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LINGUIST List 24.4015

Mon Oct 14 2013

FYI: Review: The Speculative Grammarian (book)

Editor for this issue: Uliana Kazagasheva <ulianalinguistlist.org>

Date: 13-Oct-2013
From: Lauren Gawne <superlinguogmail.com>
Subject: Review: The Speculative Grammarian (book)
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The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics
Paperback: 356 pages
Publisher: Speculative Grammarian Press; 1st edition (July 19, 2013)
Language: English

This review originally appeared on Superlinguo. Please follow the link below to read the review with hyperlinks and images:


The Speculative Grammarian has been a feature of the linguistic blog-scape since my undergraduate days, and if you extend back to its pre-digital existence, SpecGram has basically been around since I was pre-verbal. Of course, if you take the self-created history of SpecGram too seriously, this preeminent Journal of Satirical Linguistics has existed in one form or another since Old English was just known as English.

SpecGram has now condensed centuries of satirical linguistic articles, comics and pearls of wisdom into a single book. Of course, as the editors unabashedly note in the introduction, much of this content is available online - but this compilation makes a tidy package, a pleasant bit of browsing, and a convenient gift for the book-loving linguist. My review copy was a PDF, so I can’t comment on how pleasant it will look on your bookshelf next to Netymology and You Are What You Speak, but I believe it is book-like in proportion and substance [see a picture here]. There is also some additional material in this book - it’s worth it for the self-defining glossary of linguistic terms alone.

At Superlinguo we like to think of ourselves at the ‘lighthearted’ end of the linguo-net - SpecGram take you a giant leap towards absurdity, often masked by seemly earnest academic rigour. Like any other guide to linguistics, SpecGram have all the expected subsections; syntax, phonetics, sociolinguistics etc., but that’s where all similarity to any other book on linguistics ends. Such po-faced silliness is impressive, whether it’s the 10 commandments for linguists (Thou shalt not smite the fool who asks, “What is the number of languages thou dost speak?”), a three-page treatment of the distribution of indefinite an/a, or evidentials in Dup (Including a form glossed as “I saw it personally, or deduced it based on evidence presented in court, or I don’t know about it yet but expect to hear about it from my third daughter”) SpecGram will always give a joke the full treatment it deserves.

I am on record over at SpecGram HQ for noting that their work is a bit too technical for the non-linguist. SpecGram is full of silliness, but it’s well-educated and theoretically sound silliness. If you’ve done an introductory linguistics course you’ll get the gist of many articles, and if you have a major in linguistics you should find much to amuse you. Every time I return to SpecGram I find new things that resonate - for example How To Pay For Linguistic Fieldwork only truly makes sense to me after my PhD adventures, and it was only reading through this time that I noticed names like Van Geordriem (jestful homage to George van Driem). Just like I advise students that you don’t have to like every field of linguistics, you don’t have to like everything in SpecGram (or, for that matter, understand it, there is often detail upon detail lurking in those footnotes). There’s more than enough there for linguists of any flavour to find something of amusement, and it’s a book that’s always worth coming back to. Sometimes it actually makes the distinctions between different theories or sub-disciplines of linguistics easier to understand than more earnest volumes. But don’t let some learning get in the way of a good chortle. Even the errata page is a good excuse for a joke or two.

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

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