Linguablog

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Last Thursday morning's little project was tracing the word linguablog ('blog about matters related to language and linguistics') and the related nouns linguablogger and linguablogging. As so often happens with such projects, it turned out to be fairly challenging and developed an offshoot, on innovative ling– vocabulary.

My earliest finds are from Enigmatic Mermaid's site (pombostrans.blogspot.com) in 2002, starting with

(4/7/02) Gregory Rabassa Gets a Beating and Other Tidbits from the NY Times. The New York Times is ripe with stories of interest for the readers of this linguablog. (link)

(and throughout that year, and thereafter, Linguabloggers is listed as a label on the site). Here are a few more cites from Enigmatic Mermaid:

(6/10/02) Les Coupes de Langue de la Grand Rousse. Cybercarnet d'une appassionata de la langue de Moliere. It's a linguablog. (link)

(6/15/02) Quasi-Linguablog. Pohadka is a linguablog of sorts, also covering Information Architecture, odds and ends. (link)

(6/23/02) ForeignWord Linguablogs. (link)

On to Language Hat the next year, early on in his blog:

(2/31/03) When I began, my readership could be counted on the fingers of both hands—and the fact that the second hand was needed was due entirely to Pat's and Merm's brilliant mutual-backscratching invention, Linguablogs. It rose steadily to an average of several dozen a day, then shot upward this month because of a combination of the excellent Pepys' Diary site, to which I quickly became addicted, and the Jan. 28 MSNBC recommendation ("One of the most exciting blogspotting finds I've made while judging Bloggies is the large and active community of linguabloggers…"). (link)

Hat used the vocabulary fairly often, as did other bloggers, for instance Melon Colonie in a posting about Language Log:

(11/9/03) AWE-INSPIRING LINGUABLOG (link)

As far as I can  tell, the vocabulary doesn't appear on Language Log itself until 2005, when Mark Liberman produced an entertaining portmanteau:

(2/5/05) Having a couple of minutes to spare, I thought I'd check out the latest that the linguablogosphere has to offer, … (link)

A few days later, Mark quoted this from Language Hat:

(2/9/05) It's the "else" that baffles me, and I'd love to hear one of the Language Log mavens or other linguabloggers try to account for how it got there. (link)

There's plenty more after that, from Mark and other Language Loggers (in particular, Ben Zimmer).

Now, there might well be occurrences in print before Enigmatic Mermaid in 2002, so I'm allowing comments. I welcome earlier sightings — but, please, these should be verifiable, not just recollections of what you said in the past.

On to the analysis of the word linguablog, which is clearly a combination of the elements lingua and blog, the second a word of ordinary English, the first not. The question is: what sort of a combination is it?

A clue to the answer comes from the wider world of naming blog types. One pattern that is always available in this world is the N + N compound: the second N is blog, the first N names the domain covered by the blog. Science blog is 'blog about science'; similarly, physics blog, chemistry blog, and many others. The pattern is productive; things like lexicostatistics blog and biochemistry blog are semantically transparent and unproblematic.

But ordinary people also like brevity, so as an alternative to astronomy blog, they're ready to jump to astroblog, with the first element shortened to astro, as in learnèd vocabulary like astrophysics and in more demotic student uses in "I'm majoring in astro" and "My astro professor is a bastard". (Such usages then leak out into other contexts — as with an astronomer friend of mine who's gone under the name Astroboy for some years, though he's no longer realistically describable as a boy.)

Sometimes there are clipped versions of the domain names already available: math for mathematics, giving mathblog. This particular clipping is available in a great many contexts ("Do the math!"), but other clippings are more restricted: chem for chemistry, for instance, which surfaces in student uses like "I'm majoring in chem" and "My chem professor is a bastard". Still, they are available for reference to blog domains: there are plenty of chemblogs (as well as chemistry blogs), plus statblogs (as well as statistics blogs). (There's more, of course; this is not an inventory of a universe, only a sampling of the phenomena in it.)

Meanwhile, a large number of academic-domain names are composites, with a learnèd base that's a bound element in Englsh (most commonly ending in a linking -o, derived from Ancient Greek — whether or not the base arises in Greek), plus a suffix (most commonly -logy): anthropology, geology, sociology (with the initial base from Latin), biology, etc.

The result is a "short form" astro, geo, socio, bio, usable not only in learnèd composites (like geophysics, sociolinguistics, and biochemistry) and collegiate clippings ("I'm a geo/socio/bio major"), but also in compound-like composites with blog: geoblog (both 'geology blog' and 'geography blog'), socioblog ('sociology blog'), bioblog ('biology blog'), and a ton of others. (The preferred pattern has alternating accent, so anthroblog 'anthropology blog', rather than anthropoblog.)

Slightly more complicated: -o short forms for fields whose names end in -ics: econoblog 'economics blog' (cf. econometrics), politicoblog 'politics blog' (cf. politico-economic policy). And then there's biblioblog 'biblical studies blog'.

Which brings us back to languages/linguistics. On the basis of what I've just said, you'd expect a blog on these subjects to be a linguoblog, but in fact there's a very small handful of hits for linguo-blog and linguo blog. And a very small number for linguiblog and its variants, plus some for lingblog and its variants. But there are hundreds of hits for linguablog and its variants; this is clearly the predominant usage, probably because the Latin noun lingua has a sense 'language'.  (Perhaps it's also favored because it combines the lingu- of linguistics and the -ngua- of language.)

OED2 has an entry for linguo-, lingua- as combining forms of Latin lingua 'tongue', which notes that the correct combining form would be lingui-. All the cites involve reference to the anatomical organ rather than to language, but the dictionary also has entries for rare or obsolete items referring to language in some way, with various forms of the lingu- element:

in -a: linguacious 'talkative, loquacious', from 1651 on, but labeled "rare";

in -a: linguacity 'loquacity', cites from 1656 and 1721, labeled "obsolete";

in -i: linguipotence, a nonce word from Coleridge 1820, uncertainly glossed '?mastery of the tongue, or of languages';

in -o: linguosity 'talkativeness', one cite (1727), labeled "obsolete".

Inventiveness with the element ling- (in the sense 'language') continues. I spent some time last Thursday with friends, imagining possible ling- innovations; almost all of our candidates turned out to be attested. Here's a small sampling of what I found. Some of them are, like linguablog, compound-like; others look like portmanteaus; still others look like playful word formation, with recently minted suffixes like -tastic and -icious; a number are hard to categorize. (Some are spelled as two separate words, some as hyphenated, some as solid; I'm giving only one version here.)

linguabot / linguobot, LinguBot (automated question answering service), linguacide / linguicide 'language death' (whether by intentional annihilation or not), Lingua Mania (screensaver cum language instruction), Linguanaut (language instruction), linguaphile / linguiphile / linguophile, linguaphobe / linguiphobe / linguophobe, linguaphone (a musical instrument), LinguaScope (language teaching), Linguasphere Observatory (language research netwood)

Lingualicious (blog on learning and teaching foreign languages), linguilicious (adjective of praise, with reference to writing), linguatastic / linguitastic (ditto), Lingtastic (translation service)

among the suggested new names for JapanesePod101.com: Lingfinity, LingoLizard, Lingovation

The 'language' element appears as ling-, lingu-, lingua-, lingui-, and linguo-, but lingua- seems to be the most frequent variant.

In Ling World, invention abounds.



19 Comments

  1. bulbul said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    And then there's biblioblog 'biblical studies blog'.
    … which I've always found kinda odd. My first guess would be 'blog about books'. And indeed, there seems to be at least one Dutch speaking person who thinks so, too – the title says (pardon my bad Dutch) "Wouter on the web: keep up with the latest developments on the web and changes in the information landscape of library and media sciences". That one even threw the noted biblioblogger James Davila (of Paleojudaica) for a loop. His post provides some more background on the term biblioblog, its origin and use among bibliobloggers themselves.

  2. Stan said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

    Very interesting – thank you for presenting this research.

    If I didn't know better, I might have guessed that a biblioblog was a blog about books.

    One of the odder blends is 'blawg', which is awkwardly (or amusingly) close to 'bleurgh'.

  3. Nathan Myers said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

    Yes, shouldn't the Bible thing be a "biblicoblog"? Of course, that's probably just the beginning of such blogs' problems, but it seems appropriate that the name telegraphs them.

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    Glottoblog and glossoblog seem to be completely unattested (per googling); likewise philoloblog, philologiblog, philologicoblog, etc. The majestically unclipped Sprachwissenschaftlichesblog also remains available for first use.

    In terms of linguablog rather than linguo- or lingui-, is it possible that, rather than being driven by a vestigial knowledge of Latin, the primary motivation is an intuitive sense that the middle syllable ought to be unstressed (with the vowel reduced to a schwa), with the "a" being the most obvious spelling to convey that pronunciation?

  5. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

    A few earlier examples on Language Log (though none as early as Enigmatic Mermaid):

    "linguablogs" from David B. (6/30/04)
    "linguabloggers" from Mark L. (7/1/04)
    "lingua-blogosphere" from Mark L. (11/10/04)

  6. Stentor said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 1:07 am

    I don't think you need to invoke accent patterns to explain why it's "anthroblog" rather than "anthropoblog." "Anthro" is already the standard shortened form of "anthropology" (e.g. "My anthro professor is a bastard").

  7. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 1:50 am

    Stentor: Indeed, the anthro shortening of anthropology crops up in other formations where anthropo- would be more etymologically correct, such as anthrozoology and anthrocene (a coinage predating anthropocene).

  8. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 3:46 am

    I'm a translator and I'm tired of all this "Lingua" stuff. Every two-bit translation office and language school has this in its name. Translingua, inlingua, qualingua, lingua viva, lingua vox, lengua translations etc. It's how to stand out from the crowd, folks!

    The ones that don't go for the lingua thing resort to stuff like Lexika and Vocabularium, which are even worse because they play straight into what the average completely uninformed person thinks translators spend their time doing.

    My favorite who has actually bothered to think up something different is a colleague in Vienna whose office is called camels.at, now I bet there aren't too many other translation offices in the world called that.

  9. bulbul said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 5:24 am

    Ben,

    tell me about it :) I'm in translation/localization, too. Out of the 40-50 vendors my company is using, some 80% have lingua-, trad-, lex- or loc- in their names and it's getting really difficult to keep them straight.
    Oh and I'll see your camels and raise you one lark :)

  10. Greg Morrow said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    Benjamin and Stentor: Doesn't the question then go to "Why is anthro- and not anthropo- the common shortened form and productive combining form in English?"

    Professor Zwicky's suggestion about the accent pattern may still be important. These multisyllabic combinations appear to favor (x)Su + S(u) sorts of patterns, e.g. BIoPHYSics, eCONoBLOG.

  11. language hat said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    In terms of linguablog rather than linguo- or lingui-, is it possible that, rather than being driven by a vestigial knowledge of Latin, the primary motivation is an intuitive sense that the middle syllable ought to be unstressed (with the vowel reduced to a schwa), with the "a" being the most obvious spelling to convey that pronunciation?

    What "vestigial knowledge of Latin"? I'm pretty sure that everyone in the original Linguablog community had a good enough knowledge of Latin to be very aware of the Latin word.

    Also, I'm glad to see the Mermaid getting her props here; she was a major inspiration for my taking up blogging. (All the original linguabloggers, alas, seem to have closed up shop.)

  12. Walkest said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

    FAIR WARNING: out-of-practice former ling major coming through.

    I conceive of ‹linguo-› and ‹lingua-› as spelling variants of some "linguV-" morpheme (unsurprisingly), and I think I choose the spelling based on the pronunciation (at least for neologisms like ‹lingu_blog›). And my chosen pronunciation variant is driven away from [ˈlɪŋ.gwᵊoˌblɑg] by the awkwardness in pronouncing /wo/, which for me is [wᵊo]*. I definitely have some unrounding in the middle of [w_o] (though YMMV**). I don't have phonemic syllable weight, but I do have a hard time fitting a nucleus that feels that heavy into an unstressed syllable. I need to reduce it to just [wə] to fit it into [ˈlɪŋ.g_ˌblɑg].

    Hence I say [ˈlɪŋ.gwəˌblɑg] rather than [ˈlɪŋ.gwᵊoˌblɑg], leading me to write ‹linguablog› rather than ‹linguoblog›. AND FURTHERMORE: I suggest that this is a not-uncommon process for choosing how to spell ‹lingu_blog›.

    *perhaps superscriptless [wəo] — excuse my rusty transcription skillz.
    **or should that be YDMV or ODMV, your/other dialects may vary?

  13. language hat said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    I wrote to the Mermaid and got the following response:

    I think I was the person who coined it yes, I think that once Mefi or some other site was making a glossary of blogging terms and I submitted this entry, even though it's likely I started using it on the blog before. There were so many great language-related blogs popping up then, it was my way of giving them a collective nomer.
    As for the reason why I called them linguablogs as opposed to lingoblogs or the like, well, it just sounds better, doesn't it? It's the sonority of it, and probably the fact that língua is the translation for language in my native Portuguese.

    So there you have it, from the Mermaid's mouth.

  14. Stentor said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

    Greg: That seems simple enough too: 1) "anthropo" is three syllables, which is longer than any of the other shortened forms, and 2) when you pronounce "anthropology," the P gets stuck on the "ology" part (an-thro-pol-o-gy, not an-throp-o-lo-gy), so if you're not thinking explicitly etymologically, it's easier to break the word before the P.

    Going in the opposite direction, I get 11,000 Google hits for "geogblog" and 3,000 for "geog blog." We geographers like to steal the G that etymologically belongs to "graphy" so as to make our shortened form distinct from geology (since we already have enough trouble getting people to recognize the difference between the disciplines). I get barely any hits for "geolblog," which I suppose shows something about the linguistic effects of relative disciplinary prestige and power.

  15. Garrett Wollman said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 12:05 am

    I recall that at Hopkins twenty years ago, the subject "organic chemistry" (and more specifically the particular survey course taken by undergrads majoring in any of the biological sciences) was universally known as "orgo". I can only find one (dead) example of "orgo blog", and "orgoblog" seems to refer to something else altogether. (Molecular cell biology was "mol(e) cell", and Google is not very helpful in looking for that.)

  16. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 3:18 am

    Hey Bulbul,

    I don't see the birdie!

    Scrivenik sounds like a good name for a writing service though!

  17. bulbul said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    Ben,

    Czech skřivánek = lark.

  18. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    ah, very good. The Tschuschen, as they are called hereabouts.

  19. Aaron Davies said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 4:07 am

    i'd expect "politicoblog" and "biblioblog" to be clipped to "poliblog" (or possibly "politiblog") and "bibliblog", respectively.

    "philoloblog" is beautiful, but seems prone to haplology.

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