LINGUIST List 13.1081

Fri Apr 19 2002

All: LINGUIST List: Essential to your work

Editor for this issue: Michael Appleby <>


  1. linguist, A message from Suzette Haden Elgin

Message 1: A message from Suzette Haden Elgin

Date: 19 Apr 2002 04:08:22 -0000
From: linguist <>
Subject: A message from Suzette Haden Elgin

- Suzette Haden Elgin works freelance as a linguist. Read how
LINGUIST List is essential to her work.

Dear Linguists,

It's easy for people reading Linguist List to get the impression that
all linguists are located in the linguistics departments of fine
universities, with abundant access to linguistics journals, the latest
linguistics books, and a wide variety of linguistics conferences and
institutes. Many linguists do have that sort of luxurious professional
environment, thank heavens -- but then there are the rest of us, for
whom Linguist List is the only access we have to the linguistics
community and its resources.

When I'm functioning as a Talking Linguist, my audience isn't a group
of students over whom I hold the power of the grade, or of one day
serving on their thesis committee. Nor is my audience a group of other
linguists, over whom I hold the power of peer review, or of
meticulously excluding them from all my bibliographies, or of simply
making their lives miserable day by day as a colleague. My audience is
ordinarily several hundred emergency medicine physicians, or surgeons,
or psychiatrists, over whom I have no power whatsoever. Their
consensus reality includes without exception the conviction that all
MDs outrank all PH.D's; I begin every presentation knowing that most
of those present have every intention of walking out at the end of the
first ten minutes when what I have to say turns out to be what they
expect -- a waste of their valuable time. And I also know that I'm
going to face one or more of the following challenges, every single

"But I read Pinker's book, and _he_ says...."
"But I read Tannen's book, and _she_ says...."
"But I read Lakoff's article, and _he_ says....
"But I read an article about Chomsky, and _he_ says...."

When I'm functioning as a Writing Linguist, my audience not only isn't
linguistics students or other linguists, it isn't professionals of any
kind, except by coincidence. It's ordinary people from every walk of
life, who -- because of our educational system -- either have no
information whatsoever about linguistics and languages, or are
passionately devoted to the worst kind of myths and distortions about
linguistics and languages. They are prepared in advance to find what
I write either incomprehensible or utterly wrong. They write to me in
large numbers, and in their letters I get not only the challenges
already mentioned, but an assortment of other ones along these lines:

"But my _pastor_ says....."
"But my _English_ teacher always said..."
"But any decent moral human being knows....."
"But all decent patriotic Americans know....."

When I'm functioning as a Work-Seeking Linguist, I face two kinds of
audiences: the editors and publishers I send my book proposals to, and
the administrators of hospitals and clinics and HMOs and medical
schools and medical organizations that I send my seminar proposals
to. They not only know nothing about linguistics, they don't _care_
anything about linguistics. (If I'm lucky, they aren't part of the
sizable population convinced that all linguists are mad radicals
determined to destroy Western civilization; often I'm not that lucky.)
The terms of the contracts these individuals give me will depend on
how well I'm able to convince them (a) that linguistics is important
for the general reader and the medical professional, and (b) that I
know as much about linguistics as some other linguist (usually Pinker
or Tannen) whose books sell in huge numbers and appear on the _New
York Times_ best seller list, and whom they've seen on CNN or the
Today Show.

This means that although nobody is going to turn me down for promotion
or tenure or the post of department chair, I have to be thoroughly
familiar with what's going on in linguistics. I have to know what
concept or event or individual in linguistics is getting media buzz --
and I have to know how the media has misunderstood and distorted that
information, so that I can explain. I can't rely on a set of lecture
notes that I worked up in 1965; I really do have to stay current.

I live at the end of a goat trail in the wilds of northwest
Arkansas. I have no idea how far it is to the nearest adequate
linguistics library; certainly it's at least several hours away. I
can't get to linguistics conferences and institutes; even if I could
afford them, I couldn't fit them into my schedule and still pay my
bills. For me -- and for every freelance linguist like me, as well as
for linguists who have academic positions but are located in parts of
the world where linguistics resources are sparse or nonexistent -- the
survival of Linguist List is literally critical to our own survival.

I do everything I can to support Linguist List. I spread the word. I
talk about it in my seminars and lectures; I write about it in my
books and in my newsletters; I take every possible opportunity to tell
people about it: I do my utmost to persuade people to help me support
it, and to send money.

I urge you to donate to Linguist List too. It is such an important
resource for linguists everywhere; please help ensure its survival.

Everything I could possibly need in linguistics is either on Linguist
List, or at its website, or on a link from its website. I am deeply
and truly grateful.

Suzette Haden Elgin


We would to thank everyone - every individual, department and
institution - who has contributed to this year's fund drive.
Together, you have donated over $39,000. However, this still leaves
us short of our $48,000 target, the amount we need to support all of
our student editors next year.

So if you have not donated yet, please go to to send us your pledge. From
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credit card).

Alternatively, you can hit "Reply" to this message and send us your
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be able to list you immediately as one of our donors; and we may be
able to reach our goal (and halt these Fund Drive messages) a bit
earlier. The address to send cheques is as follows:

The LINGUIST Editorial Support Fund
c/o Helen Aristar-Dry
Dept. of English
Eastern Michigan University
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USA 48197

As a 501(c)3 organization, LINGUIST qualifies for corporate
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We at LINGUIST really do appreciate your support. We could not
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With our sincere thanks,


Anthony, Helen, Andrew, Karen, Naomi, Heather, James, Michael,
Zhen-Wei, Richard, Karolina, Dina, Renee, Steve, Marie, Gayathri,
John, Ljuba, Terry, Simin, Tomoko.


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