Dedication Lingua Pranca Contents The Linguist’s Self-Definer for Humanistic Greek and Latin Lingo—and other terms—Robert Rankin, et al.


It all started one night down at Nick’s Bar. We had gotten together to discuss deep and meaningful concepts underlying the phenomenon of linguistic humor, and to get drunk. When we mistook Paul Masson for parmesan we could tell that the tone of the evening had been set. In spite of the odds and much liquor, we put together a letter which obviously shows the effects of the evening’s debauchery but which we sent out anyway in quest of linguistic humor. The letter may be found, or ignored, at the end of this volume.

However, drunkenness is not the only excuse we can give. Other linguists have sensed the need for proving that linguistics is not the dry, stodgy discipline that it often seems to be. Responses to our letter recognized this need; one said it was “high time” for a collection of linguistic humor, and a second one termed it “long overdue.” In a different vein, one contributor pointed out the need for “suitable relief from the attacks of verbal diarrhoea to which our profession makes us so prone.” Another detected a different malaise, seeing instead “a grave illness, common among people of your profession,” and warned of the dangers of “morpheme addiction.”

The disease and the cure are not as far apart as they might seem, however. One author wrote in his letter that “linguistics and broad farce have much in common. (Sometimes they are indistinguishable.)” He went on to say that this is not surprising, for “both linguistics and humor stand language on its head.” This point has not gone unnoticed, and one author, “to avoid any possible misunderstandings,” wished to assure his readers “that his tongue is very firmly in his cheek.” This in fact sums up the approach of this volume; it’s all tongue-in-cheek, so views expressed in the articles are not meant to be taken as serious theoretical discourses.

In spite of the diversity of the articles here, one can see a common appreciation for the humorous side of our field. Humor is indeed a “lingua pranca,” a language which ignores the boundaries of various theoretical camps, and may be the only truly universal language we have. (Although one contributor felt compelled to stick with Esperanto in his letter.)

Much as a linguist attacks a batch of unruly data, we have tried to impose some order on the articles in this volume. Topics range from parodies of generative analyses, to interdisciplinary hybrids, to creations that defy categorization. Undaunted, we utilized our linguistic training to the fullest and categorized them anyway.

We hope this collection will encourage humor to take its rightful place on the lighter side of linguistics.

Laugh now,  {   won’t you? }
* mightn’t she?
? can’t you?



Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

The Linguist’s Self-Definer for Humanistic Greek and Latin Lingo—and other terms—Robert Rankin, et al.
Lingua Pranca Contents