Great Linguists

Some linguists actually range into the stratosphere of the Greats. See how many of these you can identify. I can’t even identify all of them myself.

I diss some of these guys on here, which you are not supposed to do in my field, but I’m not very well-liked anyway, so I figured I might as well. Besides I don’t have an academic job. Most of these guys don’t speak ill of each other because they have a professorship.

John Bengston – Long-ranger, outside of the academy, which is how he can to that in the first place as long-rangers wouldn’t last ten minutes in the academy. I’ve corresponded with him a few times. He’s a real nice guy!

Derek Bickerton – He responded to one of my emails. Expert on the genesis of language and creoles. He seems to have a very sunny disposition too, I’ll grant him that.

Allan Bomhard – Long-ranger. Outside of the academy, hence how he can even be a long-ranger in the first place and they would never survive in the US academy. And he answered my email! Yay!

Karl Brugmann –  Famous for Brugmann’s Law.

Lyell Campbell – Give credit where it’s due. The leader of the New Conservatives out to make sure that no new language family is discovered. This is all a rather pathetic emotional reaction to the publication of Joseph Greenberg’s Language in the Americas, a fairly innocuous work that somehow caused most historical linguists to go insane. However, he is at the top of our field, despite the fact that his long-range views should be ignored, except they aren’t and instead they’re the reigning paradigm. Science is not only irrational as scientists are human, but it goes in fads just like society’s faddists. Scientists also go insane, often collectively. An abject lesson is this man, albeit an excellent linguist. Expert in Mayan and Uralic languages, but he should be ignored on Uralic please.

Andrew Carnie – Don’t know him.

Noam Chomsky – Mostly famous for syntax theories.

Bernard Comrie – Famous linguist. Not sure if he’s still around.

Peter Daniels – Probably the most hated man in Linguistics, for good reason I might add. Notable scholar on writing systems. A brilliant man, but so what? A lot of brilliant men are pricks. Shoepenhauer once threw his landlady down the stairs, and he had to pay her a sun for the rest of her life.

Ferdinand de Saussure – Father of Saussurian structural linguistics and structuralism in social sciences, period. Also came up with the ideas of “signs,” etc., now a separate field called Semiotics.

Scott DeLancey – Penutianist. File under Peter Daniels. A most unpleasant man.

Robert Dixon – Famous in Australian linguistics.

Joseph Greenberg – The late, great long-ranger. Very controversial to say the least.

Jacob Grimm – Famous for Grimm’s Law.

Suzette Haden Elgin – Never heard of her.

Kenneth Hale – Famous polygot and linguist. All around good guy too, apparently.

Mary R. Haas – Famous Americanist.

Martin Haspelmath – Name is familiar but not sure what he does.

Ray Jackendoff – Familiar but I’m not sure what he did.

Roman Jakobson – Very famous linguist.

Arthur Kroeber – Famous anthropologist and linguist, Americanist.

William Labov – Father of sociolinguistics.

Peter Ladefoged – Famous for phonology, especially phonetics, which I don’t understand well.

George Lakoff – Famous for the use of words in politics.

Stephen Levinson – Not familiar.

John McCarthy – Not familiar.

David Nash – Not familiar.

Joanna Nichols – She’s at the top of our field too. Expert on typology and North Caucasian languages. She also went insane after Greenberg’s book, however recently she has somewhat recovered and has opened her mind to long-range stuff with some very interesting views along the lines of Sapir’s. Hey, people can change! And she’s the one who came up with the “6,000 year limit on how far back a language family can be discovered.”

Geoffrey Nunberg – Seems I’ve heard of him, but not sure what he did.

Marc Okrand – I’ve heard of him, but not sure what he did.

Pānini – The famous ancient Sanskritist

Holger Peterson – Famous Indo-Europeanist.

David Pesetsky – Heard the name, not sure what he did.

Steven Pinker – Famous for theories about the genesis of language and also the nature-nurture debate. His politics is crap, but I like his haircut and he’s very smart. He hung out with Jeff Epstein, but so did everyone.

Geoff Pullum – I have heard of him. Sociolinguist? Phonologist?

John Robert ‘Haj’ Ross – Not familiar.

Jerzy Rubach – Not familiar.

Edmund Sapir – Famous Americanist and anthropologist. One of the greats.

Sibawayh – Not familiar.

Paul Sidwell – Belligerent shouter. Plus he hates me. But he is very good on Asian linguistics, especially Afroasiatic. He was formerly sane on long-range stuff, in fact, he was a major long-ranger himself. At some point he caught the Campbell Virus and went insane and knows he’s out to insure that no new language family is ever discovered. Whatever. Science goes in fads, don’t you know?

Michael Silverstein –  Actually spoke to him on the phone once. Started out as a Penutianist Americanist. Did you hear that? He actually talked to me on the phone once. He’s gone way off into theory now, most sociolinguistics, but he’s one of the finest minds in our field.

George Starostin – Well, he answered one of my mails anyway. I guess I’ll credit him with that.

Sergei Starostin – Father of George. Moscow long-ranger.

Morris Swadesh – Very famous Americanist also known for lexicostatitistics and long-range views.

R. L. Trask – Specialist in Basque, which he insists is not related to any other language. Natch. Ever notice how all these specialists always insist that their language or family isn’t related to anything else. That’s so they can be special, er, their language or family can be special, and through it, they can be special. It’s actually narcissism in action.

Wilhelm von Humboldt  – Old-timer, very famous.

Anna Wierzbicka – Not familiar.

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3 thoughts on “Great Linguists”

  1. What about the Dutchman Pieter Muysken? He is a world authority on South American languages.

    What about Einar Haugen? He is (was?) a Norwegian-American Harvard professor who is a specialist in language-mixing in immigrant communities.

    At the University of Groningen, linguists have done some important work on language retention. Their conclusion is that a language is permanently committed to memory only by about the age of the 12. Suppose that a 10 year old Russian boy is adopted by a French couple and that for the next 30 years he only hears French. At the age of 40, he will have forgotten his Russian irretrievably.

    Now suppose that a 14 year old boy is adopted by a French couple. He too hears only French for the next 30 years. At the age of 44, he too will have forgotten his Russian, but not irretrievably.

    Well, that’s what they think at the Rijksuniversiteit van Groningen. That does not apply to the phonetic part of language. In Montreal, research was done on young adults who as small children had been exposed to Chinese but who had forgotten all their Chinese. It turns out that they were much better at recognizing Chinese tones than the young adults of a control group who never had any exposure to Chinese.

    1. I know Haugen. I know a linguist out of the University of Groningen. Unfortunately we are not on good terms at all, to put it mildly. Similar interest: mutual intelligibility.

      Haugen has also done some great work on mutual intelligibility, one of my areas of expertise.

      1. With regard to mutual intelligibility, we seem to be on the same page. I’m inclined to believe that languages don’t have to be very different for mutual intelligibility to be reduced significantly. Some açorianos I can understand almost totally, and some others are almost totally intelligible to me.

        As a rule, I would say, intelligibility is greater in writing than in speech. Understanding is done with the ear, and reading with the eye. I can read a lot of Frisian, but I can understand very little.

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