LINGUIST List 11.2103

Mon Oct 2 2000

Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Geoffrey Sampson, Re: 11.2101, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

Message 1: Re: 11.2101, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2000 17:32:58 +0100
From: Geoffrey Sampson <>
Subject: Re: 11.2101, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

I was interested in Ronald Sheen's comments, suggesting that readers of
the Linguist List are actually entitled to expect authors of reviewed books
to respond. Personally I know nothing about the facts related to an
applied linguistics book which Sheen discusses in detail; but the principle
behind his comment was quite surprising to me, because in the wider and
longer-established world of book reviewing for printed papers, I think
there is quite a strong presumption in the other direction (at least
here in Britain). Many people, I know, feel that authors of books reviewed
adversely are best advised to swallow their tongues and hold themselves back
from firing off Letters to the Editor complaining about the review contents,
however unfair these feel -- the main exception perhaps being cases where
significantly critical remarks are just factually mistaken, e.g. "the book
does not mention XYZ" but in fact the index lists 12 references to XYZ.
Of course, authors do sometimes respond in print to criticism of a more
subjective kind, and sometimes this may be the right thing to do; but more
often than not, I think most observers feel that it is probably best not done.

Are there reasons why this principle is less applicable to an electronic
medium such as the Linguist List? Space is at less of a premium -- it is
easy for many people including the author to get involved in an exchange.
But I would have thought the chief issue remained the same: authors put
so much effort and time into their books that it is humanly quite difficult
for them to react to criticism in a cool, measured way, so their responses
to bad reviews often tend to weaken rather than strengthen their
position. It just seems more dignified to keep one's peace and hope that
other reviews elsewhere will prove more favourable. So I disagree with
Sheen on what Linguist List readers have the right to expect.

Prof. Geoffrey Sampson

School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, GB

tel. +44 1273 678525
fax +44 1273 671320
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