LINGUIST List 2.443

Tue 27 Aug 1991

Disc: Linguistic Novels

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Doctor Syntax
  2. BROADWELL GEORGE AARON, linguists in novels
  3. Scott Delancey, Re: Linguistic novels
  4. Ronnie Wilbur, David Carkeet
  5. , Dr. Syntax, Call for Papers
  6. bert peeters, Re: Linguistics in novels - Doctor Syntax
  7. Dennis Baron, dr. syntax
  8. "Barbara.Abbott", Linguistic novels
  9. Mark Seidenberg, Dr. Syntax
  10. Barbara Johnstone, Doctor Syntax

Message 1: Doctor Syntax

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 91 08:01 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Doctor Syntax
In response (or reaction) to Michael Kac's suggestions that books about
linguistics (or language) be constrained to those not written by
linguists. Michael -- it's bad enough when they are (not all of course
since some are terrific) but as the respondent wrote re The Embedding --
what crimes re language and linguistics are committed by those who
know not from whence or what they speak. There are enough myths
out there. Only good thing about such books which distort what
us linguist folks know is that we can use them in intro courses to
point out to the students that there are myths and fabrications about
language as shown by etc. Only most readers don't take our courses
or read our books. Good sf does not violate the laws of nature (as we
know them or surmise them to be) but builds upon them. Interesting
that H.G. Wells in 1913 predicted atomic chain reaction and the atom
bomb and was just a little off when he suggested it would be used in 1950.
I love aliens but if they speak languages based on UG the projection
principle should NOT be violated. Right?
Inciodentally, I am sure every one knows that Charles Hockett wrote a
science fiction story in the 40's, Can't remember the name. But someone
will or we can ask him. VAF
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Message 2: linguists in novels

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 91 12:15:08 -0400
Subject: linguists in novels
One of the recent Tony Hillerman novels (I think it was Coyote Waits)
has a linguist as a main character. Certain unpleasant aspects of
the character's personality can no doubt be attributed to the
fact that he's writing a dissertation ...
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Message 3: Re: Linguistic novels

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1991 09:44 PDT
Subject: Re: Linguistic novels
M. A. R. Barker, who wrote the seminal grammar and dictionary of Klamath,
is also the originator of a role-playing game set in a fantasy world,
and has written at least one novel (The Man of Gold; I think there may be
 others) set in the same world, in which the hero is a linguist (or the nearest
equivalent available in that universe) who has to save the world through
philological analysis of a dead language ...
Scott DeLancey
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Message 4: David Carkeet

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 07:51:38 EST
From: Ronnie Wilbur <WILBURVM.CC.PURDUE.EDU>
Subject: David Carkeet
As far as we know, David Carkeet received his doctorate in English from
IU, Bloomington, where he taught for a few years before moving to someplace
in Missouri (we think it's St. Louis). In addition to his "linguist-type"
novels, Carkeet has written was is currently ranked among the top 15 best
baseball novels - The Greatest Slump of All Time, about a team that continues
to win despite the individual neuroses of each of its players. The book is
wonderfully funny, displays a detailed knowledge of the different kinds of
psychotherapy/analysis/counseling, and according to my husband Dr. Baseball
[Pete Bjarkman] can also be read along the lines of Camus' "The Stranger".
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Message 5: Dr. Syntax, Call for Papers

Date: 27 August 91, 01:28:42 EDT
Subject: Dr. Syntax, Call for Papers
RE the two comments (so far) about Dr. Syntax, I can't add any
accurate historical details (but am interested in hearing about
them). What I can add is that, whatever the Dr. Syntax series of
books were, they were plentifully illustrated with colored ink
drawings. A number of antiquarian book dealers (e.g. The Argosy
bookshop in New York City) have dismembered these old books and
individually mounted/framed the illustrations, each of which now
fetches a good price. I have seen in the past but unfortunately
have no current list, prices quoted for individual volumes of the
Dr. Syntax series. I don't recall ever seeing an offer for the
whole series. If any of you has one or more of these books, it
is probably worth your effort to check the value with an antiquarian
dealer. The same applies if you have one or more of the colored
illustrations. Since I have (obviously) only casually glanced at
a book or an illustration from the Dr. Syntax series, I can't add
much about the "linguistics" content; but, my recollection is that
such content is minimal at best. I would be surprised if either Dr.
Syntax or his creator, whoever that was, offers enough historical
content to link with the LSA in any essential sense. But, either
might have the potential to serve as a mascot.
While I'm on an historical bent, I'd like to mention that I've been
charged with the responsibility of organizing a panel discussion
(ou, une table ronde) on the subject of 18th and early 19th century
scientific origins of neurolinguistics: contributions to brain/language
relationships before Broca (les origines scientifiques de la neuro-
linguistique au 18e et au debut du 19e siecle: les contributions a
l'etude du rapport cerveau/langage avant Broca), at the 15th Inter-
national Congress of Linguists to be held in Quebec (City), Quebec
Canada, next Auust 9-14, 1992. I have two papers tentatively scheduled
so far and there is room for others; I would be very interested in
hearing from anyone who might have an interest in the general domain
or anything related to it. The deadline is approaching for abstract
submission in order to be represented properly in the meeting handbook,
so it would be nice to hear from you even if your idea/interest is
only at a pre=mature stage. Contributions in either French or English
are certainly a bit easier to handle than contributions in other
languages, but don't hesitate to contact me regardless of your language
of choice. I am prepared to discuss PBI's, too (partly baked ideas).
Harry Whitaker
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Message 6: Re: Linguistics in novels - Doctor Syntax

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 17:25:33 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: Re: Linguistics in novels - Doctor Syntax
Forwarded message (slightly adapted):
> From Tue Aug 27 15:42:37 1991
> To: bert peeters <>
> (...) The English satirical painter and artist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
> specialised in depicting humorous scenes of low life, sometimes very bawdy.
> Between 1809 and 1826 he illustrated a series of 'Travels of Dr Syntax', a
> comic clergyman and schoolmaster to illustrate verses by William Combe
> (1741-1823). Presumably Combe and Rowlandson invented Dr Syntax, but the
> character may have been based on some earlier original.
LINGUIST readers who'd like to find out more, please get in touch with Richard
Also, some of you might be interested to know that we have got our own genuine
Doctor Syntax hotel here in Hobart. Could there be a more fitting place to
accommodate linguists attending a conference? (Especially those linguists who
cannot afford our Wrest Point Hotel Casino or the Sheraton...).
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 202186
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 7: dr. syntax

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 91 11:12:54 CDT
From: Dennis Baron <baron%ux1.cso.uiuc.eduRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: dr. syntax
Dr. Syntax is the creation of William Combe (1741-1832);
the following information is from the _Dictionary of National
Biography_ entry.
Combe attended Oxford, "where he gave himself up to dissipation
and left without taking a degree." He had "an indifferent
reputation for honesty" and apparently squandered his inheritance.
After waiting tables and other such tasks, including the practice
of law, he turned to writing for the reviews of the day. He
wrote satire, and was a friend of Sterne (_Tristram Shandy_). In
1809 he was asked to supply text to accompany a series of illustrations
--this resulted in "The Schoolmaster's Tour," which appeared between
1809 and 1811, and was reprinted as a book in 1812 under the title
"Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque." Combe contri-
buted some 10k lines of verse to accompany the popular illustrations
of a pedantic, moralising schoolmaster. The verse is "sad doggerel,
and Syntax, in spite of considerable humour and kindliness, is
apt to tire with his endless moralisings." Nonetheless, Dr. Syntax
proved popular, and a number of imitations followed. Mrs. Syntax
(yes, there was a Mrs. Syntax!) died at the end of the first tour,
and two other tours followed ostensibly in search of consolation and
a new wife. The last in the series authored by Combes was _Johnny
Quae Genus_, the "story" of the foundling son of Dr. Syntax. However
none of the sequels, and none of the imitations, achieved the success
of the original. I myself tried to read some once, but found it
indeed tiresome, though when I do radio call-in shows on the English
language I sometimes call myself Dr. Grammar, an homage to Combe's
title, though not to his work.
 -- ____________ 217-333-2392
 |:~~~~~~~~~~:| fax: 217-333-4321
Dennis Baron |: :|
Dept. of English |: db :|
Univ. of Illinois |: :|
608 S. Wright St. |:==========:|
Urbana IL 61801 \\ """""""" \
 \\ """""""" \
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Message 8: Linguistic novels

Date: Monday, 26 August 1991 2:01pm ET
From: "Barbara.Abbott" <>
Subject: Linguistic novels
There's a relatively new novel called "Dr. Syntax" by Michael Petracca
(who teaches English at UC Santa Barbara).
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Message 9: Dr. Syntax

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 91 13:27:25 PDT
From: Mark Seidenberg <>
Subject: Dr. Syntax
When I was in England on sabbatical a couple of years ago, I bought 2
"Dr. Syntax" prints. They seem to be illustrations from 19th century
stories about Dr. Syntax, a picaresque fellow who finds himself in
various comical predicaments.
I couldn't induce from the illustrations why they called him Dr. Syntax.
No other discernible connection to linguistics, either. He seems to be
a bumbling idiot, however, and therefore probably not the person to be
nominated for patron saint of linguistics.
Though people who find the concept of a bumbling idiot named Dr. Syntax
irresistably amusing should still be able to find the prints
in England (I found mine in a store on Trumpington St. in Cambridge).
They used to be inexpensive and I suppose will remain so
unless the linguists of the world start a run on them.
Mark Seidenberg
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Message 10: Doctor Syntax

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 91 20:38:38 CDT
From: Barbara Johnstone <H560BJ%TAMVM1RICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: Doctor Syntax
To expand the topic in yet another direction, there is a ragtime
or jazz tune called "Doctor Syntax." I haven't seen it, but a
colleague has ordered it. If anyone's still interested, I'll let
you know what it sounds like later.
Barbara Johnstone
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