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The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language [Paperback]

by Geoffrey K. Pullum
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 9, 1991 0226685349 978-0226685342 1
How reliable are all those stories about the number of Eskimo words for snow? How can lamps, flags, and parrots be libelous? How might Star Trek's Commander Spock react to Noam Chomsky's theories of language? These and many other odd questions are typical topics in this collection of essays that present an occasionally zany, often wry, but always fascinating look at language and the people who study it.

Geoffrey K. Pullum's writings began as columns in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory in 1983. For six years, in almost every issue, under the banner "TOPIC. . .COMMENT," he published a captivating mélange of commentary, criticism, satire, whimsy, and fiction. Those columns are reproduced here--almost exactly as his friends and colleagues originally warned him not to publish them--along with new material including a foreword by James D. McCawley, a prologue, and a new introduction to each of these clever pieces. Whether making a sneak attack on some sacred cow, delivering a tongue-in-cheek protest against current standards, or supplying a caustic review of some recent development, Pullum remains in touch with serious concerns about language and society. At the same time, he reminds the reader not to take linguistics too seriously all of the time.

Pullum will take you on an excursion into the wild and untamed fringes of linguistics. Among the unusual encounters in store are a conversation between Star Trek's Commander Spock and three real earth linguists, the strange tale of the author's imprisonment for embezzling funds from the Campaign for Typographical Freedom, a harrowing account of a day in the research life of four unhappy grammarians, and the true story of how a monograph on syntax was suppressed because the examples were judged to be libelous. You will also find a volley of humorous broadsides aimed at dishonest attributional practices, meddlesome copy editors, mathematical incompetence, and "cracker-barrel philosophy of science." These learned and witty pieces will delight anyone who is fascinated by the quirks of language and linguists.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The 23 entertaining essays collected here originally appeared as columns in a linguistics journal between 1983 and 1989. Slight revisions have been made, and introductory and explanatory notes added. Although some of the material here is a sometimes gossipy, sometimes technical insider's view of the linguistics profession, most of it is a highly interesting and enlightening discussion of a subject that is largely a mystery to most people. However, it is also "perhaps the only subject that regularly gets research funding from agencies in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences," and therefore has cross-disciplinary pertinence. The title essay refers to Whorf's (according to the author, incorrect) work on the Eskimo lexicon. For public as well as academic libraries.
- Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Geoffrey K. Pullum is professor of linguistics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 9, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226685349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226685342
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amusing essays on language May 29, 2000
The author wrote a column for _Natural Language and Linguistic Theory_ for six years; this book collects them, with new prefaces to each essay. The tone is light, often frivolous, sometimes bitchy, occasionally educational, and always entertaining. The title essay demolishes the idea that Eskimos have many words for snow (there are two), and traces the myth's origin. Others contain a dialogue between Noam Chomsky (the linguist) and Spock (the Vulcan); a discussion of perverse punctuation (which many newsgroup writers would do well to read); a searing but hilarious attack on the English First people ("Here Come the Linguistic Fascists"); and "Some Lists of Things About Books" (my favorite: "Four Extraordinarily Ignorant Claims About Language in Books by Linguists"; all four come from the same book). Some of the humor is too linguistics-insider to be easily deciphered, but for the most part this is a highly amusing bunch of little articles from somebody who clearly loves language, and is fortunately willing to share his love with us.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the funniest 'academic' books i've read May 28, 2001
I had this professor for my introduction to UNIX course at UC Santa Cruz. After the class, I noticed this book in the bookstore, and immediately purchased a copy.
I loved the Chomsky vs. the Vulcan thing :)
The linguistic concepts were a bit beyond me, but i loved the article about how linguistic journals correct (incorrectly) the grammar *of linguists*. And the English First article really shows the idiocity and lack of lingustic understanding among the general public. I'm starting to wonder if every academic discipline is misunderstood by the faceless "general public" ... and if so how I can reconcile this with my professed belief in the "inherent worth and dignity of every person."
Anyways, other interested pieces included a fictious piece where each division on campus is vying for the linguistics department to be moved under their jurisdiction, the eskimo vocabulary hoax piece of course, and just the overall tone and stuff. I highly recommend this if you like linguistics, or even if you don't like linguistics but like academic books with a sense of humor ;)
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and devastating look into the culture of linguistics September 26, 2003
You do not need to be a linguist to enjoy this funny, barbed, and acerbic look at the practice and culture of linquistics. If you are interested in studying linguistics, this is not a bad place to start. If you are a linguist, you will alternately wince and cheer at Pullum's observations.
And if you want to know whether one of the Eskimo languages has more words for snow than, say, English, here's the definitive and surprising answer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
John V. Karavitis I got my hands on this book because, as I recall, it was mentioned in Arika Okrent's "In the Land of Invented Languages" (I just love it when I discover another interesting book to read when I'm reading a book!). I was curious as to the circumstances surrounding the origin of the idea that Eskimos have hundreds of words for different types of "snow". Turns out, there are only two words: "qanik" for snow in the air or snowflake, and "aput" for snow on the ground. It turns out that English has more descriptive words for different types of snow.

The editorial review for this book has it right: Geoffrey Pullum wrote an editorial column (titled "Topic.... Column") for seven years for the journal "Natural Language and Linguistic Theory" starting in the early 1980s. Here, we are treated to 23 of Pullum's 28 editorials for NLLT over those seven years, and we get his perspective on the field of linguistics, how linguists "work", and other issues that caught Pullum's fancy, e.g. libel laws in Britain versus the United States (definitely should be on one's "must read" list!), how linguistics should be taught, where linguistics should be placed as a discipline in academia, issues re publishing in journals in academia, and, of course, issues re linguistics theories. Some of the material that dives headlong into linguistics theory can be a bit disorienting, but I enjoyed reading this book. I have a deep curiosity about linguistics, which is why I decided to read the entire work, and not just the article on Eskimos' words for snow. It wasn't spectacular or mind-bending, but, as I said, I enjoy learning about linguistics, and I got to see it from the perspective of an insider. John V. Karavitis, John Karavitis, Karavitis.
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