LINGUIST List 27.3370

Tue Aug 23 2016

Disc: Re: Honeybone's critique of my book review

Editor for this issue: Michael Czerniakowski <>

Date: 23-Aug-2016
From: Geoffrey Sampson <>
Subject: Re: Honeybone's critique of my book review
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In his discussion of my review of “Researching Northern English”, Patrick Honeybone elevates some differences of academic opinion into an ad hominem claim that I am too ignorant to have reviewed the book at all – my review “does not meet academic standards”, according to Honeybone.

Let me focus on what seems to be Honeybone’s most serious objection. The book reviewed contained a chapter that is largely about people’s changing perceptions of “Yorkshire English”, and I queried the value of this, pointing out that “It is not as though ‘Yorkshire English’ were a linguistic reality”. According to Honeybone, “this is not for Sampson to say!” It might not be for me to say based on my individual knowledge alone, but my assertion explicitly referred to analysis by Peter Trudgill, probably the best-known living English dialectologist. Trudgill distinguishes between “traditional” and “modern” dialects, and (as I said in my review) according to him half of Yorkshire falls into one top-level “traditional dialect” division of England and the other half in the other division, while in terms of “modern dialects” most of Yorkshire falls within a dialect area far too large to be identified with Yorkshire in particular. In other words, “Yorkshire English” is not a linguistic reality.

Peter Trudgill is no more omniscient than anyone else, and it would be open to Honeybone to object that Trudgill’s dialect analysis is mistaken, if he thinks it is. But Honeybone makes no attempt to do that. Instead, he argues that the chapter I was criticizing was an exercise in “perceptual dialectology”, meaning the study of people’s opinions about dialects. I do not doubt that many laymen believe there is such a thing as “Yorkshire English”, because county names are the only categories they have for classifying any regional phenomena. But linguistics is the scientific study of language, not of people’s opinions about language. Plenty of people believe that one interesting aspect of the movements of the planets is the influence these have on the characters and fates of individuals here on Earth, but I do not suppose many professional astronomers would accept that the study of horoscopes is a worthwhile branch of their discipline. As I said in my review, “Perhaps it might be seen as an exercise in sociology, though not, I should have thought, very interesting sociology”.

In other cases Honeybone resorts to nit-picking in his attempt to portray me as a hopeless ignoramus. For instance, one contributor to the book reviewed, discussing reduction of the definite article to a consonant alone, implies that if this consonant is fricative it will be voiceless. I am used to hearing a voiced interdental fricative in this context, and asked “whether it is ever voiceless”? Honeybone quotes evidence that voiceless variants do occur, though they are “not ... the most common”. That answers my question, without changing the fact that the passage I criticized was misleading.

I aimed to make my review both fair to “Researching Northern English” and interesting to readers of the Linguist List, many of whom will know less about the specifics of Northern English than I. I believe I succeeded in those two aims.

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

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