When I joined the Lingua Franca blog in 2012, I felt sure I would run out of things to write about long before the venue would disappear. I never knew how I landed on the radar squarely enough to be invited to be a blogger — and I was reluctant to ask for fear the powers that be might suddenly realize that I, in fact, had no blogging credentials to speak of (or not to speak of — they just didn’t exist). But I was excited about the chance to write for a broader audience about language, from a linguist’s perspective — and to challenge, sometimes seriously and sometimes playfully, what readers might think they know about what is and isn’t “good” or “right” in the English language.
I feel lucky to have been on board the blog for over six years, and I am sad to see the blog end next week. I have learned from my fellow bloggers on a weekly basis, and from all of you who read the blog. I have benefited from working with our very talented editor, Heidi Landecker, whose enthusiasm for our work has been invigorating. Every time over these six years that I have thought (probably accurately), “I am too busy for this,” I would then realize I had an idea that I was keen on sharing with all of you.
I am using this final post to reflect on a few things I have learned from writing for Lingua Franca. Let’s start with five random observations:
- Every other week comes around much faster than you expect. Much faster than you even think possible, actually. I have great admiration for my fellow bloggers who have been posting every week!
- My family and I are not the only folks out there to use the word plog. I am delighted by this fact.
- I have been blogging long enough that I can now learn new things by reading blog posts that I wrote a few years ago. I’m trying to pretend this is not a middle-aged brain thing.
- Someone at Reynolds Consumer Products reads (or at least has read) Lingua Franca. About a week after I wrote the post about my genericization of Reynolds Wrap, a large box arrived at my office. I opened it to discover a multiyear supply of Reynolds Wrap with a personal note that made me laugh out loud. (Photo above.)
- One foolproof way to make the comment section explode: Blog on singular they. I’m not kidding. There remains a strikingly hearty appetite for debating this construction and prescriptive rules around it. More interesting to me, though, is how far the conversation has progressed over the six years that I have been blogging. My first post on singular they described my advice to students to footnote the pronoun’s use in formal writing. As I have written about more recently, I now no longer proffer this advice, given the significantly wider acceptance of singular they in published writing and style guides. Lingua Franca has been my singular they diary.
Looking back over six years’ worth of writing, I see a mix of posts about language oddities that I have noticed (from the ubiquitous “perfect!” to my pronunciation of islet and mischievous to the surprising history of fizzle) and about the language concerns that others have shared with me (such as based off (of), more importantly vs. more important, and the response “no problem” to “thank you”). My goal in writing about all of these observations (some of which are presented to me as peeves rather than observations) has been to spark curiosity about and acceptance of language variation and change, rather than fuel anxiety about it. And I am aware that this stance has created some anxiety among readers. How can I be a responsible instructor (and not just an instructor, but an English professor!) with this kind of live-and-let-live attitude about language?
In fact, writing about teaching has been one of the most rewarding and sometimes challenging parts of blogging for Lingua Franca. I have deeply appreciated the opportunity to share some of the pedagogical strategies that have worked well for me as a teacher of writing (e.g., not asking students to start with a thesis statement and authorizing students to use footnotes) and as a teacher of linguistics (e.g., exploring dictionary usage labels and debating the definition of standard English). It has also been a privilege to share observations about language from students in my courses, including their suggestions for words that would benefit from spelling reform and their insights about what helps them learn in class. In the process, I have tried both to explain and to show how we can teach students about (a) the formal conventions of academic writing and what can be at stake in adhering to them in formal settings, while (b) simultaneously embracing the creativity of a living language (in slang, texting, and many other places) and acknowledging the illogic of some of the formal conventions that we are asked to follow. Some of these posts about teaching, such as “Dinging for Grammatical Errors” and “For the Fun of It,” have taken me hours and hours as I try to distill into 1,000 words or less (yes, less — I just can’t write fewer there) a pedagogical philosophy that I know runs counter to what many people have learned is “right” and “wrong” in the English classroom. I know that not all readers have been convinced by these posts, but I hope I have made a persuasive case that there is another legitimate way to approach the teaching of usage.
I firmly believe that the readers of Lingua Franca and all of us who blog for Lingua Franca share much more than we don’t. Sure, we may disagree sometimes about a usage rule or a way to think about a new linguistic development. But we all care deeply about language, and as part of that caring, we carefully observe the quirks and shifts and variants of language. My hope is that we can find more cause for joy and curiosity about how language works than cause for concern that something is somehow wrong, as we observe the vibrant goings-on of a living, changing language all around us.
I suppose, maybe, there’s some good in my not having to witness myself run out of ideas to blog about. But I’ll miss the conversation here at Lingua Franca, as a reader and a blogger. It has enriched my life as a linguist to be part of this conversation.