A contribution

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Back in December, a fan of Language Log e-mailed me with a simple query that I answered almost immediately, after checking my answer with a Stanford colleague who's a specialist in the area of the query (as I am not).

My original correspondent thanked the two of us, adding:

As a token of my appreciation for your time and responses, I made a small donation to Stanford. I hope I was successful in seeing that it would be directed to the Linguistics Department.

(The Stanford development office recently verified that the gift had gone to the Linguistics General Gift Fund in my honor.)

I was charmed by this gesture, and also astonished; nothing like this had ever happened to me before.

I do get lots of queries by e-mail, more than I can handle, in fact. Sometimes I have the answer at my fingertips and can just supply it, maybe with a bibliographic reference or links to postings or websites. Sometimes I think the answer is worth supplying to a more general audience, so I post the query and my response, here or on my personal blog. Sometimes the query is about phenomena I haven't worked on and can't quickly find authoritative source materials on, and then I have to decide whether I'm going to take it on as a project, which could easily consume a day or more of work. These things pile up fast, so I'm used to disappointing people.

But when I do respond, mostly I get brief thank-yous, not gifts in my honor. (After all, much of the work that academics do is for free.)

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