The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax
by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Note: this site is not giving legal advice, simply organizing information from various classes, teachers, and texts. If you need legal advice consult your lawyer.

Sections:

  1. Prologue: the TOPIC ... COMMENT column

    Part I Fashion and Tendencies.

  2. Watch out for the current.
  3. The stranger in the bar
  4. If it's Tuesday, this must be glossematics
  5. The conduct of Linguistic Inquiry
  6. Chomsky on the Enterprise
  7. Formal linguistics meets the Boojum

    Part II Publication and Damnation.

  8. Stalking the perfect journal
  9. Punctuation and human freedom
  10. A guest of the State
  11. Seven deadly sins in journal publishing
  12. The linguistics of defamation
  13. Trench-mouth comes to Trumpington Street
  14. Here come the linguistic fascists

    Part III Unscientific Behavior.

  15. The revenge of the methodological moaners
  16. Footloose and context-free
  17. Nobody goes around at LSA meeting offering odds
  18. Citation etiquette beyond Thunderdome
  19. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax

    Part IV Linguistic Fantasies.

  20. No trips to Stockholm
  21. A memo from the Vice Chancellor
  22. Some lists of things about books
  23. The incident of the node vortex problem
  24. Epilogue: The Final Curtain

Chapters:

The articles have enough jargon to let you know that they are not intended for the general reader. But that never stopped me from reading a funny book. Some key quotes for some of the chapters follow.

Foreword by James D. McCawley

1. Prologue: the TOPIC ... COMMENT column

2. Watch out for the current

"The point of being plugged in [plugged-in??] is to get current, but it is important not to forget that the current may be alternating."

3. The stranger in the bar

Defines linguistics to Everywoman by:

"Suppose you wanted to program a computer to understand plain English, like the HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Linguistics is the subject that figures out what you'd need to know about language in order to do that, for English or for any other language, in a general and theoretically principled way."

And on the importance of linguistics:

"My sleep was uneasy that night. I kept imagining a world laid waste by a war that started because of a mistake in the semantic rule for relative clauses that led to a misinterpretation of a missile launch report."

4. If it's Tuesday, this must be glossematics

"We are all striving toward the elusive right way to teach our subject, and it would be arrogant and foolish to pretend there is a simplistic recipe for the perfect course"

5. The conduct of Linguistic Inquiry

Introductory paragraphs include a full-monty satirical rant:
"Perhaps it is not too late for me to atone, by making it clear that I regard Linguistic Inquiry as a miserable trash-stuffed rag of a journal through which the pathetic blitherings of an army of knuckle-dragging intellectual toadies are shepherded to prominence by a pea-brained lackwit of an editor whose fawning subservience tot he power clique that controls modern linguistics is matched only by his contempt for civilized standards when dealing with the work of those ... I can't imagine, frankly, why I still subscribe."

6. Chomsky on the Enterprise

"What I plan to do is to produce a book in which new contributions to significant debates by people who were unable to participate in the original are grafted in at appropriate points. My first foray into this field, ... will be appearing shortly, if I can succeed in finding a publisher a little less lily-livered than my first fifteen choices have turned out to be. I want to use this column to give a preview of this important and innovative work."

7. Formal linguistics meets the Boojum

"I try not to take things too seriously... My fear is that formal linguistics in the true sense will disappear from our profession completely, in the USA and probably the entire world, hence the whole solar system and perhaps the cosmos."

8. Stalking the perfect journal

9. Punctuation and human freedom

Aha!!! While this article is full of the peevish Pullum's pet peeves, it is clearly a BRILLIANT and UNBIASED column because he supports my pet peeve and Saint Pullum is therefore awarded Patron Sainthood of Punctuation. From p.69:

The copy-editor will insist that when a sentence ends with a quotation, the closing quotation mark must follow the punctuation mark.

I say this must stop. Linguists have a duty to the public to use their expertise in arguing for changes to the fabric of society when its interests are threatened. And we have such a situation here.

... many cultures show no signs of the superstitious awe with which we regard copy-editors.

... No copy editor should have the right to switch the order of two punctuation marks when it can change truth conditions."

10. A guest of the State

11. Seven deadly sins in journal publishing

12. The linguistics of defamation

13. Trench-mouth comes to Trumpington Street

14. Here come the linguistic fascists

It takes one to know one.

15. The revenge of the methodological moaners

"In this piece I rail against the tendency of linguists to write about the philosophy of science as applied to their subject instead of writing about what languages are like"

16. Footloose and context-free

17. Nobody goes around at LSA meeting offering odds

18. Citation etiquette beyond Thunderdome

19. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax

His introduction explains:

"A silly, infuriating unscholarly piece, designed to mislead" is what one irate but anonymous senior scholar called this chapter when it was first published in NTTL. But that is not correct; rather, what I have written here is a silly, misleading unscholarly piece, designed to infuriate. [Ah!]

And as for the vocabulary:

C. W. Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) gives just two possible relevant roots: qanik, meaning 'snow in the air' or 'snowflake', [note the comma position, hooray] an aput, meaning 'snow on the ground'. Then adds that you would be interested to know if the speaker can cite any more. This will not make you the most popular person in the room. ... But it will strike a blow for truth, responsibility, and standards of evidence in linguistics.

His end note explains:

I want to make one last effort to clarify that the chapter above isn't about Eskimo lexicography at all, though I'm sure it will be taken to be. What it's actually about is intellectual sloth. ... The tragedy is not that so many people got the facts wildly wrong; it is that in the mentally lazy and anti-intellectual world we live in today, hardly anyone cares enough to think about trying to determine what the facts are.

20. No trips to Stockholm

21. A memo from the Vice Chancellor

22. Some lists of things about books

23. The incident of the node vortex problem

24. Epilogue: The Final Curtain

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake that struck directly at the heart of the TOPIC ... COMMENT organization at 5:04 on October 17, 1989, finally convinced me that perhaps discretion was the better part of valor, and that having inflicted my opinions and fantasies on the linguistics community for seven years, it was now time to quit. Obviously, I thought, the planet is offended and has begun to take its revenge. It is time for me to get out while I still can. I was prepared to stand up indefinitely to the disapproval of virtually all linguists of taste and discernment, but not to take this kind of geophysical abuse.