New Year's Reflections and Resolutions

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As we enter the second half of the 15th year since we started Language Log, we've been reflecting on the past and planning for the future.

We should start by explaining what Language Log is, because by no means everyone who comes across the site understands this. Some think they can register to write posts as if Language Log were a public discussion forum. Others write to offer advertising opportunities, or submit papers they would like to publish.

Language Log is a group weblog, founded by professional linguists, on which a loose association of specialists in language write about topics they think are interesting or entertaining. The site has no official or even semi-official status. Although the Linguistic Data Consortium kindly lends us disk space and an address on a spare server, Language Log is not a voice of the University of Pennsylvania. Nor does it speak for the Linguistic Society of America or the linguistics profession at large. It takes no advertising, has no staff and no budget, receives no grants or gifts. It isn't a refereed journal, nor a substitute or rival for such (though Language Log posts have sometimes been referenced in journal articles). It isn't a news source or a news aggregator or a discussion forum for linguists at large.

The intended audience is interested non-specialists (or perhaps we should say not-necessarily-specialists). We aim to explain any technical linguistic concepts that we call upon, not just presuppose them. But we construe the linguistic sciences very broadly, ranging from physics and physiology to logic, history, anthropology and sociology, so the professional linguists who read our posts are sometimes as much in need of background explanations in specialized areas as anyone else. And readers who happen to be specialists in relevant areas are often interested in contributing to a general discussion, whether they are linguists or not, and often use their own expertise to make points that educate us.

Like the authors of any other group weblog, Language Log writers are an invitation-only group. An open discussion forum, like Linguist List or Reddit, would be a very different sort of enterprise. Language Log comments are often a valuable source of information, evaluation, and reaction. But of course trolls and just plain obnoxious people are as common here as elsewhere on the internet, and we have no staff to act as moderators, so this is an enduring source of difficulties, for which different people have different degrees of tolerance.

Language Log writers have diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and interests, and a wide variety of opinions on topics linguistic and otherwise. This is not where they publish their research (though we may reference our own research work if aspects of it seem to be of general interest). We sometimes do a bit of new research in support of a post, but there is no refereeing, so appearance of an idea here does not normally count as a contribution to the scholarly literature of linguistics, except in the way that personal communications and unpublished manuscripts sometimes do.

Language Log's subject matter can come from anywhere that provides material with at least sort of linguistic content or connection. The site has often featured quirkiness, humor, flights of fancy, April Fool's Day hoaxes, quizzes, topical news allusions, popular culture references, and observations on controversial matters like taboo vocabulary or political speech. Many posts represent reactions to linguistically-relevant items in the media or in our everyday experience. Some are simply random thoughts.

There is no corporate theoretical view. As things have turned out, we share an orientation toward valuing empirical data and technical tools, but that is more and more the mainstream, as illustrated by any recent issue of the LSA's journal Language. We share an antipathy to prescriptive bossiness about English grammar, but then most linguists do. These commonalities are just accidents of the way the views of the active writers have evolved, and large numbers of linguists share the same outlook. In other respects, we often disagree, though we endeavor to treat one another with respect.

The readership is modest in size but apparently stable, at just under 11,000 page views per day (the average is 10,888 per day over the past three years). Readership has been higher in the past, sometimes exceeding a million page views per month. The drop-off is partly because of the general turn towards other sorts of informal internet media, like Twitter and Facebook, but it's also because the rate and variety of Language Log posts has decreased. Some people who were regular posters in earlier times have turned to other media with a larger audience (Ben Zimmer and Geoff Nunberg, for example). Others have simply focused on tending their own gardens.

Is the enterprise worth continuing? We think it is. Many linguistic issues of great cultural, social and political importance continue to come up in the news media, and many members of the general public are interested in linguistic issues great and small. And the set of sources of informed and accessible commentary on these issues, though larger than it was, remains smaller than it could and should be. So we have a few resolutions for 2018.

New Year's resolutions

1. Recruit new writers. We are in the process of trying to recruit additional writers who share our enthusiasm for communicating with the broader public about linguistic issues, in order to increase the daily rate of relevant posts.

2. Improve the layout. Our site design was last updated in 2008. It needs to be fixed to work properly on mobile devices, and to be less dated in general.

3. Address social media. We need to pay more attention to the connections to media such as Twitter and Facebook.

4. Moderate comments. We need to explore arrangements for more effective moderation of comments.

5. Engage with readers. We need to work harder to engage with our readership, independently of comments sections under particular posts.


  1. AntC said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 6:34 pm

    Thank you Mark and Geoff, and all your contributors, and Happy New Year.

    Is the enterprise worth continuing? Absolutely yes please!

    We need to pay more attention to the connections to media such as Twitter and Facebook.

    Are you sure? I value that LLog has a much higher signal to noise ratio than those forums; and is of enduring value whereas that what causes a sensation there is just as quickly gone.

  2. Bloix said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 7:10 pm

    As an emphatic non-specialist who's been reading LL for years to my benefit, may I offer my gratitude for this site. Although you note that it's not formally a sponsored project, I hope you think of it as carrying out an important part of the work of a university. I'm grateful also for the opportunity to comment, and to talk, argue, and sometimes quarrel with you and with other commenters. Best wishes for the New Year.

  3. Rosie Redfield said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

    What AntC and Bloix said!

  4. Robert Ayers said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 9:06 pm

    I fourth the sentiments of AntC and Bloix and Rosie!


  5. Markonsea said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

    And I take the fifth!

    (The serious subtext is approbatory.)

  6. David Morris said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

    Language Log is usually the third site I check every morning, after the news and Facebook, and before email.

  7. Xmun said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 1:06 am

    May I suggest a sixth New Year's Resolution?

    6. Review books likely to be of interest to LL readers. That's to say, books on linguistic topics written in non-technical language (like GKP's LL posts).

  8. Xmun said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 1:08 am

    PS For "non-technical" read "not too technical".

  9. Helen DeWitt said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 3:14 am

    I tend to think of LL as unimprovable, so would simply like to express my gratitude to all contributors for this splendid resource. Very best wishes for a Happy New Year!

  10. B.Ma said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 8:34 am

    I'd like to add my thanks to all authors and the majority of commenters for making LL an interesting and educational read.

    Personally, I don't think the site layout needs any changes at all. Anything fancy (particularly if it involves Javascript) would detract from the important bits of the site, i.e. the actual content, and would be the opposite of improvement.

    LL works well on my mobile devices as I ask my browsers to always request the desktop version of websites. The main problem is that posts often have images that need embiggenation, or sound files that are best played in a quiet environment rather than at a noisy station, etc., which won't be fixed by making a better mobile site. Finally, the posts here actually require the reader to pay attention so it isn't really the kind of thing I want to be reading "on the go" and I suspect that most commenters also prefer typing on a proper keyboard.

  11. Ray said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 9:09 am

    happy new year and may LL keep on keepin on!

    my only hopes for improvements would be to make it easier when commenting to make text bold or italic or whatever, to make links, to upload a picture. (I guess this is called rich text? where you can just use buttons to accomplish these formatty things, without using code?)

  12. Stephen Goranson said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 9:10 am

    Language Log,
    Happy New Year and thanks!

  13. Mark P said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 9:17 am

    LL is one of the best Web sites anywhere. I have learned a lot about linguistics and a lot of other topics, things that might never have crossed my mind to even consider.

  14. Rose Eneri said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 9:22 am

    I too have been reading LL for many years and I like it just the way it is. I thank not only the authors, but also the great commenters, many of whom are very cleaver and witty. I would only recommend an easy way for readers to suggest topics for inclusion. Happy New Year to all! Long live Language Log!

  15. Language Log has set out its stall and its intentions for 2018, which I applaud. There's talk of a redesign. I hope that in doing said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 10:48 am

    […] Replied to a post on : […]

  16. Jeremy Cherfas said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 10:53 am

    I agree with many of the comments above. I'm not sure you need to concern yourself too much with social media, except inasmuch as there may be aspects of language on social media that merit discussion. And if you do redesign, maybe consider implementing some of the ideas behind the IndieWeb, which would make it easier to share and comment, when appropriate.

    In any event, even if you change nothing, I will continue to love and appreciate all the work that all of you put into the site.

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 11:49 am

    I agree with everybody above who likes this site.

    I especially agree with Rose Eneri on making it easier for readers
    to suggest topics, like the legendary "Ask Language Log". It could even be public—I've hesitated to forward articles to the LLoggers because I thought many others would have done so already. I suppose, though, that if you had a site for submissions it might get flooded.

    On another topic, I used to complain about the bugs in Preview, but I now realize it was much better than nothing.

  18. gordon fitch said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 11:59 am

    I suppose you could maintain an unpublished slush pile for outsiders, from which interesting questions and observations could be selected for online treatment.

  19. Lester said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 12:11 pm

    Your opening sentence made me fear that you were preparing us for the terrible news that you were going to discontinue the blog. I'm so relieved that is not the case. As for recruiting new writers, I suggest that you pursue Anne Curzan, whose Lingua Franca posts are second only to GP's.

  20. brian said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

    I wish to add my thinks for an engaging go-to-daily website. Sincerely, Brian, BFSL (Barely Fluent in a Single Language)

  21. DaveK said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

    I've also been a daily reader since I followed a link here ten years ago. I've never had a course in linguistics but this site has been a great education for me. Thank you one and all.

  22. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

    Another daily reader here, and of course I echo the sentiments expressed above by others.

    The one usability improvement I would suggest is this: When admins interpolate their replies into the text of existing comments, it would be great if that could somehow trigger an email notification to subscribers of that thread.

  23. Matt Keefe said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

    I always wondered what this place was.

  24. ardj said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 9:09 pm

    ditto to all the above

  25. Charles Richardson said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 1:22 am

    As another long-term reader and lurker, I concur with the sentiments above: you're doing a great job, and we very much want you to continue. Thanks for the lovely clear statement of purposes. My new year's resolution is to try to participate in the discussion when I can, and when there's something that's not too far beyond my level of competence.

  26. Dagwood said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 2:41 am

    I'm one of those avid readers who's a non-specialists; someone with, to put it mildly, a little knowledge (a dangerous thing!) who learns lots from reading this site. And I occasionally share LL's current and archival posts — as an appeal to authority — to help bust many of the myths so many people believe about language, and to counter "prescriptive bossiness about English grammar." To that end, LL is an invaluable resource.

    Regarding the layout, IMO it's a tribute to LL that the stodgy look of the site is irrelevant to those of us who read the site faithfully. However, I've been aware when I share LL posts on Facebook, that they appear pretty damn drab in that context.

    In any case, thanks LL for doing that voodoo that you do so well!

  27. stephenl said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    thanks for the lovely bloggings!

  28. Curtis Booth said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 10:46 am

    Hear, hear!

  29. Carol Saller said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 12:25 pm

    Yes, thank you all! Although much of the content is over my nonlinguist head, there's always something to provoke thought or inquiry. I mention and recommend LL almost every time I speak to editors, writers, or students.

  30. Geoff said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 11:02 pm

    For an unmoderated blog LL does amazingly well in the signal to noise ratio and the general civility. Thanks to all, but especially to the organisers and writers of course, as they do most of the work.

    I find it hard to imagine Facebook adequately replacing the format of thoughtful 300 word post + interesting comments.

    As a non-expert I particularly value reading something that exercises the brain without the barriers to entry around jargon, assumed knowledge and academic style that can be offputting in journal articles.

  31. Avi Rappoport said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

    Another happy longtime reader, and want to offer the info that your RSS feed audience is probably bigger than you know! 77 people on the tiny social network DreamWidth alone (

  32. Laurel Wilson said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 11:01 am

    I too am a longtime happy reader, and I do get your posts via my RSS feed (I use Reeder, based on a list kept in Feedly). As Avi Rappoport pointed out, there may be many more of us than you know.

  33. David Udin said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

    I, too, mostly follow language log via an RSS feed. I don't know if that counts in your readership stats, but I hope so. My only complaint about the feed is that it doesn't include the paragraph formatting, which makes it hard to distinguish quoted blocks of text from the surround. That usually takes me to the site to read articles in original format. As to the site format, simple is good. Leave it alone. Social media is a cesspool; leave that alone, too.

  34. Jason M said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 12:32 am

    One of my favorite sites. Please don't change much. Mostly I lurk but thought it important to post how much I value the info and repartee here. Merry New Year!

  35. Haamu said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 10:19 am

    I discovered this site 13-14 years ago and have since visited it on an almost-daily basis, but I decided early on that I'd adopt the attitude of "shut up and you might learn something." It has paid off. Thanks so much to all of you (hosts and commenters alike) — not just for the education, but for creating and sustaining a patient and civil community committed not just to one field, but to intelligent eclecticism and evidence-based engagement with the world at large.

    I'm intrigued by the intent to modernize and engage more, but I'll echo others by saying that the site is already excellent and I hope nothing will happen to (1) lower the signal-to-noise ratio, (2) slow the site down with unnecessary script, or (3) require us to move to social media platforms (especially Facebook) for content.

    Do please bring back the comment drafting preview feature, though.

  36. mg said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 10:19 am

    "It takes no advertising, has no staff and no budget, receives no grants or gift"s but is a gift I look forward to catching up with every weekend (or snow day, like today).

    I agree with everyone above that I hope you won't change the page layout much – if it ain't broke, don't fix it! And no need to engage with Facebook (which becomes less useful each year, as their "fixes" keep making things worse) or Twitter unless you want to.

    Thank you again to all of you working on this wonderful resource.

  37. Gregory Morrow said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

    Thank you for Language Log. The opportunity to learn from such generous teachers and guests is invaluable. Please continue.

    I suggest setting up a Patreon to provide a small slush fund for such activities as may warrant — the legendary Language Log subscription fee made practical!

  38. Kate Gladstone said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 5:54 pm

    On most days, LanguagnLog is within the first five sites I check.

  39. Viseguy said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 10:44 pm

    Sto lat, Language Log!

  40. Nicki said,

    January 8, 2018 @ 8:31 am

    I'm so glad to hear that LL will continue! Thank you all for what you do here.

  41. Tye said,

    January 9, 2018 @ 11:07 pm

    I always thought the site design and layout was intentionally spartan/elegant so the focus would be on language. I'm a non-specialist, non-academic, regular person interested in language and how it works. Language Log is awesome. Keep up the good work.

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