LINGUIST List 3.361

Fri 24 Apr 1992

Disc: Genie

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. ALICE FABER, Linguistics and the Media
  2. Carol Eastman, Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorke
  3. Johanna Rubba, Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorker

Message 1: Linguistics and the Media

Date: Sun, 19 Apr 1992 21:27 ESTLinguistics and the Media
Subject: Linguistics and the Media

These thoughts are prompted by my being a linguist who is the daughter of
journalists. Long before I knew what linguistics is, I was exposed to
journalistic practice. The discussion of the New Yorker article about Genie is
probably typical of how specialists, in any area, would respond to treatments
of their area in the popular press. There seems to be some idea out there in
netland that a responsible journalist would have both taperecorded interviews
and offered his interviewees a chance to read/approve the finished article. I
suspect that practice differs with regard to tape recorders, but I can't
imagine any journalist dealing with a subject about which opinions differ
(i.e., ANY journalist) allowing his or subjects to approve a complete piece.
This would seem to a journalist to indicate a lack of integrity. However, what
I would expect (and this appears from Vicki Fromkin's comments not to have
occurred in this particular instance) is that a reporter might, if time
permits when putting together the final version of the piece, recontact
interviewees to verify that the quotes and opinions attributed to them are
accurate. This is especially the case outside the realm of gotcha journalism
(one might not, for example, want a presidential candidate to be able to
retract in this fashion a statement that segregation is just fine by him...).
In one instance, before a potentially controversial book of my mother's was
published, she recontacted sources who had been helpful to tell them what the
book actually was about, so that they wouldn't be surprised by the to-do in
the press; these people of course did not at this point have the opportunity
to retract what they had said, or even to rephrase statements attributed to
them (although they might have at earlier stages).

With regard to the scientific accuracy of the New Yorker piece in
question--and this is true of virtually all 'science' in the popular press--I
think we need to distinguish between treatment of the issues that we as
scientists are concerned about and treatment of the received wisdom with
regard to these issues. And, in either case, if misrepresentation has
occurred, did it result from anything more than oversimplification of the
issues caused by space requirements? I think that any linguist could find
something to object to in virtually any treatment of linguistic issues in the
popular press; we know too much, and, probably, any one of us could find
something to object to in any aspect of our scientific literature. People of
good will disagree with each other, and always will. Beyond this, I leave it
to those with more expertise than I to detail exactly what sort of
difficulties the Genie piece suffers from, and simply note that it nonetheless
gives a better picture of what many practicing linguists are concerned with,
and why, than the recurring treatments of "Proto-World" do.

Alice Faber
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Message 2: Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorke

Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1992 12:45:20 Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorke
From: Carol Eastman <>
Subject: Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorke

please do do a 'story' to get out what it is that linguistis do so
this article will be exposed as not credible.
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Message 3: Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorker

Date: Tue, 21 Apr 92 18:26:58 PDRe: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorker
From: Johanna Rubba <rubbabend.UCSD.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.344 Genie and the New Yorker

I most emphatically think that if you feel that you, your work, your
motives, and linguistic science were misrepresented that you write
to the author AND the New Yorker and prepare a response or retort piece.
I've seen follow-up type pieces in the New Yorker before. At least
challenge them as to whether they are interested in airing both sides
of the issue.

I haven't seen Part II yet, but if it's as bad as you say, it
deserves a response, and not just forgetting it.

I agree about 'the event', it's new to me, although I haven't been
around all that long.

By the way, does anyone know anything about the Searchinger film
project mentioned in the article? It would be nice to see what
sort of rap linguistics is getting there, too.

Jo Rubba, UC San Diego (these days of UC Riverside ...)
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