LINGUIST List 5.605

Tue 24 May 1994

Disc: A linguist's nightmare

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  1. , Re: 5.572 A linguist's nightmare

Message 1: Re: 5.572 A linguist's nightmare

Date: Fri, 20 May 1994 09:28:55 Re: 5.572 A linguist's nightmare
From: <>
Subject: Re: 5.572 A linguist's nightmare

> none of
>the pets in the house do the same (these latter acquire
>Doggerel instead).
> language fail to penetrate the belief systems of our
>brothers and sisters of the literary persuasion, especially
>those whose posh nursery schools inculcated in them certain
>posh dialects of English.

>Lila Gleitman

I applaud Lila Gleitman's rejoinder to Safire, and have two comments to

 1. No one, especially no linguist, should be surprised
 to see their words processed into the opposite of what they really
mean by a journalist. In my small experience dealing with the
press, who mean well, after all, I find they generally expect us to rubber
stamp the popular view of language as standard and invariable
and given to us at birth along with our social security numbers. And
when we don't give 'em what they want, they take it anyway, using
their First Amendment right to misquote or misattribute. Because
that's what their readers want, as well, an idea of language as
right or wrong, rather than contextualized in any interesting way.

 2. As Gleitman demonstrates through the use of the irony and
of motherese and doggerel, it is the linguists, not the journalists, who
have a "literary persuasion." While I occasionally sympathize with
Bill Safire for being one of the more flexible of the usageasters,
willing enough to consult with professional linguists (or at least
to have his staff consult with us), and he has said kind words
about my work from time to time (though he has attacked
my publisher, NCTE, for being too liberal on language matters!),
he is no litterateur. As someone _with_ literary training, I
don't see Nixon's former speechwriter as anything other than
a member of the fourth estate, or perhaps even a fifth columnist.

Dennis Baron

Department of English 217-333-2392
University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321
608 South Wright Street
Urbana, Illinois 61801
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