SpecGram Vol CLXXVIII, No 4 Contents Letters to the Editor

Important Issues in Linguistics

A Letter from the Editor-at-Bat
Butch McBastard

First off, it’s important to note that the most important issue in linguistics is always the most recent issue of Speculative Grammarianso, at the time of its publication, your current reading material is, in fact, the very thing.

Margarita Borreguero & Luis Luque Toro (eds.), 2011, Linguistica italiana in Spagna, linguistica spagnola in Italia, Studi Italiani di Linguistica Teorica e Applicata, Pacini.

Chiasmus of the Month
April 2017

A more common interpretation of the notion of “important issues in linguistics” concerns, of course, questions to be answered and problems to be solved. Lists of such invariably speculate on whether there is a meaningful definition of a word, a sentence, a syllable, or a language. They wonder about gradient well-formedness, grammatical categories, and many other things beginning with gra-. Origins also play a prominent role: the origin of speech, the origin of language, the origin of creoles, the origin of dialects, the origin of idiolects. They shouldbut never seem toinclude questions about the origin of our quest for origins.

This is a baffling state of affairs for two reasons. On the one hand, many of these questions, while philosophically interesting, are inherently unknowable. Even if we were to document over a hundred thousand years the development of full-blown language in another primate species, we could never be sure it happened that way for humans. On the other hand, some of these questions have answerswe just don’t like them. Linguists in particular have been grappling for ages with the human tendency for inappropriate categorical thinking. Prototype theory. Dialects vs. languages. Dialect continua. L2 phonetics. Our brains want the world to be digital, despite its deeply enduring analog nature.

So that’s that sorted.

What we should be focusing on are problems that can be dealt with definitively. For example, I recently saw some data presented like this:*

`dog', `cat', `fish', `bird'

That is a typographic nightmare of apocalyptically epic proportions! How...? Why...? What the...?

The solution however, is straightforward: private shaming, followed by public shaming, followed by [CENSORED].**

See, there’s a problem we can actually solve. Get crackin’!

* The actual terms used have been changed to protect the guilty from the All Seeing Eye of Google.

** The SpecGram Legal Interns have decided that actually advocating actual violence apparently crosses some apparent line. Pfft.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXXVIII, No 4 Contents