Language Log, where words rule

Language Log

Free speech and grammar advice reign on the Language Log, a blog co-founded by Mark Liberman, a professor in Penn’s Department of Linguistics and Department of Computer and Information Science.

The blog informs readers about the big questions regarding language and linguistics as well as the finer points of words and word usage such as syntax agreement, negation, relative clauses and “who” vs. “whom.” The site's many contributors file their posts under categories with titles such as "Awesomeness," "Humor," "Prosody" and "Lost in Translation."

On April 18, for example, Liberman posted a commentary titled “Icelandic: no word for ‘please’, 45 words for ‘green’?” in which he explained that Icelanders are not rude but use other words to show their manners. “Languages,” he wrote, “may variously make available polite words that are broader or narrower than [the English word] please.”

Sometimes the blog posts get spicy. One of the most popular invites readers to decipher the syntax of an expression containing a four-letter word that Irish singer Van Morrison used in concert.

Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburg, Scotland, founded the Language Log in the summer of 2003. Currently, the site receives about 10,000 visitors and 20,000 page views daily.

“Language Log is not exactly a mass-market phenomenon,” Liberman says. “But the fact that we’re often quoted in wider-circulation publications indicates a certain amount of influence.”

To wit, on Feb. 2, in the regular language column of The Guardian, British journalist David Marsh cited the Language Log in a story about the media's increasing usage of “gate” as a suffix to describe scandals, such as “Monicagate” and “Travelgate.”

Liberman hopes that the Language Log will play a role in civil discourse, giving readers access to aspects of linguistics, as well as a bit of entertainment. “Speech and language are a common subject for discussion, but most people don’t learn much about them in school, and the level of expertise in popular media is not as high as it could or should be,” he says.

To visit the Language Log, click here.

Originally published on May 13, 2010