Linguimericks—Book १२ SpecGram Vol CLXXI, No 2 Contents Assorted Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

The SpecGram Inquisition—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

with Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie

Earlier this year Associate Editor Jonathan Downie made the bold move of interviewing several members of the editorial board and distilling the information, stories, and rumor he got in the process down to a one-page article in The Linguist (“Can you take a joke?”, 53.2 April/May 2014). Unfortunately, while the distillation process resulted in an intoxicating final product, it removed all the pulpy goodness of the interviews, too. To rectify that situation, we’ve arranged with Jonathan and his interviewees to publish his full interview notes. His fourth interview, with Associate Editor Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, is below.

You are a serious linguist specialising in multilingualism and child language learning. What made you first decide to contribute to SpecGram?

MCF: The hilarious nature of what goes on being published about multilingualism, child language and, especially, child multilingualism. SpecGram and its readers had much to learn, I decided.

You are now most well-known for your column on “Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know”, lists of real student answers to linguistics questions. How did this collection come about?

MCF: This came about when I was first allowed out of the top-security psychiatric ward where I spent one term undergoing treatment for acquired LSD (Linguistics Student Discombobulation), after repeatedly attempting to teach what my veteran students wrote in their papers to unwitting freshpeople.

My shrink advised me to take cathartic action against still-recurring fits of linguisticky nonsense, and I chose publishing, following the example of so many like-afflicted colleagues.

I think this has worked well, actually. I think I’m a little better now. I think.

“What we do when we speak... is to wiggle our vocal tracts around, and most linguistics worries instead about obnoxious things like syntax and language typology.”

How has the column been received by students?

MCF: I have no idea. Since the column appeared in SpecGram I haven’t left home unless surrounded by armoured security, and all communications to me except from SpecGram are intercepted and deleted 24/7.

You have also appeared on Language Made Difficult, the SpecGram podcast. What was it like for you?

MCF: Terrifying. Lots of intimidating Texan- and likewise-accented native-speaker big shots and little ol’ me. And all kept pronouncing my name in Spanish to boot. Terrifying!

What effect(s) do you think SpecGram has had on the linguistics community as a whole?

MCF: Now that it’s gone fully electronic, I don’t know. I used to see it wrapping fish and chips at academic linguistics watering holes quite a lot before.

Have any of your colleagues ever reacted (positively or negatively) to one of your SpecGram pieces?

MCF: Oh yes, both. Positively negative.

What is your favourite linguistics area to satirise and why?

MCF: Phonsody. Because my take is that sound is the sound way to sound out what we do when we speak, which is to wiggle our vocal tracts around, and most linguistics worries instead about obnoxious things like syntax and language typology.

SpecGram recently celebrated its tenth online year. What do you think are the reasons for its longevity?

MCF: Stubborn self-righteous editors. The Vocabula Review, for example, is even older.

Lastly, if you could pick any linguist, alive or dead, and poke them until they wrote a SpecGram piece, who would it be and why?

MCF: Er... What’s his name now?? I forget. The guy who said that a lamppost or telephone pole or something is as exposed to language as his niece or granddaughter or something, yet the niece ends up developing language whereas the lamppost doesn’t, and this is evidence that the role of exposure to language to promote the development of language is a figment of our collective imagination? Or something. I laughed my socks off at that one. I know I have a collection of this and other pearls of his stashed somewhere, but I can’t remember where, either. Maybe one day I’ll submit them to SpecGram. “Things He Didn’t Know He Didn’t Know”, who knows? If my shrink says it’s OK, of course.

More to come...

LinguimericksBook १२
Assorted Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
SpecGram Vol CLXXI, No 2 Contents