is an easy read.  I suppose the Eco does so well because of its combination of scholastic logic and modern semiotics, not to mention the murder mystery.  The Diamond is one of the current Big Idea Books, with a vast scope.  That leaves Our GKP's entertaining (and informative) essays.

It's an entertainingly mixed bag, all the more interesting because it was assembled from empirical data about behavior (what books people buy) rather than by collecting people's explicit opinions and judgments.  And four works that deal with technical questions in linguistics made it into the ten.  Granted, Homer and Shakespeare beat them handily, but that's not a bad showing.

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky)

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at April 3, 2007 08:10 PM