LINGUIST List 24.4106

Fri Oct 18 2013

FYI: The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Uliana Kazagasheva <>

Date: 17-Oct-2013
From: Phaedra Royle <>
Subject: The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics
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The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics!

When I asked to review this book, all I wanted was a free hard copy. And honestly, who likes to read e-books and pdf files you have to scroll through over hundreds of pages? Sadly, I received a pre-publication version -- la 14 MB pdf file that I had to download and print! I managed to save a few trees by printing two-pages-to-one on recycled paper, which made some of the figures smudgy, but that is ok I guess, because they are sometimes cute or even funny.

I could go all out and participate in the free book copy contest, which involves surfing to, identifying ''as many of the items in the photograph as [I] can, and explain the relationship of each to SpecGram.'' I might even have a chance at winning after having read the whole manuscript. However, that would entail leaving my job, so I contented myself with trundling my stack of 340 pages/2 around the house. I do have the minor satisfaction of holding a top-secret Review Copy, with my Name written all over it, which certainly makes me feel important.

What would a SpecGram EGtL! contain? The title speaks for itself, and to waste no time (or energy rewriting what is already perfectly stated) it is ''an anthology containing [what the editors take to be] the most important linguistics articles to have appeared in SpecGram in the past twenty-five years'' (that is to say, they have excluded all the excellent work published in SpecGram, Lingua Pranca and Son of Lingua Pranca, before 1988, which is a real downer because everyone should read the seminal ''Bilingualism in Rats: A Ten-Year Study'', by Obler [], one of the few papers I brought myself to read online). As stated in the Introduction ''This book concentrates on those branches of linguistics [...] considered central to the field: animal communication, third language acquisition, linguistic love poetry'' and even more arcane topics such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and even pragmatics!

In addition to the usual obfuscations and distortions we have come to expect from contributors to SpecGram, they have added thematic text boxes (quotes, proverbs, Murphy's laws for Linguists, etc.) as well as a game (Choose Your Own Career in Linguistics, CYOCL) throughout the book. All this most probably to fill up empty spaces and make a longer, more expensive book. (I know there is no verb in the last sentence, just saying). I originally had fun with the CYOCL game, but had to give up, as each career choice had me shuffling back and forth through reams of paper, sort of like evaluating a grant proposal with twenty different researchers, falling deeper and deeper into confusion, trying to find out what page I should be on, forgetting where I started. It was mind-boggling. I decided not to reevaluate my career choices.

I tried to share some of the excellent work with my other half, who is a neurobiologist, giggling helplessly at the logical proof for ''What part of No do you not understand?'' (Burton, p. 125), or admiring the Comic Linguistics schematic of the difference between accusative and ergative languages (Phlogiston, p. 86), to say nothing of the titles for The Best Linguistics Bands Evar! [sic].* But the truth of the matter is that this is the kind of book you can only share with other linguistic geeks. It's like that joke about the semanticist who just had a baby. His colleagues ask him if it is a boy or a girl. His answer is 'yes'! The only person I ever got to laugh at that one is a philosophy student. (Classroom students don't count; a few laugh because they are uncomfortable at the dead silence following your delivery). By the way, the philosophy student also told me a good one. Descartes walks into a bar. The barman asks if he wants a beer. He answers ''I don't think so'', and disappears. But lets get back on topic.

If this book has anything going for it, it is a good old old-fashioned book (or will be soon), smelling of glue and weighing at least 250 grams ( US-Americans: figure it out, the rest of the world can), and will be a symbolic expression of your inner linguistic nerd, or that of some fine member of your entourage you will offer it to for Holiday. Who knows, you might even find a dissertation topic in it...

*Note that they forgot to mention the band Morpheme Addicts, a classic 80's straight-edge grunge band from Wichita.
1 Footnotes are another trick used by the authors and editors to fill up space with pretty useless information.
2 See SpecGram, you are not the only ones who can do this.

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

Page Updated: 18-Oct-2013