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

Geoffrey K. Pullum

The University of Chicago Press 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995
Starting in 1983, Geoffrey Pullum published a series of informal columns in the journal Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, under the title "TOPIC... COMMENT". The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax is a complete collection of these, with new introductions.

The original audience consisted of professional linguists and a number of the columns do assume some background in linguistics. These include comments by Spock (of the Enterprise) on an interview with Chomsky, attempts to trace the origins of the unaccusative hypothesis and the discovery that natural languages are not necessarily context-free, and complaints about linguistics' obsession with philosophical issues and the demise of formal linguistics.

Other columns, while they will have particular appeal to linguists, should be enjoyed by anyone involved with academia. These include discussions of the failings of scientific journals and a short story about three academics working on a book while at a conference. The majority of the columns will have quite general appeal. Among other topics, Pullum deals with the stupidities of libel law (a textbook censored because its examples were considered libelous), the foolishness of certain typographical conventions (punctuation inside quotes), the ubiquitous nonsense about the number of Eskimo words for snow, and the dangers of the English First movement in the United States.

Clever, amusing, irreverent, and often informative (at least to this non-linguist), Pullum's columns definitely deserve their appearance in book form. I recommend The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax to anyone with an interest in linguistics and a sense of humour.

November 1995

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%T The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax
%S And Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language
%A Pullum, Geoffrey K.
%I The University of Chicago Press
%D 1991
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0226685349
%P x,236pp