Us Language Log writers

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One of the secrets of Language Log is that because of its lack of any arrangement for revenue (aaaaggghh! how could we have forgotten something as vital as income?) its writers have to moonlight doing other jobs, just to make the rent or mortgage payments. We all have jobs that we do in the odd non-Language-Log moments of the day. Mark Liberman, in addition to being head honcho and contributing writer at Language Log, is a professor of phonetics, a computational linguists researcher, a cognitive scientist, a residential house master, the director of a consortium providing large text and speech corpora for industrial and academic use, and (since five or six jobs is hardly enough) dad to a teenager as well. He tends to blog just about every day, but right now he is en route to Japan for a conference, after which he will go on to Hong Kong to be an external examiner at a PhD defense.

I too (this is my home page) have a day job at a university, as the head of a large department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (for a long time I taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and thus had an American home base like the other Language Log staff, but I moved to Edinburgh in 2007).

You might be interested in the lives in some of the other Language Log personnel too.

Ben Zimmer was appointed a few months ago as the permanent replacement for William Safire as the "On Language" columnist for the New York Times Sunday magazine, and he also works as executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and websites and has done lexicography work for the Oxford English Dictionary. Since this is not enough to fill up his day, he also serves the profession by being on the Executive Council of the American Dialect Society, in addition to writing for Language Log fairly often.

Geoff Nunberg is a well known writer, broadcaster, and linguist, author of The Years of Talking Dangerously, and Talking Right, and Going Nucular, who writes for Language Log sometimes. He contributes regularly to the Fresh Air program on National Public Radio, and since this does not all add up to enough, he currently also teaches as an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

Victor Mair is a professor of Chinese language and literature with a wide array of research interests: Chinese etymology and lexicography, the history of Chinese, the Bronze Age and early Iron Age peoples of Eastern Central Asia, Buddhism, cultural exchanges and interactions of Eurasia, the origins of the Chinese writing system and the attempts at reforming it. He has done numerous posts here on the strange translation disasters that occur so frequently when Chinese speakers attempt to write signs in English.

There are many other occasional contributors you may have occasionally read here. Eric Baković is a phonologist and general linguist who teaches in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego (his name is Croatian: notice the letter ć, which denotes a non-apical palato-alveolar affricate that is different from the sound at the end of English words like itch). David Beaver is a semanticist who works at the University of Texas and has written some extraordinarily funny posts for us. Arnold Zwicky is a linguist at Stanford University whose wide-ranging posts pretty much defy categorization. And there are others too, posting with varying (sometimes very low) frequency.

We publish articles on more different aspects of language and linguistics than you could shake a stick at, as you can see by browsing or using our search box. (On our current front page you can search the posts from April 2008 to now; there is also a link to a specialized Google search box for trawling through the archive of our pre-April-2008 posts, which were on a different server but were not lost.) In 2006 Mark and I published some of our posts in book form, under a title taken from one of Mark's posts: Far From the Madding Gerund. (Last Wednesday night I gave a talk about Language Log here in Edinburgh, with some readings from the book, for the students' Linguistics and English Language Society. Despite the fact that nearly 100 people turned up, I thought this would never become widely known; but one of the people present was a blogger himself, so very soon there was a report about my talk out there in cyberspace, and amazingly Ben Zimmer in New Jersey ran across it immediately the next day and wrote to me about it! Nothing stays secret anymore, since the Internet became ubiquitous!)

We occasionally publish guest posts as well as our own contributions. You could be one of our guest writers too, if you write a piece we like and send it to Mark or me or any of the Language Log writers that you happen to know. (How to email us? Well, we don't put our email addresses on Language Log pages, because we have literally tens of thousands of people reading it all the time and it is highly web-visible. We already get more tempting offers regarding Nigerian money transfers than you would believe, and we don't any more spammers harvesting our addresses. But we are all well-known enough that we can be Googled. And we are much more interested in getting mail from people like you, smart enough to Google us and identify our email addresses, than to hear from people who are too lazy or obtuse to do that!)

Alternatively you could try commenting — provided you read and respect our ground rules, of course.


  1. Mark Eli Kalderon said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    What about Melvyn Quince?

    [Quince is a bit of a mystery. He seems to come in and pick up the mail from his box in the staff writers' resource room at Language Log Plaza, but none of us know him very well. His time in our Research Survey department is now acknowledged to have been a failure, and he seemed a bit too irascible to serve for very long on the semantic inquiries desk — not fully committed to our mission statement as regards answering the general public's queries. To tell you the truth, he's a bit of a personnel problem in some ways. And yet we are simply not going to take the man who wrote classic posts like Trilingual bisexuals and The top and bottom of it and push him into early retirement. Re-read them and judge for yourself. The guy does have a talent for… something or other. —GKP]

  2. Gabriel said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

    It's like you're some Justice League analogue, composed of linguists.

    [Yes! The Linguistic Justice League. This is how we see ourselves. Linguistic superheroes, fighting prescriptivist evil and journalistic dumbness wherever they rear their ugly heads; fighting for truthiness, justice, and the American way of linguistic life. Though by day we are mostly mild-mannered professors and no one knows our superhero identities or even suspects anything about what the other lives we live when we don our Language Log capes, with the "LL" logo, and go out there to battle against language evildoers. —GKP]

  3. Alena said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

    Does Victor Mair ever post on the topic of Chinese writing reform? I would be interested to read about that.

  4. Sili said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    One thing I particularly like about New Languagelog is the addition of Mair as a fully fletched blogger instead of 'just' an irregular guest.

    John Wells may have resisted assimilation, but he's an excellent blogger himself. And if he hadn't been misquoted about cows and thus made it into the Annals of Stupid Animal Communication, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of discovering that fact.

  5. language hat said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

    You all make me feel lazier than I felt anyway.

    Also: Bring back Don Ringe! (Indo-European representation!)

    [I've corrected what I think you mistyped in the line above. We will of course put up posts by the excellent Don Ringe (Indo-European specializing historical linguist at Penn) any time he is kind enough to write them. I heard gossip about him the other day: he taught a short course at Brown University and someone who isn't even a historical linguist told me it was fantastic: action-packed, intense, fascinating, utterly brilliant teaching. Oh how one wishes one could have been a webcam on the wall at some events one hears about too late. —GKP]

  6. Dave Arnold said,

    September 25, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

    Thanks again for giving the talk for us at Edinburgh University Linguistics & English Language Society. It's great to see we earned a mention on LL. The reading we have set for next week's reading group is to keep up to date with LL and to write a blog style piece about language that can go on our own blog (

  7. Nathan Myers said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 1:15 am

    League of Extraordinary Linguists?

  8. Jens Fiederer said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 2:35 am

    Actually, I find you are kind of soft on ONE of your rules: "Be informed. If you don't know anything, please don't say anything."

    Even as an uninformed but interested reader/commenter, I've always been treated kindly, and you've gone AMAZINGLY far out of your way to inform me. You might want to alter that to "Be interested. At least think about what we have written before you comment…." etc.

    [Thanks for pointing this out, Jens. We do try to be very tolerant: the reason we work full time as linguists is that the topics we discuss often have layers of amazing complexity; nothing is plain and simple. I have to confess that just occasionally I lose it and smash a comment into the dust, deleting it forever. Sometimes I add a bitter-lime-colored comment into it ("Don't tell us this sort of thing, you turkey, we know this and have repeated it hundreds of times on this site") and then look with shame at what I've said and delete the whole comment together with my response. The goal, as I see it, is not to crush the rights of the ignorant to write idiotic things on walls of toilets or in blogs (far be it from me to trammel free speech, I'm an American); it's to make sure that mostly Language Log is quite pleasant to read and generally educational (or at least not several uneducational) throughout. The reason for erasing really ill-judged and stupid comments is not at all to muzzle dimwits (live and let live, I say: dimwits should be allowed to start blogs like everyone else) but to keep up the average quality of what you read when you come to Language Log. That's what I care about. —GKP]

  9. language hat said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 9:31 am

    I've corrected what I think you mistyped in the line above.

    Heh. I see the esteemed Prof. Pullum is not au courant with popular culture. To quote that paragon of lexicography,


    A phrase showing acknowledgement to one's background, home, social group, or original place of residence. Also similar to giving a Shout Out to one's homeboys.
    Interviewer: So you're from Québec?
    Interviewee: Damn right, homeskillet. La belle Province, represent!

    Though I confess my nonce creation of "Indo-Europea" as a home for PIE homeboys may have been an error; on the model of Bed-Stuy for Bedford-Stuyvesant, I should have written "In-Eu, represent!"

  10. John Cowan said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    Sili's fully fletched is a nice example of an eggcorn in the making: it gets a trivial 1620 ghits compared to the million and a half or so for fully fledged. But normally eggcorns move from the obscure to the less obscure: I'd think that the terminology of fletchery (arrow making) is less known than that of ornithology, so this seems to be an exceptional anti-eggcorn.

  11. marie-lucie said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    he taught a short course at Brown University and someone who isn't even a historical linguist told me it was fantastic

    Without meaning to detract from the reported brilliance of a teacher I don't know, I think that a non-historical linguist (like most persons) is more likely to find a course on historical linguistics "fantastic" than an historical linguist: the non-historian learns a lot from the course, the historian already knows quite a bit of it. I remember that Mark Liberman was entranced by Don Ringe's (excellent) series a while ago, which suggested to me that ML (like many contemporary linguists) had little acquaintance with historical linguistics and was discovering a whole new linguistic universe.

  12. fs said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

    This is somewhat off-topic, but…

    I notice that you linked the string "linguist at Stanford University whose wide-ranging posts" to the category index of Language Log posts by Arnold Zwicky. This string is eminently not a constituent of the sentence in which it lies, which observation made me realize that I have a pretty strong tendency to attach hyperlinks to proper constituents in a sentence and not to other substrings. I wonder whether anyone has investigated such patterns in web writing at large…

  13. richard howland-bolton said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    John Cowan (re Sili's fully fletched)
    Surely it is better to be considered a straight arrow than a barely mature bird??

  14. Jim said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    On a blog I moderate, I gained something of a reptuation as someone who likes grammar and proper language usage and likes to tell other people about it. In 'Net parlance, this would typically make me a Grammar Nazi, but I rarely spoke on such matters unless asked as was generally polite about it. Clearly, it was reasoned, I must be a superhero of language, rather than a supervillain.

    On that day, Captain Diphthong was born. Fairly shortly thereafter we had a full Linguistic League, including my sidekick, Kid Allophone, but as with a lot of Internet silliness, it didn't last long. Still, every once in a while, I don my "Good grammar costs nothing" T-shirt, domino mask and cape and go to an elementary school to speechify on language matters.

    We need more [competent] language heroes than I.

  15. Aaron Davies said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    @gabriel, GKP: things with the initials "LL" do, after all, have a long and storied history in comic books….

  16. Sili said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Thanks, John,

    I knew I should'n've ignored that little yellow line.

    The simple truth is that I just can't spell.

    On the other hand, you're right and in my eclectiana I do indeed know what a fletcher is (if for no other reason from having read The Heaven Tree trilogy).

    ("Don't tell us this sort of thing, you turkey, we know this and have repeated it hundreds of times on this site")

    But it amuses us so, when you do.
    But now that you mention it, I do know the word "fledgling" as well. English is just not logical (look who's speaking …)

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