Sunday, October 7, 2007

Linguistics Wins Something!

Or not. The Ig Nobel prizes were handed out October 4 and the internets is abuzz. The prize winners are being blogged about fast and furiously. In particular, both Andrew Sullivan and Language Log have highlighted the Linguistics winner, a group who proved, and I quote:

rats sometimes cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards

So the linguistics winner of the Ig Nobel prize gets mention on major blogs. I would be slightly happier if it weren’t for the fact that there is no real Nobel Prize for linguistics. In fact, as far as I know, there isn’t a single major prize for linguistics at all.

Mathematics has the Fields Medal, Economics has a whole slew of prizes. But Wikipedia’s page List of prizes, medals, and awards does not even have a category for linguistics.

Joseph Stiglitz, a (real) Nobel Prize winning economist has made a convincing argument here that prizes are good for stimulating academic research. His point is that prizes are better than patents. I got the link from Greg Mankiw’s blog which presents some counter arguments. However, linguistics traditionally has neither prizes nor patent opportunities. Any wonder my field has spent 40 years mired in failed theories and vague assumptions.

Computational linguistics, whatever that is, has begun to bring some financial opportunities to linguistics, but that has only been in the last 10 years and those opportunities are pretty much restricted to engineers, not linguists.

What is the most effective way to financing and incentivize linguistics research?


Pedro said...

Yeah, there's no Nobel for math.

Chris said...

Fair enough.

Chris said...

NOTE: I originally mistakenly referred to a Nobel Prize in mathematics. Pedro rightly points out that there is no such thing. I have deleted the reference from the post.

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