SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 2 Contents Letters to the Editor

Unmasking Editorializing in Linguistic Articles

Speculative Grammarian Committee on Preserving
Linguistics as a Respectable Discipline

One of the degradations of modern life is that editorializing has crept into nearly every type of “scholarly” publication. Here at Speculative Grammarian, we maintain a rigorous separation between facts about language and linguistics (to which we devote the bulk of each issue), and the opinions of our contributors (which are relegated to this editorial page or other, clearly-delimited sections of our august publication).

However, informal surveys of today’s graduate students suggest that many of these pitiable creatures cannot actually distinguish editorializing from actual research. For their benefit, then, we offer this short tutorial.

In order to make ourselves feel academically respectable, we frame this tutorial in the guise of a binary typological distinction between Serious Articles and Editorials. Like all typologies, this one is actually only a useful heuristic: in situ, editorializing creeps into even the most Serious of Serious Academic Articles. Applying the basic parameters of this typology, however, will enable any Serious Graduate Student to identify Editorializing tendencies even when they masquerade as elements of actual research or analysis.

Here, then, are the critical features which can be used to contrast Editorials and Serious Articles.

Journal Title: Serious Articles are published in journals with serious-sounding titles, such as Language or The International Journal of Vagrancy Among Former Professional Linguists. Editorials appear in publications with user-friendly, approachable names, such as USA Today, Der Spiegel, or SpecGram.

Length: Serious Articles display a marked lack of parsimony on the part of both authors and editors. According to our research, the average Serious Article in linguistics can be expected to exceed 25 pages of densely-spaced text. If tables and figures are included (as seems to be the fashion in Linguistics), length generally exceeds 40 pages. Editorials, by contrast, rarely exceed a screen or two on the average laptop monitor, probably because their writers and editors hope that someone will actually read them.

Word Choice: A Serious Article should include at least one neologism (preferably hyphenated and spanning several word boundaries) such as proto-scholarlitude, poly-info-pragmatics and pan-braillic orthographic access. Editorials use adjectives (preferably common, short, attractive adjectives) such as explosive, pinkish, and stinky.

Repetition: A Serious Article must employ a line of reasoning, which, although circular, must not be expressed in a manner which could be called repetitive. An Editorial, despite its short length, may repeat itself for rhetorical effect, restating its point repeatedly over and over in similar ways to be more memorable through repetition.

Catharina Fernanda Peersman, Rik Vosters, and Gijsbert Rutten, 2012, “Conflicts in the city, cities in conflict? Romano-Germanic encounters in the Low Countries”, thematic section at the 19th Sociolinguistics Symposium.

Chiasmus of the Month
August 2012

Writing Style: Serious Articles need not only convey how serious the authors are, but also how smart they are. It is best if Serious Articles can convey how much smarter the authors are than the reader, the editor, the publisher, and anyone who might sit on their tenure review board. Some of the previously discussed distinguishing features are more specific instances of this general guideline as well. On the other hand, Editorials often aim to persuade one to come around to the author’s point of view, and they often do so by conveying how smart the reader would be to agree with the author.

Morphosyntactic Considerations: Authors who wish their articles to be judged with a degree of seriousness tend toward the use of sentences of lengthusually employing several levels of embedding within each sentence to increase the presumption of depth and scholarly impactand it seems to us to be the case that the degree of such practice correlates strongly with the academic rank of the writer. Editorials are simpler.

Acronyms: Serious Articles (SA) save precious space by abbreviating critical concepts with strings of capital letters, such as: OCP; CHILDES; IJAL; WWJDFAKB; RRG; CHOMSKY; SA. Editorials, in contrast, eschew such obfuscation and use actual English words to express their ideas with clarity.

Borrowings: In a manner similar to the use of Acronyms, some Serious Articles pepper their text with foreign words which purport to encapsulate technical concepts. Some examples are: Sprachbund, Langue vs. Parole, Antidisestablish­mentarianism, Abjad, Givón, and Cognitive. Editorials, however, stick with unpretentious words that do not assume a technical background.


As can be clearly seen from the features of this brief and probably incomplete typology, Editorializing is a dangerous trend. Linguistic professionals must guard against its creeping invasion of the field, because it truly threatens all which is academically noble in Linguistics. We at Speculative Grammarian urge, in all the strongest senses of the word, that linguists act decisively to thoroughly purge editorializing from Serious Articles, and thus to preserve the respectability of linguistics.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 2 Contents