May 09, 2007

Who starts these rumors?

How do these rumors get started? You'd think Mark Liberman, for chrissakes, would be a little more careful. Sure, I did do a reading at the Capitola Book Café while riding a unicycle (or rather simply balancing on it — let's not exaggerate). And at a reading in Seattle I did briefly juggle three live Alaskan king crabs (three, not five as widely reported — it sort of looks like five when I speed up). And during my reading at the MIT Bookstore about a year ago I think I did toss two or three live Maine lobsters around while playing "America the Beautiful" on the ocarina. But I have never done the live marine crustacean stuff and the unicycle thing at the same time. Believe me, working with live parrots is dangerous enough. You really don't want to have a frightened lobster come down on your lap while you're trying to keep your balance on a unicycle and read from a Language Log post about adjective frequency at the same time. Not unless you have top-quality medical insurance that will pay for reattachment surgery.

And what's this about performing "rants"? Is this me we're talking about? When have I ever engaged in ranting? Just open your eyes and take a look at my oeuvre. I can be critical, yes. But hey, did I fall asleep and miss Congress passing a law that said we have to switch our critical faculties off while we blog? Huh? Some things deserve a little mild criticism. There is certain poetry that I believe thinking people have a right to object to. There is usage advice written by shameless, pontificating, ignorant, hypocritical, incompetent, authoritarian old weasels that I think should be forthrightly described as such. And there are things that are simply stupid. But I really think that calling me a ranter because I have the courage to point these things out is a case of blaming the victim. It's like, so unfair.

And everyone is so sensitive about criticism these days. When I suggested — in a perfectly reasonable, measured critical discussion concerning the speech of people like young Bakovic — that perhaps some of the prenominal attributive modifier strings in on-line discussions of certain popular music genres might resemble the language use of chimpanzees, I actually got a letter of complaint. From Jane Goodall.

Anyway (where was I? did I have a theme here? oh, yes), Mark is in all sorts of ways exaggerating about the event in San Francisco this Saturday night. From the way he tells it you might think that this will be mostly an ordinary San Francisco evening of women's fiction and wild erotica and outrageous humor, and thus that some of you who like a little linguistics in your lives might feel ill served. Not so. There will be lots of linguistics. Although it is true that I will be the only professional linguist on the bill, we are in fact planning to trade off specialisms a bit. I will be reading some gay Asian erotica that I've written, while Jaime Cortez will be presenting a new distributed morphology analysis of Tagalog verbal infixing. You may be aware that Liz Maverick's next sensual linguistic action-romance novel is about two women who discover the secret to decoding the Voynich manuscript (after which they have sex); but Liz will actually be doing some phonological theory on Saturday night. Stephanie Paul is normally extremely funny, but not when she's giving a lecture on the philosophical shortcomings of the case for linguistic nativism, she isn't; and that is what she promises for this weekend.

So really, it's mainly linguistics. And what with the fact that Geoff Nunberg has promised to stop by, and my profoundly cool son Calvin will be there, and there will be drinks... it's going to be such a party.

[Added later: It was, too. It was a fantastic evening. I had a lot of fun, and my co-performers were extraordinary. Thanks to all the Language Log fans who attended and came over to chat.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 9, 2007 06:18 PM