Sunday, 2 August 2015

I'm in a book

    I was looking in Blackwell's bookshop the other day - the big famous bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford - and I came across The Indo-European Controversy by Asya Pereltsvaig and Martin Lewis in the linguistics section. The book is about the controversy surrounding Indo-European origins (unsurprisingly), and more specifically about some of the sillier articles on the subject and their coverage in the media. Pereltsvaig and Lewis covered the same topics on their (former) joint blog, Geocurrents, which I strongly recommend. There's some great stuff there.

    Anyway, I blogged about Indo-European a couple of times back in 2012 when I was just starting to write here, and one of my posts was featured on Geocurrents. I knew Pereltsvaig and Lewis were writing a book on the topic. Having been featured on their site, I wondered if I might feature in the paper version. Lo and behold....

Page 49 of the book. Pages 49 and 50 are a discussion of my blogpost, which honestly felt weird to read in a paper format.
    I wrote the post in question in an hour or so and just hammered it out there without really thinking about it, and as Pereltsvaig and Lewis make clear in the book, I am being tongue-in-cheek about the idea of early Indo-European speakers being pot dealers. I can't say I intended it as a serious contribution to the debate on IE origins. I should also point out that I don't smoke cannabis (just in case you made that connection...).

    I wrote the post primarily because there's so much mythology surrounding proto-Indo-European and later IE developments. The 'Aryan' myth of early Bronze Age chariot-riders conquering their neighbours from the steppes has proven difficult to eliminate, I suppose because it sounds noble and dramatic and Wagnerian. There's actually much more support for IE drug-dealing than for conquering and chariot-riding in the available data - chariots appear on the scene long after PIE is thought to have broken up, while intoxicants could easily go way back and they have reconstructible names in most branches.

    I suppose it's flattering to see your work in a book, but it's a bit... embarrassing, really, that the first reference (that I'm aware of) to my blog in an academic text is about a throwaway post on ancient drug-dealing. I'm also not sure how I feel about blogposts being considered appropriate material for debunking 'fallacies in historical linguistics', as the subtitle has it. As one of the reviews says,

The vast majority of the authors' citations are to formal scholarly publications, and the bibliography for this volume is huge and shows a very well-rounded knowledge of linguistics and archaeology. I feel, however, that the book is weakened by the authors' decision to include some links to blog posts at informal or amateur websites, whether because they wanted to make the book more friendly to a mass audience or because they were approaching a deadline and needed to cite/link to something.

...which seems like a fair criticism. I remember bringing it up at the time on Geocurrents, but P&L seem to genuinely believe in the importance of amateur/blog-based discussion, which also seems fair.

    Still, I'll probably buy the book at some point, both because I'm referred to in it and because it's about a subject I'm (obviously) interested in. It was £65 in Blackwell's, which is a bit pricey, especially as I've recently bought several times my own weight in academic books. I could buy another book, but I want to keep saving money (and now that interest rates are so low...). It might be a good one to get for Christmas though.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the note on our book, Al. For those who are more likely to read blogs, here's my work on the Indo-European controversy in a blog format:


You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I would appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.