We Shall Reap the Physicists—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 3 Contents The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

Letters to the Editor

To the Editors of Speculative Grammarian,

I’m writing to convey my intense displeasure at the editing my recent letter to this very department received. I choose my words carefully, and I do not appreciate you replacing “thunderstruck” with “thick”, adding commas around “I’ve heard some claim”, replacing underlined “the theory” with italicized “the theory!”, lowercasing “What?”, curling my apostrophes, removing my double spaces after every sentence, or replacing my double hyphens with em dashes. I bet you are the kind of people who would move commas outside of quotes against an author’s wishes as well! At least you didn’t change the intent of my missive by removing or adding text that wasn’t even mine!

You are all exquisitely delightful.

Noarn Chornsky

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Dear Gnome,

It’s not our job to educate our readers (or letter writers) on the proper punctuation and typography of Standard Written Linguisticsthis is actual linguistics, not meta-orthography we’re doing here.

Your letter escaped nearly unscathed. Here’s a letter typical of those we receive every month:

We have to edit into something like this before presenting it to the editorial board for a response:

So shut your pie hole or we’ll really put the screws to you next time.

—The “Letters” Interns

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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.

Dear Eds,

I’ve been following The Speculative Grammarian Survey of Grammar Writers with a mix of horror and fascination. One thing that surprised me was the fact that in Report 2, “participle” wasn’t included along with “converb” and “antipassive” among the terms used by grammar writers despite not knowing what they meant. Care to share more detail?

Modulo Votangus
Äter­it­si­pu­te­rit­si­pu­o­li­lau­tat­si­jän­kä, Finland

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Dear %,

Unlike, say, the “antipassive”, “participle” has no actual meaning, and thus despite the fact that virtually all grammar-writers who use it feel that it doesn’t quite fit, we were unable to establish that it’s being used wrongly.


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Dear Esteemed Editors,

I’ve recently come across the word “elegant” several times, used to describe both linguistic analyses and mathematical proofs. Is it the same concept in both disciplines? What does it refer to, specifically?

Sincerely and with much respect,
Ang Wantibo

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Dear W., Ang,

Many linguists think of “elegant” as a linguistics term, while mathematicians and computer scientists (as well as the linguists’ and computer scientists’ bastard offspring, computational linguists) also claim it for their own. The concept is generally the same across disciplines, though the specific aspects of a “solution”be it a phonological or grammatical analysis, a proof, an algorithm, or whatever statistical abominations computational linguists are performing these daysthat render it elegant vary from field to field; generally the most elegant solution is likely to be the right one.

Underlyingly,* elegance is a matter of simplicity that begets explanatory power, while being theoretically felicitous and easily comprehensible. Or, more succinctly, ‘elegant’ in this sense is synonymous with ‘satisfying Occam’s Razor’, which is also synonymous with ‘nothing’.


* Mathematicians and computer scientists, read “abstractly”; computational linguists, read “smarter-than-you-ingly”.

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We Shall Reap the PhysicistsA Letter from the Managing Editor
The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective
SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 3 Contents