Why Linguistics is Not a Science—The SpecGram Editorial Board SpecGram Vol CLXVI, No 2 Contents Velum, Velum, Little Thing—Phrançoise Phonétique

Letters to the Editor

Dear SpecGram,

Who is Al? All my life, I fell for the explanation that “al” was just some kind of Latin abbreviation used by scholars too apathetic to learn the names of their collaborators. (It made sense, okay? What else would you expect after years in academia?) However, it was recently brought to my attention that some students believe Al to be a very prolific writer, co-authoring thousands of papers in every discipline imaginable. After consulting with editors of second-rate publications such as Science and The Yale Law Journal, I am only partially convinced by this emerging conspiracy theory, and I am counting on you to provide a definitive answer. Is Al real, or the product of lazy Latinists? And more importantly, is he single?

Humbly yours,
Dubois, Marie-Jacques Étalle
M.A. candidate, Supernatural Linguistic Processing


Dear Ms. Étalle,

It is always a wonderful feeling to receive praise where it is due, and you came to the right place to get an answer. Al is actually a creation of SpecGram, and he is our way of ensuring that Linguistics maintains its proper place as the only discipline worth studying. Phase I of this mission is almost complete, as we seek to infiltrate all other disciplines by quietly, subtly influencing their publicationsyou may have already noticed the use of various IPA symbols in mathematics and at frat houses, and elements of X-bar notation have been adopted by statisticians. As for Phase II, well, that’s above even our security clearance, but you will know when it has been successful. And as for Al’s availability, please, if you had to ask, the answer’s no.



Dear Editors,

I am a second-year PhD student who is preparing to do fieldwork for my dissertation project. Of course, I have no money to pay for it, and the professors in our department seem to have spent this year’s block grant money on some sort of “facilities” in the faculty lounge.

Therefore, I eagerly read your article “How to Pay for Linguistic Fieldwork”. Because I did my MA at MIT and now am working on a PhD at Colorado, I was immediately attracted to the clever idea of becoming a simultaneous translator at conferences attended by both functionalists and formalists. I think I could pull that off, because I understand that neither side actually means anything it says, but both are passionately committed to their proprietary terminology anyway.

However, I went looking for such conferences, and I cannot find any. Please help! I am desperate and after four years of graduate education this is apparently my only marketable skill.

Anonymous Grad Student


Dear AGS,

Got you! There are no such conferences! That part of the article was a joke.

Ha! We love it when we trick someone that way.


Dear Editors,

I am a devoted reader. As a linguist, I love language puzzles, and your journal has given me one that I cannot solve. Please help.

I notice that sometimes you refer to your publication as Speculative Grammarian and sometimes you use the short form SpecGram. However, I have never seen either of the other expected forms Speculative Gram or Spec Grammarian. Why don’t you use these other forms? And what does it mean when you choose the longer name or the shorter one? I am almost willing to conclude that they are in free variation, but I know that doesn’t really happen, so I hope you will explain what the two forms mean.

Lotus Jones


Dear Lotus,

Thank you ever so much for writing. We love to encourage our readers’ inquisitive faculties.

The long form, Speculative Grammarian, is the legal name of the journal, as registered with Sotheby’s, our sole legal representative and majority shareholder.

The short form, SpecGram, represents a consensus reached after many years of bitter struggle within our offices. During the 1980s there was a protracted power struggle within the journal’s editorial board, and by 1993 it became apparent that either the functionalists or the formalists were going to withdraw from the coalition leadership if Tim Pulju (who held the revolving editorship that year) refused to grant their respective faction supreme authority. Making one final attempt at peace, Pulju proposed that the journal’s name be abbreviated in a way that enshrined both factions as equally influential, and chose one term from each camp’s theoretical base, which he skillfully wove into the bipartite clipping which we have today. Thus, Spec evokes the analytical power of generativism, appealing to Chomskyan linguists and satisfying them that their influence would be preserved. The second term, Gram, is of course drawn from the work of Joan Bybee, and thus evokes the mainstream of functionalist thought, ensuring the lasting allegiance of this faction as well.

This deft solution was the basis for the durable peace and rapprochement that persists even to this day in the journal’s editorial coalition.

Some analysts have suggested that SpecGram is the earlier term and that the longer name was actually an expansion of the shorter term. This is utter nonsenseany linguist knows that words always go from longer to shorter, never the other way around.

Regarding your question about free variation, we can only say that you are completely wrong. Free variation certainly does occur, and this is one of those cases. There is absolutely no significance at all to our use of one form of the journal’s name or the other.

Finally, we are unsure why you would predict forms like Spec Grammarian, unless you are a phonologist. Please stop it.

We would also like to point out, by the way, that although you may be an excellent linguist, you apparently cannot count. That was two questions, not one.


Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

Why Linguistics is Not a ScienceThe SpecGram Editorial Board
Velum, Velum, Little ThingPhrançoise Phonétique
SpecGram Vol CLXVI, No 2 Contents