I’d like to introduce some of the links in my blogroll, the list on the right of blogs and blog-like websites. One with which you’re probably already familiar is Language Log. It’s so well known that I hesitated to write about it, but if you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out. Most–not all, but most–of the TESOL professionals I know really enjoy playing with, learning about, and arguing over language. Language Log is a wonderful source for all of those activities. It’s a collective blog written by a group of distinguished authors, including Geoffrey K. Pullum. Most are linguists, and they bring a charming combination of academic expertise and honest crankiness to their posts.
Language Log is straightforwardly descriptivist. The writers talk about language as it is used, not as it is imagined to be. If you cling to particular rules from Strunk and White in the face of centuries of usage evidence, you may very well find yourself offended. Other than that, though, I think there’s something from everyone, from very abstract linguistic theory to amusing yet practical notions such as the Cupertino effect.
The Cupertino effect is a great example of how Language Log is more than just brain candy–I have actually used this notion to great effect with the students I tutored at CSUEB. The Cupertino effect is what happens with users are too submissive or too inattentive to their spellcheck programs. Sometimes a word that has a spelling error or a typo (cooperatino) is interpreted by the software as most likely to be another word entirely (Cupertino), even when human users might think that the intended word (cooperation) is much closer to the misspelling and should have come up. As a result, UN documents are full of bizarre references to Cupertino, the small California town where Apple, the manufacturer of the laptop I’m typing on, is headquartered.
Telling this story sometimes really makes it clear to students that they absolutely cannot rely on spellcheck to suggest the right answer every time, and that they must look at the suggested replacements and actively choose the right one. Just telling them “Don’t rely on spellcheck!” doesn’t seem to work very well, but based on repeated sessions with the same students, telling them the Cupertino effect story does work.
Language Log also does a wonderful job of deconstructing language myths, bringing your attention to funny comic strips, and challenging the conventional wisdom. Occasionally, they’re saucy or rude, but I usually love them all the more for that (even though I don’t always agree with them). Still, I guess the first Cupertino effect post is my favorite Language Log post, because it’s been so useful to me. What’s yours?
If you’re new to Language Log and want to catch up, it’s been around for so long that it can be daunting to dig through. Check out the Categories section on the bottom right for some of their most important topics.