Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

I’m Will, a Linguist who teaches and does research in speech and natural language processing. More information than you likely wanted to know, along with contact info, can be found at my personal homepage.

This site exists both as a place for me to post the things that intrigue me and make me think, but also as a place for you to find and learn about things that might intrigue you. Although much of what I post will be Linguistics-related, some will be just general, nerdy thoughts. I’ll do my best to write in such a way that you don’t need a background in Linguistics to understand my posts

Although I’m a Linguist by trade, degree, and passion, some what I discussing on this site might fall outside of mainstream linguistics. I’ll always do my best to be factually accurate in areas where facts exist (and corrections are encouraged), but I’ve chosen this site and this name to emphasize that this is my own personal site, pulling in information from my life and my many passions, rather than just from a linguistics textbook. If you’re curious about why the site is named “Notes from a Linguistic Mystic”, here’s the full story.

Also, do remember that some of the initial posts on this site date back to back when I was an undergraduate. Although I’ve done my best to update, amend, or remove any assertions Past Will made which Modern Will knows to be false, there are now a number of places where I disagree with my past self, whether in opinion, nuance, tone, or idea. So, please don’t assume everything expressed is still a currently-held opinion, and feel free to ask!

Advertising Policy

I’ve get lots of emails asking about advertising on this site. So, here’s the policy:

Notes from a Linguistic Mystic will not run any paid advertisements at all on this site.*

I’m maintaining this site for fun and as a service to the internet, not for profit, and the cost of doing so is still very low. Ads annoy me, they’re a vector for viruses and spyware, they’re mostly lies anyways, and I’ve decided that advertising is not something I’d like to include here. So, I won’t display your ad, link to your page, or feature your SEO-laden blog post or infographic. And if you see an ad on this page, your machine has been hacked.

Mind you, I still reserve the right to review and link to products and services that I find useful, but when I do, I’m just passing on a recommendation to my readers. You can rest assured that any time such a link appears, it’s just a personal endorsement, and potential any conflicts of interest (such as review copies) will be stated explicitly in the relevant places.

Pronoun Policy

Perhaps you’ve noticed that in some of my posts, I’ll use constructions like “nobody knows their own strengths” or “when a reader is saddened by a story, they won’t come back”. I’d like to comment a little bit on why I’ve chosen to use these constructions, and why I think it’s justified to do so.

Historically, sentences like these have been considered ungrammatical. When one has a singular subject, such as “a reader”, one generally uses a third person singular pronoun, usually “he” or “she”. To use a plural pronoun in these contexts has been historically considered to be incorrect and in bad form.

However, this leaves an awkward gap in the language. If one’s forced to specify “he” or “she”, it doesn’t leave any options for when the gender of the person is unknown or unspecified. There are a few ways to deal with this, ranging from the rather awkward “he or she” construction to the variety of gender neutral pronouns suggested for English (like the Spivak pronouns).

As language tends to do, though, it seems to be adjusting nicely to the lack on its own, and is filling the void naturally. The third person plural pronouns (they, their, them, themselves) seem to be stepping up in usage to become the preferred method of indicating a person without marking gender specifically. Thus, sentences like “a person is always happy when their pain is relieved” are becoming more and more commonplace. I’ve discussed this a few times, here and here, and it seems like this trend is only increasing.

It would seem that “they” is stepping up as the default third person gender neutral pronoun, and here at Linguistic Mystic, I support that particular facet of language change completely, and have chosen to adopt it early to encourage this change to proceed.

Although it might not yet be completely accepted by the grammarians, I encourage you to begin using the gender neutral third person plural as well, as they can only rap so many people over the knuckles with a ruler before they have to acquiesce, and an army of gender-neutral pronouns sweeps over English departments across the world with the fury of a people forced into hundreds of years of awkward phrasings.

Well, a man can dream.

Technical Details

This site is built using Jekyll, which generates all the pages you see here as static pages on my machine and then uploads them using rsync. The advantage to this is that I get to write all my posts using Markdown, which is much more pleasant than writing raw HTML, and that it doesn’t require PHP, SQL, or anything beyond a server capable of fetching and serving static pages. As such, hosting gets really cheap, really quickly, and I don’t need to worry about security updates and whatnot for my blogging software. It also gives me the opportunity to mess around with the styling using CSS, which, I’ll admit, has become a bit of a hobby.

Although I once featured comments on the site using Disqus, this too has been disabled, to speed up the site, and to reduce the amount of creepy ad tracking in the world. You should probably install an Ad-Blocker and Tracking Prevention tool, for use on other sites.

Finally, this site is a Textdrive refugee (following the Joyent Lifetime Debacle and the ‘Textugees’’ subsequent abandonment). It’s currently hosted with asmallorange who handle the tiny amount of traffic it gets fairly well.