Pan tumaca

March 28, 2014

I like to think of myself as a kind of honorary Catalan. I have lived and worked in Barcelona; I have traveled around Catalonia, from the Ebro to the Pyrenees and from the Mediterranean to the Noguera Ribagorçana. I dance the sardana. I speak Catalan fluently and, what’s more, I write it “correctly” (that is, in accordance with the standard), something that most Catalans of my generation, their schooling under Franco having been entirely in Spanish, cannot do. And I love what Catalans consider their quintessential food: pa amb tomàquet (or, as colloquially pronounced in Barcelona, pan tumaca), literally “bread with tomato,” but actually bread (any kind of crusty bread, toasted or not) onto which the inside of a ripe tomato is pressed, followed by salt and olive oil. If the bread is toasted, garlic may be rubbed onto it. Once ready, it can be eaten by itself, as an accompaniment to dishes, or, most typically, as a base for sandwiches, open or closed, “mini” or full-size.

The ripeness of the tomato is essential. Catalans use ripe tomatoes mainly for the purpose of making pa amb tomàquet (I have actually heard it referred to, pleonastically, as tomàquet per a fer pa amb tomàquet). For slicing and dicing (as in salads or English-style sandwiches) they prefer their tomatoes underripe, even green. I remember having a meal with a Catalan friend in Madrid, during which she complained several times about the ripeness of the tomato.

The techniques of applying the tomato to the bread are varied. If the fruit is of a soft, juicy variety, it can be simply cut in half and pressed on the bread. Otherwise a grater or even a food processor can be used (the latter especially in restaurants).

I have recently discovered an alternative way of making this delicacy. I don’t know if it’s original with me; I have not found in the twenty or so recipes I checked on the Web. I discovered it through good old mother necessity: I had no full-size tomatoes, but I had a basket of cherry tomatoes (of the Sweet 100 variety). I put a few of them (as many as would fit) into a garlic press, and squeezed, with the holes above the bread. Voilà! All the inside of the tomato came through, the peel stayed back, and I had the perfect beginning of pa amb tomàquet.

After sprinkling a little salt on the tomato-covered bread, I did something different from the conventional pouring of the olive oil. This step is, traditionally, so essential that in Majorca the concoction is called pa amb oli (pronounced like pamboli), “bread with oil.” But while I love olive oil, I also love avocado, specifically avocado that’s ripe enough to spread on bread like soft butter. And this is what I like to do with pa amb tomàquet as an alternative to olive oil. I have served it done this way to Catalan friends, and, except for some kids, they have liked it.

Or so they said.

Another N-word

March 26, 2014

I am going to mention Geoff Pullum again. Not because I wish to say anything about him — I think I’ve said enough (here and here) — but because about a week ago the Daily Telegraph published an article about him, by Tom Chivers, showing him to be the thoughtful and rigorous linguist that he generally is.  What I do have something to say about is the headline that the article bears online: “Are grammar Nazis ruining the English language?” (Geoff Pullum himself, in the Language Log post in which he references the article, calls it “regrettably headlined.”)

The “grammar Nazis” mentioned in the body of the article are, as far as I can tell, people who get peevish about alleged violations of imagined rules of grammar. What this behavior has to do with Nazism, at least as I experienced first-hand in the ghettos and concentration camps of Central Europe during World War II, is beyond me.

It seems to be so universally agreed that the Nazis were bad that people nowadays apply the name, or other names or terms associated with Nazism, to whatever they don’t like. So we have Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazis” and Seinfeld’s “the soup Nazi”; Obama’s promotion of affordable health care earns him a comparison with Hitler, and a billionaire likens increased taxation of obscene profits to Kristallnacht.

It’s not that people could have forgotten what the actual Nazis were like. The entertainment industry sees to it that movies (features and documentaries) and TV programs about the Nazi era keep coming out, and the Holocaust industry fills the media with reminders.

I am tired of having to tell people, “No, a soup-stand owner who treats customers in a capricious and arbitrary manner is not therefore a Nazi.” The Nazis were, in fact, anything but capricious or arbitrary: they followed procedures meticulously.  People, from those who saw “Stalag 17″ 60 years ago or “The Book Thief” last year, should know that. And higher taxes on the super-rich are not the same as breaking shop windows and dragging people out to beat them up.

So, a plea from someone who was there: leave this particular N-word for the real thing.

A perverse satisfaction

March 21, 2014

Like most thinking people on this planet, I am concerned about the fate of the crew and passengers of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370. But I am also drawing a kind of perverse satisfaction from the fact that it hasn’t been found. It’s reassuring to know that, in this age of global surveillance, when everything that happens is supposed to be known to someone, it’s possible for a large object to disappear from sight without being detected.

Many years ago, when I was young, I had a fantasy about an island somewhere in the South Seas that is surrounded by a constant wall of fog, which over the centuries has been settled by various groups of people who somehow got stranded there. I had worked out a geography and an ethnography for it, and I had even thought of writing a novel in which the island is destroyed by some natural catastrophe but a few people escape to the outside world, where they recognize one another through some signal or other. But by the time I started writing novels, around ten years ago (see here), I no longer thought that such a thing was possible, namely, an island that can remain undetected to the present. Now I’m going to rethink the matter.

Lemberg again

March 14, 2014

In most media accounts of the current crisis in the Ukraine, the chief city of western Ukraine — the heartland of the anti-Yanukovich protest movement — is called Lviv. But yesterday, in a report on NPR’s Morning Edition, Emily Harris referred to it by the Russian name, Lvov.

Why? Because the report was about the political differences within a married couple living in Kharkiv (called by that name, the Ukrainian one, rather than the Russian Kharkov). The husband is an ethnic Russian and the wife a western Ukrainian, but their common language is Russian, and so, when telling Emily Harris their story, they called the place where they met (at university) Lvov. And the reporter didn’t bother mentioning that this is the same place that elsewhere is being called Lviv.

I will repeat my advice of a a couple of years ago: stop mispronouncing Lviv, Lvov or Lwów (the combination of palatal /l/ with /v/ with no intervening vowel, is nearly impossible for anglophones) and stick to the time-honored Lemberg. So what if it’s the German form? Danes don’t mind that we call their capital Copenhagen (as long as the a is that of mate, not of father — they didn’t like the way Danny Kaye sang it in Hans Christian Andersen) and not København. Russians don’t mind our calling their capital Moscow (a respelling of the German Moskau) and not Moskva. So, once again: Lemberg!

Gerund and participle

March 1, 2014

I recently ran across, serendipitously, an article in The Atlantic Monthly blog by Kevin Dettmar, a professor of English at Pomona College, titled “Dead Poets Society Is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities.” He begins, “I’ve never hated a film quite the way I hate Dead Poets Society.” Since I remember also disliking (if not hating) the film when I saw it, I was intrigued. Dettmar’s main reason for his attitude toward the film is that Mr. Keating, the literature teacher (played by Robin Williams) who is its hero, encourages students to experience poetry as he does by “feeling” it rather than find their own experience by actually reading it. Dettmar cites, as his first example, a thorough misreading of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” He then writes:

In a like manner, how often has Frost’s “The Mending Wall” been quoted out of context in debates about immigration reform? “Good fences make good neighbors,” indeed.

Whoa! Has Professor Dettmar actually read a poem by Robert Frost titled “The Mending Wall”? The famous poem that begins “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” is titled “Mending Wall”; it’s about the narrator and his neighbor mending the wall between them. In the title, mending is the gerund of ‘mend’ and wall is its direct object; it like ‘eating breakfast’ or ‘making money,’ and such a phrase does not allow, in English, an article before it. If one wants to fully nominalize the phrase (treat it as a noun) then of is required between the gerund and the object: the eating of breakfast, the mending of (a or the) wall. Otherwise, the verb form ending in -ing can only be a present participle, and the mending wall can only mean ‘the wall that mends,’ which is not what the poem is about. Consider hunting game and the hunting game: the former is the activity of hunting wild animals, the latter is a game based on hunting.

Contributors to Language Log often decry the ignorance of grammar by teachers of English, and this instance certainly validates their complaints. Among the chief decriers is Geoffrey Pullum, coauthor (with Rodney Huddleston) of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (and its cheap sibling, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar). I admire and respect Geoff Pullum but (as I have noted in a few previous posts) I have my differences with him, and one of them is that CGEL and SIEG have abolished the difference between gerund and participle, and conflated them into a single verb form that they call gerund-participle, simply because “no verb has different forms corresponding to the two uses” (SIEG, p. 32). I wonder: had there been just one verb with two different forms, would that have made all the difference? As I have shown in the preceding paragraph, the two uses are governed by different rules; is that not enough to justify regarding them as different verb forms, as they are in most other inflecting language?

The problem is that, by focusing exclusively on the phenomenology of standard English and deliberately ignoring that of other languages (including dialects and older forms of English), Huddleston and Pullum have strayed from what I think of as the historical function of grammar: teaching the rules of a standard language to students who may or may not be “native speakers” (those whose primary vernacular is a colloquial variant of the standard, what I call a parastandard). In fact, historically the first grammars were of “dead” languages — ones that no longer had a colloquial variant: Sanskrit, Homeric Greek, Classical Latin, Koranic Arabic, Scriptural Hebrew.

While I don’t believe in the “universal grammar” theories of Chomsky and his school, I have found that the concept of parts of speech (or lexical categories) is of great help in relating discourse in one language to what it might be in another, even when the structures are quite different: that prepositions in English correspond to postpositions in Japanese or Turkish does not really hinder understanding.

And, it seems, professors of English need to be taught about gerunds and participles.


Bibi’s nation-state

February 23, 2014

Once again we hear that the so-called peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have stalled over some intransigent demand by one side or the other. This time it’s Bibi Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the Jewish nation-state.”

A demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is not unreasonable, if Jewish is meant as an ethnic and not a religious designation (I’ve discussed this recently), analogous to Arab. All of Israel’s neighbors are, explicitly or implicitly, Arab states: all are members of the Arab League, and Egypt and Syria both have Arab Republic as part of their official names, though both have significant non-Arab minorities (Copts and Nubians in Egypt, Assyrians and Kurds in Syria).

The problem is that Bibi can’t have it both ways: Israel can’t be simultaneously a Jewish state and a nation-state. The concept of nation-state is a Western one, originating with the French revolution; it is based on the definition by Abbé Sieyès, the Revolution’s premier theoretician, of the nation as “a legal entity (personne juridique) constituted by all the individuals constituting the state.” In the purest model, represented by France, “it is repugnant for there to be a society of non-citizens within the state, and a nation within the nation” (Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre). In Corsica one often finds posters and graffiti proclaiming the nationhood of Corsica, as seen below, but the notion they represent is taboo in official French discourse. Even a reference to “the Corsican people” (le peuple corse) was enough to make the Socialist politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement resign from the government of Lionel Jospin.


Other Western nation-states don’t necessarily follow the strict French model. While in the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance proclaims “one nation, indivisible,” several indigenous tribes are still called “nations,” as are the First Nations of Canada (where Quebec also claims nation status within the Canadian nation). Most notably, in the United Kingdom, home of the British nation, the constituent members (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) also house their respective nations (the Home Nations). If an institution based in, say, Cardiff or Edinburgh is called national, it can be assumed that the reference is to Wales or Scotland. But with London-based institutions (the National Gallery, for example) one can’t be sure. London has been home to both the British National Opera Company (in the past) and the English National Opera (at present).  The Home Nations compete individually in international soccer, but only the British nation is allowed in the Olympic Games (which are, not by coincidence, a French creation).

None of this applies to Israel. There is no such thing as the Israeli nation, and hardly any Israel-wide institutions are called national. While the central bank of Israel was once called the National Bank of Israel, this was in the early days of the state, and it was soon replaced by the Bank of Israel (the National Bank, or Bank Leumi, has remained as a private bank). Israel is not a nation-state but, as I have explained before, a national state, that is, the “national homeland” (or one of several such homelands) of an ethnic nation, whose members usually form a majority but not the totality of the state’s citizens; the remainder belong to one or more national minorities (or minority nationalities), each of which may, in turn, be a part of an ethnic nation having its homeland elsewhere.

The Balfour Declaration promised Britain’s “best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of” … “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” but recognized “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Such a state — one occupied by a primary nation but with recognized national minorities that are defined culturally and not territorially — is in fact the norm to the east of what I have called the Seipel line.

In many cases the term for citizens of a national state is the same as for the members as its primary ethnic nation, and therefore the qualifier ethnic is generally used in English for the latter; we therefore speak of ethnic Hungarians, ethnic Germans and so on in, for example, Slovakia or Romania. Sometimes the language provides variants that allow for the distinction explicitly; we can thus speak of Croatians (citizens of Croatia) and Croats (members of the Croat ethnicity who may be citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria, Slovenia etc.). Most conveniently, the designations of  a state’s citizens and of the members of its primary nation are different, as with Iranian and Persian, Chinese and Han, and, of course, Israeli and Jew.

None of this, in turn, applies to Western nation-states. Nobody refers to the Romands of Switzerland, the Valdôtains of Italy or the Walloons of Belgium as ethnic French. While the German-speakers of Switzerland form a numerical majority (two-thirds to three-quarters), the other language communities are by no means national minorities; all citizens belong to the Swiss nation on an equal footing.

Bibi Netanyahu got much of his education in the West, the United States to be specific, but doesn’t seem to have studied any history or political science. He needs to learn that Israel may be a Jewish state but is in no way a nation-state

The y-word

February 19, 2014

There is a curious, if incomplete, parallelism between the words yid and nigger. In both cases, their use as an exonym is pejorative, while use as an endonym (or autonym) is acceptable. English-speaking Jews don’t normally refer to themselves as “yids” when speaking ordinary (“parastandard“) English, but they often do so when speaking Yinglish (as defined here and not in Wikipedia), that is, English peppered with Yiddish words. By the same token, African-Americans are far more likely to use “nigger” when speaking AAVE (“Black English”) than when using the common language. In fact, in the latter case they are likely to overuse African-American, as when a black journalist was heard on the radio to refer to Nelson Mandela as “the first African-American president of South Africa.”

Until the 19th century, the words nigger and negro were interchangeable designations for (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it) “a dark-skinned person of sub-Saharan African origin or descent.” The former was usually spelled niger, which is simply the Latin word for ‘black’; the second g seems to have been added around the end of the 18th century to maintain the Latin “short i“, that is, to ensure that the words rhymes with bigger and not with tiger.  The first unmistakably pejorative citation dates from about 1850. Negro (Spanish and Portuguese for ‘black’) remained the polite form until the mid-20th century. But while in most forms of English the two words have quite distinct sounds, in the vernacular of the Southern US negro comes out sounding like nigra and therefore differs only slightly from nigger (which may sound like nigga). Common usage in English therefore decided to forgo the Romance borrowings and stick to English terms like black or African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-British or even just plain African.

Yid is simply the Yiddish word for ‘Jew’. But this word is in turn derived from the German Jüde, not the standard Jude. Jüde is probably a back-formation from the derived forms jüdish (‘Jewish’) and Jüdin (‘Jewess’). I have heard Jüde used in Bavaria (pronounced as though written Jid) with a distinctly pejorative tone, and in southern Germany only Jude is the polite variant; the Jewish streets there are called Judengasse or Judenstraße. In northern and central Germany, on the other hand, one finds frequent examples of Jüdenstraße (in Göttingen, for example) or Jüdengasse (in Naumburg, Altenburg and elsewhere), so that the pejorative connotation does not seem to have been there; otherwise the Jewish communities there would have insisted on a change. The Low German equivalents of Jude and Jüde are Jode and Jöde, respectively, and the Low German Wikipedia gives them as equivalent. On the other hand, the only (High) German references to Jüde are as a Middle High German form, belying its survival in street names to the present day. The Jewish Museum in Berlin houses a collection of signs designating Jewish streets in Germany, as seen in this picture.Juden

What seems mysterious is why Jews speaking Yiddish, which is closer to Bavarian than to any other German dialect, chose Jüde and not Jude as the etymon of their endonym. Perhaps in Middle High German (and even Early Modern German) one was no more pejorative than the other, just like negro and nigger until 1850.

Endo (auto) and exo

January 29, 2014

Endonyms (also called autonyms) and exonyms are names or places, peoples or languages as used, respectively, by insiders (in their own language) and outsiders. Examples are España and (in English) Spain, Apache and Diné, français and French.

In recent decades it has become customary in some Western languages, especially English, to replace traditional exonyms with supposed endonyms for peoples and places that are, in some sense, remote or exotic. Thus, the peoples that I first learned about as Eskimos, Lapps, Bushmen and Gypsies are now called, respectively, Inuit, Saami, San and Roma or Romani. (I have always had trouble with the last of these, because, in my experience, outside the Balkans few Gypsies refer to themselves as Roma when they are not speaking Romani.) The usual excuse for the substitution is that the traditional names are pejorative, either originally (that has been asserted about Eskimo and Bushman, though San may also be pejorative) or by later association, for example by referring to the derivation of the verb ‘gyp’ from Gypsy. But the similar verbs ‘welsh’ and ‘jew’ have not led to the abandonment of Welsh and Jew as ethnic designations, prolbably because they are too familiar.

I have previously written about how the name of the now-Ukrainian city historically known in English as Lemberg has had to go, in English-language media, through Lwów, L’vov and L’viv, none of them easily pronounceable in English. But nobody, to my knowledge, has proposed renaming Copenhagen as København, Munich as München, Warsaw as Warszawa, or even Bangkok as Krung Thep. The only recent renaming in English of well-known places from exonym to endonym (what I will call endonymization) that I’m aware of has happened in India (Calcutta to Kolkata, Madras to Chennai, Bombay to Mumbai), made possible by the fact that English is an official language there. (In the case of Bombay it is specifically the Marathi endonym that has prevailed over the Hindi one.)

The two major endonymizations that happened in the first half of the twentieth century are Constantinople to Istanbul and Persia to Iran. The latter has been quite useful in allowing a distinction between Persians as an ethnicity and Iranians as citizens of Iran, who may be Azeri, Kurdish, Armenian or of any number of other ethnicities. Supposedly, a reason of the change from Burma to Myanmar was to allow a similar distinction between the Burmese ethnic group (also called Bamar) and the Myanma nationality (which includes Shan, Karen, and others); but this doesn’t seem to have taken hold. The change of Siam to Thailand (from one exonym to another) has had the opposite effect: ‘Thai’ is now applied to all the country’s denizens, including those of non-Thai ethnicity (hence ‘Thai Malay‘).

What is striking is how sometimes the exonyms for neighboring nations differ drastically from the endonyms. Take the island of Great Britain: England’s neighbors, Scotland and Wales, are Alba in Gaelic and Cymru in Welsh, while in these languages England is respectively Sassain and Lloegr. Sweden and Finland are respectively is Sverige and Finland in Swedish, Ruotsi and Suomi in Finnish. Bohemia is Čechy in Czech, Böhmen in German; Germany (Deutschland) and Austria (Österreich) are respectively Německo and Rakousko in Czech. Greece (Ελλάδα, Elláda in Greek) is Greqia in Albanian; Albania (Shqipëria in Albanian) is Αλβανία (Alvania) in Greek. Note that in the last case the exonyms are similar to those in other languages, except Turkish, which has Yunanistan for Greece and Arnavutluk for Albania.

Morning coffee

January 26, 2014

A few months ago I spent some time in Portugal, and learned that what the Portuguese call breakfast is pequeno almoço or ‘little lunch’ — a literal version of the French petit déjeuner and the Italian piccola colazione. But, in reading hotel reviews on written by Brazilians, I have found that their term for breakfast is café da manhã or ‘morning coffee’. To Brazilians, then, coffee is an integral part of the breakfast concept, as it is to Turks, whose word for breakfast is kahvaltı, a compound of kahve (coffee) and altı (six), possibly meaning (I’m not sure about this) ‘six-o’clock coffee’. Of course, at the Turkish hotels where I stayed breakfast was not necessarily served at six and one had a choice of coffee or tea.

I was a morning tea drinker until I acquired the coffee habit in my twenties. And while I like my tea plain (no milk, lemon or sugar), I like coffee with (a little) milk. But with old age my digestion of milk seems to have slowed down, and if I do any vigorous activity (such as a gym workout) within two hours of drinking coffee with milk, I get an unpleasant sensation in my stomach. My routine is now tea on gym days, coffee on non-gym days.

When I travel I ask for a cappuccino scuro in an Italian-type coffeehouse, or for un cortado in Spain or une noisette in France. In Colombia it’s another matter: there café by itself means ‘coffee with milk’; black coffee is tinto (which normally means ‘red’ as applied to wine), while the intermediate kind that I like is perico in Bogotá and elsewhere, but pintado in Cali. The word perico means ‘parakeet’ and it’s also used to describe scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, huevos pericos. One time, in a café in Cali, I asked for dos pericos, and was about to be served some eggs when I corrected myself and said dos pintados.

Anyway, I am curious if any languages other than Turkish and Brazilian Portuguese have ‘coffee’ as a part of their term for breakfast.

Pullum rides again

January 26, 2014

Geoffrey K. Pullum is an eminent Scottish-English-American linguist. He taught at UC Santa Cruz for many years, and is now Professor of General Linguistics and Head of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. He is a coauthor (with Rodney Huddleston) of the controversial (and very expensive) Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), described in Wikipedia as “a book that presents a comprehensive descriptive grammar of English,” and a contributor to Language Log, an online forum of linguists who, scientists that they are, can be generally classified as descriptivists. That is, they seek to describe language as it is actually used and not prescribe how it should be used. One of the categories of posts on Language Log is in fact called “prescriptivist poppycock,” and Geoff Pullum’s posts are frequently filed under it. He can get on his high horse and be quite vituperative when writing about Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (which he has called “that vile little book”) or George Orwell’s  essay Politics and the English Language, and nothing angers him more than these authors’ advice to “avoid the passive.”

Well, maybe something does anger him more: it’s when writers (especially journalists), possibly brought up on this advice without fully understanding it, apply the word passive — calling it passive construction, passive voice, or even passive tense(!)to discourse in which the verbs are not actually in what grammatically is known as the passive voice. In a post published two days ago, he cited one journalist’s reference to a passage in another journalist’s article as “a lovely passive construction” and then proceeded to analyze the passage in question, finding that of the 23 verbs contained in it not one was passive. He has written an essay titled Fear and loathing of the English Passive in which the matter is discussed (see, I fear not the passive!) at length.

But to all appearances Geoff Pullum, who seems to have a very good sense of humor, doesn’t see the irony in a descriptivist like him railing against language change. The fact is that, at least in journalistic language, passive seems to have morphed from its grammatical meaning to something vaguely associated with a relatively impersonal form of discourse, modeled perhaps on the Nixonian “mistakes were made” (which actually is in the passive). It so happens that English has no regular form of impersonal construction: it has neither the impersonal pronoun like on in French or man in German, nor does it have the subjectless reflexive like Spanish, Italian or Slavic, so that the English equivalent of on parle français, man spricht deutsch, se habla español, говорится по-русски and the like is English [is] spoken. And so it seems that a generalization of passive to mean ‘impersonal’ is natural language evolution, somewhat like the way gridlock (originally the kind of traffic blockage that happens in a street grid when stopped vehicles obstruct intersections) has come to mean any kind of traffic jam, as when, in connection with the Fort Lee lane-closure scandal, we have heard about “gridlock on the bridge.”

But I have not heard any complaints from traffic engineers about media misuse of the term gridlock.  Nor do I hear kvetching form mathematicians, astronomers, physicists or seismologists when people use least common denominator, light-year, quantum leap or epicenter with meanings quite remote from their technical ones. Perhaps this is because specialists in technical or scientific disciplines are aware that common language is in a different realm from technical language. Mathematicians, for example, have borrowed words like field, group or ring and given them technical meanings, and to mechanicians (like me) the words forcepower, strength and energy (which are virtually synonymous in ordinary language) have precise and different meanings.

It seems to be different with linguists, perhaps because they deal with language per se. They seem to forget that the word linguist itself originally meant ‘someone who knows several languages’ (thus in Shakespeare and still in popular use as well as in official use in the armed forces) and resent its being applied to anyone but them. Linguistics has also given grammar a meaning far more restrictive (though they don’t always agree on what that meaning is) than what it originally meant: the study of a formal literary language, typically for the benefit of learners of said language who don’t speak it (because it’s either a dead language or a foreign one). And traditionally books on grammar, even those of living languages (beginning with Nebrija‘s grammar of Spanish), have dealt with such things as orthography and punctuation; it’s not a coincidence that the word is related to the Greek word for writing. But when people refer to spelling or punctuation mistakes as grammatical ones, linguists like Geoff Pullum get peeved.

Geoff Pullum, alone among the Language Log contributors, does not allow comments to his posts. He often displays an I’m-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong attitude, as in his recent defense of CGEL’s  categorization of because as preposition (everyone else considers it a conjunction). And so I expect him to go on railing about misuse of passive or grammatical and other sins against linguistics. I don’t mind: he writes entertainingly, and he can own up to mistakes (as he did today). Go get ‘em, Geoff!


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