Deprecated language columnist wins fiction prize

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Warm congratulations to The Independent's columnist Howard Jacobson, who was announced yesterday as the 2010 winner of the much-coveted Man Booker Prize.

Jacobson has had a very rough time on the only three occasions Language Log has mentioned his columns. He was castigated for an alarmist piece of hyperbole attacking "language experts" (in "Preaching the gospel of wrong is right"); for some overblown and under-supported claims about grammatical ignorance (in "Educational sky is falling says blithering windbag"); and for a feeble attempt at a syntactic joke (see the brief remark at the end of "Canoe wives and unnatural semantic relations"). Yet here he is, at 68, winning a £50,000 prize for The Finkler Question, a comic novel about English Jews. It makes me very happy.

I like the diversity of humankind, and the complicated character of individual human beings. The surprises and the contradictions appeal to me. I still think Howard Jacobson is hopeless as a commentator on language: a panicked purveyor of ill-considered, inaccurate, hyperconservative blather. And yet he turns out to be one of the cleverest and funniest novelists in Britain. A person can be a total dunce at one thing (and get slaughtered for it on Language Log) while being brilliant at another. That is how complicated and interesting and enjoyable human beings are. Sincere congratulations, Howard.

[Added later: Cory Lubliner reports hearing Jacobson say in his acceptance speech that "You can't underestimate the importance of this." But you can't overestimate the importance of sporadic speech errors, even from a fan of correct language.]

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