Sunday, 11 January 2009

Language Log presented with major linguistics award

It's always nice to see recognition for some unsung venture you've known from way back. Not so invisible reports the presentation of The Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award 2009 to the linguistics weblog Language Log.

It's a quite an honour for LL. The award was established by the Linguistic Society of America to "recognize individuals engaged in on-going efforts to educate the public about linguistics and language", and the previous awards have gone to high-profile linguists (e.g. Stephen Pinker and Deborah Tannen) and to producers of influential television documentaries on linguistics. The 2009 award, announced in November, is the first to go to a winner from the blogosphere.

I'm probably preaching to the converted, but if you don't know LL, give it a visit. It's a collective weblog where the posters are all professorial-level linguists (for instance, Geoffrey Pullum, co-editor of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) generously give their time to report on and discuss with lay enthusiasts a range of linguistics topics - languages, linguistics research topics such as the recent fascinating analysis of The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe, English usage, language in the media, language myths such as "x zillion Eskimo words for snow" stories, debunking prescriptivist rules, and much more - in a friendly Notes & Queries format.

There's an associated book, Far from the Madding Gerund (Mark Liberman & Geoffrey K. Pullum, William James & Company, 2006, ISBN-10: 1590280555). As the Slate review by Robert Lane Greene says - Revenge of the Language Nerds (Beleaguered linguists find witty champions in Far From the Madding Gerund) - it comes from a very different stable from the run of popular language books. With honourable exception to titles such as Anatoly Liberman's Word Origins, they're generally written by prescriptivists (people who say how language ought to work); Far From the Madding Gerund gives a rare and eloquent voice to descriptivists (who have studied how it does work). The Amazon site for the USA edition lets you dip into the contents page.
- Ray

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