Linguistics: The magazine

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A few years ago, as a half-serious ending for a talk that I gave at the LSA annual meeting ("The Future of Linguistics", 1/7/2007), I suggested that there might be some opportunities in the supermarket checkout line:

This was, of course, the scond in a series, preceded by Erotic Grammar and followed by Erotic Rhetoric

(Full disclosure: this was just the then-current issue of Psychology Today, re-titled…)

Recently, Ben Zimmer has pointed out to me two other half-serious efforts in the same vein. One is Mignon Fogarty's Grammarian Magazine:

One day in the supermarket check-out line, I started daydreaming about what a hype-filled, trashy magazine for language lovers would look like. Here's what I came up with.

And then there's John McWhorter's Werd, illustrating an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times:

Jokes, parodies, and illustrations aside, I really do think that this is a good idea. A semi-ironic supermarket-magazine approach might work — especially for cover stories — but the most plausible core market, I think, would be more a upscale and intellectual one. In addition to those cover stories about the juicier aspects of interpersonal communication, there could be sections dealing with language variation and change, speech and language technology, literary analysis, political language, usage advice, language and gender, linguistic history, advertising language, forensic linguistics, scrabble, whatever . . .

(And even some phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics!)

An online publication would be easiest, cheapest, and sanest — though perhaps the same hipster nostalgia bringing back vinyl records will also revive the paper magazine?


  1. AJD said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    Wait, so…

    you think that an online publication…

    containing articles about language and linguistics topics…

    pitched to an intelligent but non-specialist audience…

    would be a good idea?

    Where shall we ever find one of those?

  2. Doreen said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 10:28 am

    There *is* such a mag in Sweden — always an enjoyable read (if you can read Swedish, that is):

    [(myl) Another possible model is the Dutch magazine Onze Taal ("Our Language"), which (to the extent that I can read it) seems to have content of excellent quality. (See here for an archive of past digital issues.) The Dutch magazine is published by an old (founded 1931) linguistic-nationalist organization "Genootschap Onze Taal", which I believe subsidizes the magazine's production (though subscription fees also clearly play an important role). I don't know what the business model of the Swedish magazine Språktidningen is — they offer to sell advertising, but I don't see a lot of ads in the version that appears in my browser here in California this morning…]

  3. Amy said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 10:53 am

    I was just going to mention the Swedish "Språktidning." Not only do they have decent popular articles on linguistics, a few times a year they also have a special puzzle insert, that includes things like a game where you match up sentences with the names of the languages in which they're written or one where you have to fill in the languages from a list in the appropriate place on a series of linguistic family trees.(They also have crossword puzzles, but those are beyond my Swedish abilities.)

  4. Mark Allen said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Why learn Swedish when Google's translation is so much fun?

    Have a great summer with our favorite blogs!
    Now the language newspaper vacation! The blog is back in mid-August and then again the year's fifth edition of Language magazine. It includes articles on code-switching, Chinese, tattoos in latin and Jonas Gardell. For those who need additional summer reading and holiday crafts in addition to language magazine's summer issue and the Annex tricky …

  5. Doreen said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    @myl – The paper version of the mag has ads for things like university language programmes, dictionaries and other reference and non-fiction books, providers of translation and editing services, and a theatre.

    The cover price is 75 SEK, or 9.10 euros (in Finland) or 85 NOK (in Norway).

    According to the masthead in the April 2012 issue, which is the closest one to hand, they have a print run of 23,000 copies.

  6. Andy Averill said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 11:40 am

    If Linguistics Today:linguistics::Psychology Today:psychology, I don't think I'd be all that interested…

  7. Avinor said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    @Mark Allen

    That is the cut-off start of a blog posting. In the full version, they actually link to Language Log as suggested summer reading:

  8. Howard Oakley said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    Just point me at the subscription form for a decent magazine, perhaps along the lines of the highly understandable but non-technical The Languages of the Amazon, by Alexandra Aikhenvald, which I am currently reading with fascination.

    One slight oddity about the mock-ups above, though, is that they are all very English-centred. Whilst it is good to read about English (and in English), surely linguistics is about many many more languages?


  9. LDavidH said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    Thanks for telling me about Språktidningen – I'm Swedish, but had never come across it (maybe because I don't live in Sweden…?)

  10. Rory Turnbull said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    No-one has yet mentioned Popular Linguistics, (, although it seems to have run out of steam after two issues.

  11. William Ockham said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    Go for it. That is what Kickstarter is for.

  12. Rob said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    myl–what is your take on the defunct Popular Linguistics online mag?

    [(myl) I only know what is visible on the website, namely that it seems to have stalled after a couple of issues. I would speculate that it turned out to need more time than the organizers had available, given the lack (I think) of a full-time staff, or of funds (again I speculate) to pay contributors.]

  13. Gaston said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 5:27 am

    @ Doreen

    You are rigt in saying that 'Genootschap Onze Taal' (Our Language Society) was founded as "a linguistic-nationalist organization", mostly to fight German influence on the Dutch language . But the organization has changed beyond recognition since. In its magazine (to which I am a regular contributor), purism nowadays gets precious little space, linguistic and communication trends all the more.

  14. Doreen said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 7:11 am

    @ Gaston
    Please note that the remarks in red were added by Mark Liberman (myl), not by me.

  15. Michael Cargal said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    As AJD said, aren't you talking about starting Language Log?

    [(myl) There's some overlap in intent, but a magazine is different from a weblog — in scope and coverage, in production values, and so on. A "Linguistics Today" magazine would presumably have some weblogs or weblog-like columns as parts, in the way that most magazine and newspapers now do; but it would also have lots of other things.

    For example, it would be nice to have a regular section on issues in teaching reading, writing, foreign languages, and so on; regular and informed reviews of relevant consumer products; serious surveys of growing commercial applications like "e-discovery" and "text analytics"; serious coverage of clinical issues; a column or section on interpersonal communication; regular discussions of linguistic issues in the law; regular coverage of enabling technologies like speaker recognition for biometric or forensic applications; book reviews; annotated pointers to interesting current literature in the various sub-fields of linguistics; features on the history of languages in general and English in particular; serious coverage of usage issues; interactive tutorials; a conlang section; a column on games; maybe a section on linguistic (aspects of) tourism; and so on.

    LLOG has done a bit of all of those things from time to time, but our coverage is pretty scattershot. You can get better coverage by regularly surveying other language blogs as well, subscribing to ADS-L, reading Linguist List, etc.; but the fraction of the potentially-interested audience that now does this is very small. I believe that a "Linguistics Today" magazine, aimed at a general audience, could improve communication among researchers, practitioners, and the public, and provide some fun for all along the way.

    But making something like this succeed would take a lot of work, in my opinion — and a certain amount of up-front money, since you'd need some talented full-time staff, who would have to be paid while you waiting for your business plan (presumably based mostly on advertising) to kick in.]

  16. Linguistics: The magazine | Language Log | I Am JustinLL said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    […] advertising language, scrabble, whatever . . .I'd subscribe to that. Someone make this happen.Link to Quoted Post.### Previous post: Melville's Short Novels (Norton Critical Editions) by Herman Melville […]

  17. Trey Jones said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    Well, Speculative Grammarian has been published since 1993, quarterly since 2004, and monthly since 2008.

    We welcome any new competition, of course, since there is such a huge untapped market for linguistics magazines. (But stay away from swimsuit issues. We've already done the definitive swimsuit issue.)

    Or is the problem that SpecGram is fully ironic rather than merely semi-ironic?

  18. Abacaxi Mamao said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    I would *so* subscribe to that paper magazine. YUM!

  19. un malpaso said,

    July 11, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

    I would hold out for "Erotic Morphophonemics" myself. To each his/her niche!

  20. Peter-Arno Coppen said,

    July 12, 2012 @ 2:26 am

    As one of the editors of the Dutch magazine Onze Taal I can clarify the business model: the magazine is almost subscription-only: it is not in the general newsstands or smaller bookstores. Only a few copies are sold in the larger Dutch book stores.

    Although in fact we do not need the cover to attract attention, we have been toying with it for some years now. Maybe not towards the trashy look, but we are definitely aiming for a livelier cover. However, it is a fine line between seriousness and levity.

  21. Chad Nilep said,

    July 12, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    It has always seemed to me that Speculative Grammarian assumes a pretty high level of familiarity with academic linguistics. The web page even bills it (satirically) as a scholarly journal. One could say that SpecGram is [+specialist, -bona fide] while the envisioned Linguistics Today would be [-specialist, +bona fide].

  22. marie-lucie said,

    July 12, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    Yes, you pretty much have to be a linguist already (or well advanced towards that goal) to enjoy Speculative Grammarian: you can't understand a satire if you don't know what is being satirized.

  23. A Periodical for Linguists? : Beyond Search said,

    August 7, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

    […] of the hypothetical "Linguistics Today," which he reproduces in his recent post, "Linguistics: the Magazine." He shares two other parody covers for magazines that might be aimed at language nerds, […]

  24. Taylor B said,

    September 4, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    "How much Universal Grammar do you know!?"
    "Guess someones age, gender, and income from their comments!"
    "The 10 secretes linguists use to learn a foreign language"
    "Animal Language: teach your pet the IPA!"
    "Spell checkers: Is Microsoft controlling our communication?"
    "What the International Phonetic Association doesn't want you to know"
    "NeuroLinguistic Programming: The modern day love potion"

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