May 01, 2007

Language Log 1, BBC 0

In reference to a recent article on accents at Slate, I got several notes from readers, of which this one from Miles Townes was typical:

Slate just posted an interesting "Explainer" about accents (, but included the "study" that claims cows have accents. I have read your debunking of that claim in the past, so this makes me suspect the rest of the information in the Explainer. I wondered if this merited the attention of the Language Lumberjacks.

But by the time I got over to Slate to look, the cows were gone, except for this little note:

Correction, May 1, 2007: This article originally stated that a study showed cows have "regional accents." That "study" was a now-debunked PR hoax.

Hey, how about a link, guys?

We don't make a dent in the mighty BBC science misinformation machine very often, so this small victory is sweet.

But who are these Language Lumberjacks, I wondered? A quick web search informed me that this came from an old Heidi Harley post that I somehow missed. Now that Heidi is a Language Logger, I have to remember to issue her the monogrammed axe and climbing spurs.

[Update -- Joshua Riley writes:

I think I must take credit for making Slate correct the reference to the ridiculous cow story. As a lingust and regular reader of Language Log, I immediately knew the rubbish that the piece was referring to, and was just as quick to find an appropriate piece of yours to illustrate their folly with.

For what it's worth, the author seemed genuinely apologetic and the correction was made very promptly after I received it. You should be pleased that Slate is now apparently taking your Language Log postings as authoritative evidence more reliable than the BBC science section (which they would know if they were LL readers, of course).

Of course, if I had known the error would be rectified so quickly and so easily, I would have tried to explain that Foreign Accent Syndrome really has nothing to do with foreign accents . . . but you have to pick your battles, I guess.


Posted by Mark Liberman at May 1, 2007 08:31 PM