Featured Feeds: Language Log

Featured Feeds is a new segment on This Is Conlan wherein I feature some of my favorite feeds. That is to say, it’s wherein I feature some of the more obscure websites and blogs in my RSS reader. They’re the “hidden gem” feeds I love (and think you should love too).

First up is Language Log, a linguistics blog I discovered three or four years ago. It was started in 2003 by two professors at the University of Pennsylvania and has since grown to include a bunch of contributors. For a word nerd like me, this blog is like a really good simile.

I was kind of wary when I first visited Language Log. I thought it might be full of descriptivist snobbery. I enjoyed my linguistics class in college, but quickly became bored with the fierce linguistic descriptivism (i.e., focusing solely on how language is actually used by real people, and rejecting rules of grammar). Some linguists seem to elevate this principle to a religion, insisting no English usage is any better or worse than another. My own point of view is more prescriptivist (i.e., focusing on how language “should be” used), although I enjoy non-dogmatic prescriptive/descriptive discussions. I think the tension is necessary for a beautiful, enduring, and flexible language like English.1

Luckily, Language Log mostly avoids the preachiness on either side of the issue, instead offering a fascinating and entertaining assortment of word histories, malapropisms, puns, and neologisms (and “neologisms”). I love it when they use data to debunk and deconstruct common language myths. (Freebies: Eskimos don’t really have 800 words for snow, and the number of times the president uses the word “I” in a speech isn’t really so different from any other president.) Often the analysis is so thorough you’ll wonder why anyone would ever care about such things. This is the type of stuff I love.

(Sometimes the analysis can get a bit too technical and esoteric even for me. But those posts are easy enough to skip.)

As a bonus, the commenters on Language Log are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere on the web. They almost always keep the discussion constructive, and often provide intelligent insight or genuinely funny commentary. It’s nice to look forward to internet comments for a change.

If you’re at all interested in the English language, and not afraid of a little intellectual material, give Language Log a spot in your RSS reader.

  1. I’m actually far more concerned with consistency and clarity in language than I am with following grammar rules. Most of the misunderstood “rules” of English are intended to aid clarity of expression, but have been taken too far by prescriptivists. []