More Murphy’s Laws for Linguists—Trey Jones & Bill Spruiell Collateral Descendant of Lingua Pranca Contents New Advances in Morpheme Detoxification—D.O.G.M.A.

Ten New Commandments for Linguists

Transcribed from the original Stone Tablets by Trey Jones

With much help from the Commandment Clarification Committee, including Joel Boyd, Aya Katz, Jouni Maho, Ken Miner, Daniela Müller, David J. Peterson, and Joey Whitford

As a Linguist, thou art an ambassador for the scientific study of Language and languages in the land of the monolingual naive speaker. Even though the monolingual naive speaker roll their eyes at thee and chastise thee as a word-obsessed fool and exalt their own native speaker competence, thou shalt proselytize the study of “Language with a big-L” whenever and wherever thou mayest do so, spreading the true word of descriptivism and railing against the evils of prescriptivism. Beware the Silver Tongues of Safiric Demons, and follow these, My commandments,0 forsaking all that may have come before:

  1. Thou shalt have no other linguistic theory before Mine.1
  2. Thou shalt maintain the mystique of linguistics and keep it holy.2
  3. Thou shalt nonetheless make thy contributions to linguistics transparent to thy brethren.3
  4. Thou shalt punctuate logically and consistently.4
  5. Honor thy data and thy neighbor’s data, so that no theory may deny or ignore it.5
  6. Thou shalt treat thy graduate students as thyself.6
  7. Thou shalt not ridicule the documentary linguists nor the sociolinguists unduly.7
  8. Thou shalt refrain from asking “Ooo, canst thou verily say that?” to the ignorant among us who know not what a linguist does and thus why thou wouldst need to know.8
  9. Thou shalt not smite the fool who asks, “What is the number of languages thou dost speak?”9
  10. Thou shalt not take articles in satirical linguistics journals or anthologies too seriously.10

0 And heedest thou also the Holy Footnotes, which, though frequently less pithy, are of equal import.

1 At least not until thou hast tenure of thine own.

2 Revealest thou not, for example, that Kabardian does indeed have a vowel system. Hypothesizest thou not that Dyirbal, Hixkaryana, and Pirahã do not actually exist but were invented by linguists. Writest thou not a monograph, essay, or even the smallest of paragraphs which could be easily understood by the monolingual naive speaker. And never, until the end of days, shalt thou question the scientific nature of linguistics whilst in the presence of an actual scientist.

3 Lacest thou not thine examples with data from languages unbeknownst to all save SIL fieldworkers. Obscurest thou not thy data by retranscribing it such that no linguist may check it. Usest thou only the IPA chart and its articulatory descriptions as thy pronunciation guide, no matter what language thou speakest.

4 Usest thou the Oxford Comma, for though it is oft times redundant, it does on occasion reduce ambiguity. Putest thou not thy punctuation inside thy quotation marks when it is not part of thy quoted material, no matter how thine editor doth protest.

5 Fudgest thou not thy data. Unless thy data conflict with Mine own theory. In that case, thy data likely needs “reinterpretation”.

6 Thou shalt not beat or whip thy graduate students, nor force them to maintain thy database, nor trot out the best ideas of thy graduate students as thine own.

7 Except in thy footnotes, for the lesser linguists tend not to read these so carefully.

8 For they are but babes in the wood of language and easily put off by thy analytical probing.

9 Though they do deserve a most mighty smiting.

10 But if thou hast and it is pointed out to thee that thou hast so done, thou shalt not be angered by it. Rather, laughest thou at thyself, and make merry.

More Murphy’s Laws for Linguists—Trey Jones & Bill Spruiell
New Advances in Morpheme Detoxification—D.O.G.M.A.
Collateral Descendant of Lingua Pranca Contents