Simulation Modelling of Syntactic Habitats—Nom Compik & Piraha Sanpitakuk SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 4 Contents From the Archives!—The Grand Nauruan Hotel Bill, 1888—The SpecGram Archive Elves™

The SpecGram InquisitionKeith Slater

with Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie

Early last 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 seventh interview, with Executive Editor Keith Slater, is below.

You are a serious expert in Mongolic languages, working with SIL. What made you first decide to contribute to SpecGram?

KS: Whoa, there, young fellow! You’ve got your history all out of alignment! I was totally minding my own business as fashion editor of Linguistic Inquiry when SpecGram headhunted me. That was before I had even heard of Mongolic languages. Or SIL. In fact, for all you and your “readers” know, I very well may have made both of them up as SpecGram article themes.

There is now a book of some of the best SpecGram content. Could you explain how that came about?

KS: The same way that SpecGram’s predecessor, Psammeticus Quarterly came aboutthe unfelicitous combination of multiple linguists, sleep deprivation, and a philosophy of humor that only a semanticist could love.

“I was totally minding my own business as fashion editor of Linguistic Inquiry when SpecGram headhunted me.”

You’ve probably heard the joke: Q: What’s the only thing worse than an analysis published by a linguist? A: Joint authorship.

You’re right, it’s not funny. But that’s how these monstrosities get started.

Does that make you a proper author now?

KS: Let’s just say the SpecGram book has probably elevated the level of my scholarly discourse. At least it gets better reviews than those other books did.

Come to think of it, that’s a bit depressing. What’s the next question?

You work for the highly respected Summer Institute of Linguistics. How does being Executive Editor of SpecGram affect the amount of respect you get amongst your colleagues?

KS: You’ve done a few of these interviews by now, so this won’t surprise you: my colleagues don’t take much of an interest. Now my studentsthey really laugh at my stuff. Especially before the final exam. (Just between you and me, though, I think some of them may let their subscriptions lapse after grades have been handed in.)

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

KS: I’d like to think that it’s training a generation of graduate students not to take themselves too seriously. But there’s no proof of that. Our internet logs suggest that linguists spend more time reading SpecGram than Language, so that points to some sort of influence, but none of the statisticians will tell me what it means.

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

KS: My favorite reaction was to a piece I wrote about an Asian language, which in name vaguely resembled something that a friend was working on. My friend’s reaction to the piece was a blank stare.

My children, on the other hand, sometimes react to actual facts that I tell them by saying “who added that to the Wikipedia article, you or Trey?”

What is your favourite linguistics area to satirise and why?

KS: Phonology is my favorite target. Probably it goes back to the timing tier, though it’s possible there’s a psychological reason that my therapist hasn’t yet uncovered.

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

KS: Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not the advertising revenue.

Going back at least to Freddy Saussure’s early essay “On the dual nature of grammar: rules and autocracy,” linguists have had a funny streak. SpecGram isn’t really special, except that we’ve given a platform for linguists to share their humor with each other. It’s just plain fun.

I also think it’s educationalno small percentage of our articles really try to expose something insightful about the nature of the fields they poke fun at. Though I personally can’t separate fact from fantasy in Tim Pulju’s A Short History of American Linguistics. I suspect he may have just plain invented that Bloomfield character.

More to come...

Simulation Modelling of Syntactic HabitatsNom Compik & Piraha Sanpitakuk
From the Archives!The Grand Nauruan Hotel Bill, 1888The SpecGram Archive Elves™
SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 4 Contents