Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

It seems to me that most blogs fall on a continuum in terms of their content.

The grand blog continuum

On one end, we have the most personal of blogs. Comprised of random thoughts, stories, goings-on, and pictures, these blogs are primarily designed as a means of social communication with one’s friends and family. You can usually tell these because reading them is boring (if not downright painful) if you’re not intimately acquainted with the author. Perhaps the epitome (best example) of these sorts of blogs are the ones kept by many random people on LiveJournal or MySpace.

On the complete opposite end, we have blogs that are so heavily focused on providing useful content to the world that the authors themselves are largely overlooked. Never will you find a post dedicated simply to the wonderful day that the author had, and seldom will you even find a reference to the author’s personal life. Sometimes, these are even run by several authors collaboratively, and unless you look at the name of the poster, you often can’t even tell who’s writing them. Examples of blogs like this would be Lifehacker, Treehugger, and MacRumors.

It seems that, in terms of readership and popularity, the most successful blogs seem to be the ones putting content before personal information, because they appeal to the widest audience. If you think about it, some of the more well known blogs on the internet tend to be the more pragmatic and content-based blogs which have a very distinct theme and focus. After a while, these sorts of blogs start to build a library of sorts, with lots of content that somebody who has never heard of the author might still be interested in (and find, via google).

That’s not to say that there aren’t popular blogs where the author’s voice is both present and strong. One good example of this is DaringFireball, which has a great deal of content, but is also quite clearly John Gruber’s personal blog. He’s found a good balance between Gruber-trivia and widely relevant information, and his success shows that. What Would Tyler Durden Do? (not work safe) has a different approach to this balance. Although the content is mostly just gossip about celebrities, in addition to the content, the author of the site has a strong and distinctive voice in the posts, and his commentaries on the stories are often downright hilarious. Here, the author is clearly present in the content, but nonetheless, the blog isn’t about him.

So, there’s a grand continuum in the blog world, ranging from the most personal livejournal to the most informative megablog, and everybody fits in somewhere.

Where am I?

The reason I’ve gotten to thinking about all this is that recently, I’ve been asked to participate in a blog-meme that involves sharing information about oneself. Basically, participating bloggers are asked to list eight random facts about themselves, and then to pass the meme onto eight more people, much like the chain emails of old. What’s surprising to me, and the reason for this post, is that I was conflicted as to whether or not to participate.

Obviously, participating in this meme would be very much out of character for a blog like Lifehacker or Gizmodo. It’s a clearly author-centric exercise, and for a site where the author is de-emphasized, it would be awkward at best. However, for a Livejournal sort of blog, this sort of thing is their lifeblood.

That led me to wonder where, exactly, this site falls on the grand continuum. Although there are clearly posts which concentrate on me as a person, I try to make the majority of my posts very content-centered, although they may include my voice and opinions. My primary means of getting the word out about this site is through links from other people and from google, and I do my best to make the posts here relevant to people who don’t even know what linguistics is, let alone who I am.

Finally, I do have the rather obsessive desire to incorporate some discussion of language and linguistics into all of my posts, even the most mundane of site news. This obsession, and the awkwardness of posting simply personal information, makes me think that when all is added up, Notes from a Linguistic Mystic tends to lean more towards the content-centered side of the blogosphere.

Passing on the meme

So, I’ve decided that to just fill in eight random facts would be a bit contrary to the site’s nature. However, I’ve come up with a compromise. Here are my eight facts:

  1. The pitch of my voice is usually between 90hz and 120hz, although it got at a bit lower (~70hz) with laryngitis. When the vocal folds are inflamed (the main effect of laryngitis), they vibrate more slowly, and thus, people’s voices sound lower.

  2. When I was young and first learning to read, I pronounced the L’s in “walk” and “talk” for a time, even in everyday speech. This is called a “spelling pronunciation”, and they’re not uncommon. Many people will pronounce “caulk” differently from “cock” for this precise reason.

  3. For me, the vowels in “caught” and “cot” are pronounced identically. This is the case for many speakers in the US. For more information, visit the Wikipedia page on this merger.

  4. I can hear the difference between aspirated, unaspirated and voiced stops, but I have trouble reliably making unaspirated stops.

  5. After a fair amount of practice, I can make and hear Ejective stops.

  6. Violating a number of sociolinguistic and cultural rules, I referred to my parents only by their first names until first or second grade. The school psychologist had to explain to me that generally, “Mom” and “Dad” is more acceptable in our society, and that it made them sad when I called them by any other name.

  7. Because I’ve suffered from a number of ear infections in the past and had a somewhat mysterious hearing impairment through the high school and a part of college, I currently have a tympanostomy tube (ear tube) in my right ear drum. Thus, when I’m on planes or driving in the mountains, my right ear doesn’t pop at all. Strangely enough, this surgery actually improved my hearing significantly, and helped me to distinguish sounds that I previously couldn’t.

  8. The name “Linguistic Mystic” arose while working on a project regarding the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I was debating the idea with a friend in my group who was dead set against the idea that language affects thought. Frustrated that neither of us were changing the other’s mind, he said something along the lines of “You know what you are? You’re a damned Linguistic Mystic, trying to make language into some secret, mysterious force affecting our world.” I loved the expression then, slowly adopted it, and finally ended up making it the title of this site.

Naming the victims

So, there are my eight facts, modified to include a heavy dose of content and linguistic goodness. According to the Meme, I need to now post the rules and nominate a few other blogs.

These are the rules:

  1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged need to write in their own blog about their eight things and include these rules in the post.
  4. At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are the blogs I’ve chosen (I couldn’t find eight), in no particular order:

  1. Mother Tongue Annoyances
  2. Language Fragments
  3. LinguLangu
  4. Confessions of a Language Addict
  5. Aspiring Polyglot (PS: Congrats on the Bloggers Choice nomination)

So, if you’re interested in participating, fellow bloggers, you’re welcome to. Feel free to put your own spin on things as I’ve done, or feel free to ignore this altogether.


Much like humans grow to have a certain preferred communication style in a given context, it seems that blogs tend to settle out into different styles. Just as it would seem unusual for a normally serious professor to come into class and start discussing a party he attended over the weekend, bloggers seem to have a good idea of what’s “proper” given their particular style, and seldom violate it.

(Unless, of course, a really good chain-letter goes around. Then, we get flexible.)

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