April 03, 2004

The blood of grammarians

Welcome to another language-related weblog, Dave Hosinger's Semantickler, which seems to have started up on 3/30/2004. He blogs an amusing quote from the Wikipedia article on linguistics, which I had not read:

"Linguistics is arguably the most hotly contested property in the academic realm. It is soaked with the blood of poets, theologians, philosophers, philologists, psychologists, biologists, and neurologists, along with whatever blood can be got out of grammarians."

It's remarkable that several generations after our culture stopped forcing children to learn grammatical analysis, the stereotype of the bloodless grammarian persists. Even Geoff Pullum acknowledges the stereotype as he differentiates himself from it.

At least the journalist who was quoted ( Russ Rymer) didn't say that "from time to time, the tree of language must be watered with the blood of grammarians." Though based on this note from Vicki Fromkin, and my impressions from reading his book on Genie, that is more or less what he meant.

As for the nature of "contested propert[ies] in the academic realm", I recently heard an old joke (about the difference between capitalism and socialism) rehabilitated to describe the difference between industrial and academic research: "In industry, it's dog eat dog, whereas in academia, it's just the opposite."

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 3, 2004 09:06 AM