The title saga

Back in February I posted about Michael Erard’s travails in (re)titling his book on hyperpolyglots, Babel No More (subtitle: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners) for his UK publisher, Gerald Duckworth. Duckworth’s disliked the American main title and argued for Superlinguists instead, but Michael (and other linguists, including me) objected. In the end, he thought they’d settled on Mezzofanti’s Gift as the main title. Now Michael has written me about the page for the book, which has this illustration:


But the page lists the book title as:

Mezzofanti’s Gift: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

I can’t wait to see what the book actually looks like.

Duckworth set off a literary alarm for me. From Wikipedia:

Gerald de l’Etang Duckworth (1870 – 28 September 1937) was a British publisher.

… Duckworth’s father died before his birth, and when he was eight his mother married the author Leslie Stephen, and had four more children: Virginia Stephen, later the author Virginia Woolf, the painter Vanessa Bell, and two sons, Thoby and Adrian Stephen. Woolf eventually accused Gerald and his elder brother, George, of having sexually abused her and Vanessa when they were children and teenagers. Nevertheless, Woolf published her first two novels with her brother’s help before forming the Hogarth Press.

Bloomsbury days.


4 Responses to “The title saga”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Michael:

    They are committed to Mezzofanti’s Gift, I heard this morning, and are waiting for Amazon to catch up. Still, my original observation stands: they were set to go with Superlinguists.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Michael Berch on Google+”

    One of the joys of living in 2013 is that it was possible for me to start reading your blog post, discover the existence of Babel No More, and purchase, download, and begin reading it before I even got to the bottom of the blog post. I do enjoy living in the future!

    As for the title issue, I have to say I’m not crazy about any of the main titles. It’s a tough one. Superlinguists is particularly unfortunate for the reasons you mention, but neither Babel No More (probably the best of the three) nor Mezzofanti’s Gift (who? what? WTF?) are really punchy.

    By the way, I have learned that the US DOD uses the term and job title “linguist” to mean translator and content analyst for non-English languages. One of the most desirable postings (in terms of salary bonuses) is as an “airborne combat linguist”, meaning you fly around Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan eavesdropping on people speaking Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, etc., while translating and analyzing content. No overlap with academic linguistics, and most DOD linguists do not have a degree in the subject or even in a language field of study.

  3. the ridger Says:

    The word linguist is in fact used for polyglot in the US Government, but in fact it meant “speaker of a second language” long before it meant “studyer of Language”. So the confusion is understandable, and even deserved. Perhaps philologist should have been retained (adopted?) in English to avoid this confusion – which is much wider spread than mere job titles. How often does “how many languages do you speak?” come as the first response to “I’m a linguist”?

  4. the ridger Says:

    Boy, I should have proofread that – too many “in fact”s. Also, meant to say I am a linguist (sense 1) by profession and also (sense 2) by avocation.

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