I love Lexicon Valley, the podcast on linguistics. In a show from June, titled The tragedy of English spelling, John McWhorter (upper picture) interviewed Anatoly Liberman (lower picture). Let that line-up sink in for a second: both of them are not only highly regarded professionals, they’re also great popularisers of the science of language. As an admirer of both men, I was listening breathlessly.
And then, along comes this adorable passage.
Here are – I repeat – two renowned linguists. They are discussing language change. And then all of a sudden, they own up – McWhorter half-heartedly, Liberman without holding back – to a sentiment that I share and that I’ve expressed elsewhere, but always with a pang of guilt.
Here’s the passage:
Liberman: ‘I’m quite conservative when it comes to language change. It’s very interesting and very inspiring to study the history of language. It’s rather disgusting to be part of it. Haven’t you felt that? We all have that feeling.’
McWhorter: ‘I don’t like to admit that I feel it, but I know what you mean.’
What a relief. It happens to the best of us.