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The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  65 ratings  ·  11 reviews
How reliable are all those stories about the number of Eskimo words for snow? How can lamps, flags, and parrots be libelous? How might Star Trek's Commander Spock react to Noam Chomsky's theories of language? These and many other odd questions are typical topics in this collection of essays that present an occasionally zany, often wry, but always fascinating look at langua ...more
Paperback, 236 pages
Published July 9th 1991 by University Of Chicago Press (first published July 1st 1991)
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Everyone who works with linguistics knows and admires Geoff Pullum, and the title piece, which you can read online here, is pure gold. You don't need to be a linguist yourself to find it very amusing. A few quotes to try and persuade you to check it out:
It is in the scholarly community that we ought to find a certain immunity, or at least resistance, to uncritical acceptance of myths, fables and misinformation. But sadly, the academic profession shows a strong tendency to create stable and self-
This is a collection of Pullum's lighthearted editorial comments that appeared in the journal Natural Language and Linguistic Theory in the 1980s. I got it to read the title essay, on the frequently misunderstood number and significance of Eskimo snow words. That essay is polemical and funny, but I recommend supplementing it with the original Laura Martin paper (which you can get on Jstor) that Pullum's essay is based on.

The final section of the book, "Professional Fantasies", is pretty enterta
This book was cited by Trask as an engaging series of short essays on language and linguistics, including a detailed background of the myth that Eskimos have twelve or fifty or two hundred words for "snow". That story was indeed interesting (the author condemned it more as sloppy research than prejudice) but the rest of the stories were just inside jokes about the linguistics publishing community and made absolutely no sense to me.
Some of the stuff went over my head because I don't have a degree in linguistics, but his writing style is humorous and the essay about words for snow is interesting.
Elizabeth S
Some essays were worth 4 stars, some 3 stars, and some 2 stars. Giving the book as a whole 3 stars.

Favorite essays: "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" (of course), "Stalking the Perfect Journal," and "A Guest of the State"

Other reviewers have said that many of the jokes are inside linguistics jokes. That is somewhat true. I am not a linguist by any means. But as a computer scientist I have touched the edge of linguistics enough to know who Noam Chomsky is and what a non-context grammar is. Even
I was hoping for something interesting, but accessible to the non-linguist. This book was neither. While I'm sure this book is fascinating for linguists, I found it very dense and hard to read. Granted, I know very little about linguistics as a discipline, but I do read some pretty challenging, cognitively-complex material and I still couldn’t get through an entire essay in this collection. After an hour or so of skimming and reading the start of a number of essays, I give up on this one. Also – ...more
A collection of Geoffrey Pullum's essays from the "Topic... Comment" column of Natural Language and Linguistic Theory (1983-89). Unless you are a big fan of Pullum's humour, ... but even then there is Language Log. Definitely worth reading is the essay on the Great Eskimo Hoax (can be found online) so that everyone finally knows that ``C. W. Schultz-Lorentzen's dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) gives just two possibly relevant roots: 'quanik', meaning 'snow in the air' or ...more
Really super funny
I enjoyed this a lot, but chose to read it for the title essay debunking the Inuit snow vocabulary myth - I have even had PROFESSORS tell this as gospel truth, rather than some philological game of telephone. And, as Steven Pinker said (paraphrasing here), even if it was true - who cares? They LIVE in snow & ice, it would be reasonable they would have terms for it other cultures would not.
If you have any interest in linguistics and you are willing to skip sections that you cannot understand, this is the book for you.
Nov 23, 2009 Matt added it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Wow, I am utterly NOT the audience for this book. I took some lit crit in college and still was in WAY over my head.
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Geoffrey K. Pullum is a British-American linguist and regular contributor to Language Log. He has taught at the University of Washington; Stanford University; University of California, Santa Cruz; and University of Edinburgh.
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