Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life as a little bloglet

A while back — back when it was hot instead of snowing — over at Wishydig, Michael Covarrubias wrote about considering something he might post about, paraphrasing slightly:*
I thought, why should I put this up? Surely once somebody mentions it on Language Log my contribution is effectively null.
Pretty much every time I publish on anything beyond the relatively safe confines of Upper Midwestern English or the politics of higher education in Wisconsin, I consider this question. (I confirmed that by scrolling through recent posts … only a few, like the one of the California psychic with an MA in Linguistics, didn't trigger this reaction.) It's just the way of the world, of course, and I'm comfortable with it, but occasionally I confess to feeling a little wistful … the Onion, subject of the last post here, was born and grew into a strapping young humor magazine here in Madison. I had an early Onion writer in class many years ago, and have other connections to the magazine I'd rather not disclose at the moment. (And again, for the record, I will neither confirm nor deny that I was the model for Jim Anchower's picture back in '64.) So, commenting about the Onion feels like writing about a little local issue. But the Onion has clearly gone national … see here. Sigh.

*I vaguely recall a similar comment, maybe at/by/on Polyglot Conspiracy or maybe on another linguablot, but can't track it down at the moment.


just guess. said...

I fully understand this sentiment (and I probably have mentioned it before). However, I think it's problematic that people who blog about language-related stuff at places other than Language Log feel this way, on a number of levels. First, who says Language Log has the market cornered on linguistics?? It represents the thoughts of at most around 20 linguists, but more steadily of about 5-7 linguists. That's a very small slice of the field. Just because someone there writes about something doesn't mean that a) they're more entitled/qualified to write about it than you are, b) your post will be less informative/useful than theirs, or c) no one will read your post just because they already read the Logger's. Sure, (tons) more people will probably read it, but I know for a fact that I have lots of readers who don't read LL, and you probably do too.

Second, to act as though LL is somehow the gatekeeper of public linguistics seems counterproductive to what LL claims its goals are in the first place: bringing educated (or at least moderately informed/reasoned) discussion about language to a potentially wide public audience who doesn't want to - or can't - access it through academic journals. More blogs = more audience, and also = more discussion, for those of us who desire it.

Third, and speaking of discussion, blogs like yours (ours?) provide a space for dialogue, which to me is what is special about blogs (among other things, of course). In two main ways: by allowing comments, and by commenting on each other's posts in our own posts. It is in these respects that I view LL as a fundamentally different kind of entity than "bloglets" - no better or worse, but undeniably different. There aren't comments on the site, understandably given their traffic. But they also tend not to engage in much dialogue with other linguistics blogs (notable exception: Ben Zimmer). I'm not claiming to do an amazing job of this either, but I did a quick search on LL of mentions of other linguistics blogs that I consider to be good, regularly-updated sources of language-related stuff. Here are some numbers (I list the number of posts which mention the blog by name, followed by the birthdate of the blog):

Neal Whitman (Literal-Minded) - ~31 (Jan 2004)
Semantic Compositions - 28 (Jan 2004)
Mr. Verb - 10 (Aug 2007)
Tenser, said the Tensor - 9 (Feb 2004)
Polyglot Conspiracy - 7 (Sept 2004)
Noncompositional - 6 (June 2005)
Wishydig - 2 (May 2006)

And that's between ~21 people posting on Language Log, since July 2003. (Language Hat has too many hits on LL for me to count, so that's one exception.) Sure, there could be mentions of blogs hidden under the fact that they're mentioned by the bloggers' names or whatever, but this gives a basic idea - and it's REALLY low numbers. But the point of it isn't to say that they SHOULD be referencing more linguistics bloggers more regularly - we'd all love the publicity, sure - but just to say that they DON'T, which puts them in a different genre of writing.

LL does a *great* service to linguistics and linguists and non-linguists, but it is discouraging that it often gets talked about as THE linguistics blog. If LL contributors really get so much mail that they can't deal, maybe they should suggest to readers that there are a number of other people interested in communicating with the public about linguistic issues, and that many of them have very interesting and well-written blogs, some of which may have foci that are more specifically appropriate to certain interests or questions. You know, share the wealth and all that.

I, of course, an unlikely to respond to such queries because I am a very busy grad student with increasingly less time to blog, and to boot, because of aforementioned grad-student-status, I am not very good at answering people's questions about language, generally speaking. But the point still stands.

Anyway, hang in there chief. I like your blog, it's useful. And I like it even more now that you've thrown out some cryptic clues to your past life as an Onionist. WTF?!

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks much. It's certainly true that a lot of our readers don't read the Log. I was kind of joking about the gatekeeping issue, though.

More importantly, you are absolutely right that the Log is a very different creature from the likes of us -- and I'm comfortable in the role we have. It's always seemed like learning something on this blog is like hearing it from the neighbor on the sidewalk and learning it from the Log is like reading it in a major newspaper. But I hadn't thought about it nearly as clearly as you have laid it out and that's very helpful in understanding this medium as it evolves. I've often tried to figure out how people in the early print era were thinking about mass communication -- our posts are sort of like broadsides from particular printers' shops, but I just don't have the background.

Finally, I did just *hint* at other, vague connections to the Onion -- an actual Onionist would be much funnier obviously.