Archive for October, 2012

But not as early as we were: Chicago strikes back

Continuing with the historical priority battle among the older and grander linguistics departments of the USA: naturally, the University of Chicago was bound to respond sooner of later to Berkeley's suggestion of a 1901 founding date. Jason Merchant has written to tell me Michael Silverstein wrote up a history of the department, which Jason has stashed in PDF form here. It provides grounds for pushing back as far as 1892, which would kick the shibboleth out of Berkeley's date; it isn't even in the same century. Some highlights follow (and I'm just repeating what Jason put in his email to me).

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Born too early: prehistory of Berkeley linguistics

Andrew Garrett is Professor of Linguistics and Nadine M. Tang and Bruce L. Smith Professor of Cross-Cultural Social Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and also Director of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages there. He wrote to me after he saw my post about who has the oldest linguistics department in the USA to give some interesting comments about his department's early history, the relations between linguistics and anthropology, and the vexed question of which is the oldest department of linguistics in the USA. Here's the gist of his email, as a guest post.

Guest post by Andrew Garrett

The first Berkeley Linguistics department was set up in 1901, in fact a few months before even the Anthropology department here. An introduction to linguistics course that is still taught was first taught in Fall 1901, by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, the president of the university and an Indo-Europeanist who had received his Heidelberg PhD as a student of the neogrammarians. "Wheeler's Law" of Greek accentuation is named after him. (Joseph Aoun is another linguist university president, at Northeastern University, but I don't know how many others there have been.)

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Not really one of my favorite products, actually…

From my inbox:

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Obama's "is is"

During last night's presidential debate, usage maven Bryan A. Garner opined on Twitter that "President Obama is addicted to 'is is.'" Garner also directed Twitter followers to his treatment of "is is" in Garner's Modern American Usage, where he writes, "Rarely is this form found in writing, even when speech containing it is transcribed. In any event, it isn't an expression for careful speakers." But few would characterize Obama (despite his occasional lapses) as a careless speaker, and we do in fact have accurate transcripts of all three presidential debates to test the claim that Obama has an "is is" addiction. So let's check.

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Schools told not bar

R.C. sends another example of odd headline-ese: "Schools told not bar naughty sixth formers", BBC News 10/23/2012:

Schools in England have been told they must not bar badly behaved youngsters from sixth forms.

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Oldest linguistics department: research needed

Uh-oh! A friend of mine who recently looked at the websites of the Departments of Linguistics at both the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania just pointed out to me that each of them claims to be the oldest department of linguistics in the USA. This is bad. Language Log is headquartered on a server at Penn. Now we don't know whether our home is the oldest department of linguistics in the USA or not.

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Bad news for hunters and bears

J.M. wrote to alert me to a frightening prospect for hunters and bears in Maryland, revealed by the Washington Post's Afternoon Buzz email newsletter:

The new hunting season opens today, with more hunters and more bears allowed to be killed.

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Just in time for Open Access Week

Today marks the beginning of Open Access Week, and last week's announcement about changes to the Linguistic Society of America's publications program was like an early OA Week present. Some highlights:

  • All content published in Language will be made freely available on the new LSA website after a one-year embargo period.
  • Authors who wish to have their content available immediately, either on the Language site or on other websites, may pay a $400 article processing fee to do so.
  • The contents of Language will continue to be immediately available to LSA members and to other subscribers of Project MUSE.

Information about more Open Access goodness to come at the LSA's Annual Meeting in January here.

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He not at death's door

A strange piece of headline-ese: "Castro dismisses rumors that he at death's door", Reuters 10/22/2012.

Typo? Poor command of English? Couldn't fit the 's (but had room for "that")? Normal Reuters headline language? We report, you decide.

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Times more / less than

In a message about the "excruciatingly slow internet speed in China" that I privately circulated to some friends, students, and colleagues, I made the statement that "in many cases that I have personally experienced, the internet speed in China is actually hundreds of times slower than it is in the United States and elsewhere in the world."  Geoff Wade wrote back to me:  "Grammatical question: can something be hundreds of times slower than anything else?"

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With in context

John Wells, "with, regretful", 10/19/2012:

I found myself being just a tiny bit querulous when commenting on a posting in Language Log. […]

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How The Times Has Changed

"President Strikes Blow for Finalize as English", NYT 11/30/1961:

In the course of his highly articulate new conference today, President Kennedy struck one grating note for lovers of the English language. He used that bureaucratic favorite "finalize."

"We have not finalized any plans," Mr. Kennedy said when asked about a possible trip overseas.

The new edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines finalize as "to put in final or finished form." It gives as an example the use of the word by former President Eisenhower.

A grieving linguist commented today that "Eisenhower began the process, and Kennedy is finalizing it."

And not satisfied with one little joke, the editors followed up with another — "Finalized?", 11/30/1961:

Mr. President, are you sure you gave the old place a thorough housecleaning after you moved in? It seems that your predecessor left a few loose words behind that you have inadvertently picked up. When you said yesterday, "We have not finalized any plans," it sounded for all the world like a previous occupant who once said, as quoted in Webster's Third (or Bolshevik) International: "Soon my conclusions will be finalized." In any case, please be careful where you walk, because there may be some loose syntax lying about. Meanwhile, let's invite the clearners in. They'll have the know-how to get the job finishized.

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Newborn searches for crash blossom

Amy Reynaldo spotted this crash blossom currently featured on the home page of the Chicago Tribune:

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