Research papers

It started in late April with Randall Munroe’s wry xkcd cartoon #2456, “Types of Scientific Paper”:


Though the cartoon is primarily gentle ridicule of the natural sciences, some of the topics are applicable to the social sciences as well: My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it; Some thoughts on how everyone else is bad at research. And several are adaptable to linguistics with only small changes: Check out this weird thing one of us heard while out for a walk; We ran experiments on some undergraduates.

The xkcd cartoon immediately set off an avalanche of variants in various specific fields, including at least two in areas of linguistics: Indo-European studies and syntax.

IE studies. A riff by Matthew Scarborough, posted on Twitter on 4/30 (and passed on on Facebook by Andrew Garrett):


About Scarborough, from the Academia site, in his own words:

I am a philologist and historical linguist focused mainly on the early history of the Ancient Greek dialects and also maintaining broad interests in Classical Studies, Indo-European comparative linguistics, philology, and etymology. In 2016 I completed a doctoral dissertation in the Faculty of Classics of the University of Cambridge entitled ‘The Aeolic Dialects of Ancient Greek: A Study in Historical Dialectology and Linguistic Classification’ … From 2015 to the end of 2018 I was employed by the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History [in Jena, Germany] to help develop IE-CoR (Indo-European Cognate Relationships), a database of lexical cognacy judgements for the Indo-European languages for Indo-European cladistic research.

Syntax. A riff posted on 5/1 on Twitter and on Facebook by George Walkden:


About Walkden: information extracted from his cv on-line:

Professor of English Linguistics and General Linguistics, University of Konstanz (appointed in 2017); previously Lecturer in English Linguistics, University of Manchester (2012-17); PhD in Linguistics, 2012, Clare College, University of Cambridge (dissertation: Syntactic Reconstruction and Proto-Germanic)

The genre of #2 and #3 vis-à-vis #1. The name of the genre: they’re versions of, copies of, imitations of, variations on, variants of, improvisations on, riffs on, or allusions to some model  — verbal, graphic, or graphic + verbal. Above I used the terms variant and (my current favorite) riff. Entries for these terms from NOAD (except where noted):

noun version: 1 a particular form of something differing in certain respects from an earlier form or other forms of the same type of thing: a revised version of the paper was produced for a later meeting | they produce yachts in both standard and master versions. …

noun copy: 1 a thing made to be similar or identical to another: the problem is telling which is the original document and which the copy. …

noun imitation: … 2 a thing intended to simulate or copy something else: [as modifier]: an imitation diamond.

noun variation: … 2 [a] a different or distinct form or version of something: hurling is an Irish variation of field hockey. [b] Music a version of a theme, modified in melody, rhythm, harmony, or ornamentation, so as to present it in a new but still recognizable form: there is an eleven-bar theme followed by seven variations and a coda | figurativevariations on the perennial theme of marital discord. …

noun variant: a form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard: clinically distinct variants of malaria | [as modifier]: a variant spelling.

noun improvisation, based on the verb improvise: [a] [with object] create and perform (music, drama, or verse) spontaneously or without preparation: [no object]: he was improvising to a backing of guitar chords | the ability to improvise operatic arias in any given style. …

[from AHD5] noun riff: 1. Music A short rhythmic phrase, especially one that is repeated in improvisation. 2. A repeated or varied theme, idea, or phrase: gave us another of his riffs on the decline of civilization.

noun allusion: [a] an expression [AZ: or image] designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference: an allusion to Shakespeare | a classical allusion.

Some related terms, again with entries (mostly) from NOAD:

noun parody: [a] an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect: the movie is a parody of the horror genre | his provocative use of parody. [b] an imitation or version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty: he seems like a parody of an educated Englishman.

noun burlesque: 1 [a] an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody: the funniest burlesque of opera | [as modifier]: burlesque Shakespearean stanzas. [b] humor that depends on comic imitation and exaggeration; absurdity: the argument descends into burlesque.

noun meme: 1 an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations. …

noun cover: … 3 (also cover version) a recording or performance of a previously recorded song made especially to take ad.vantage of the original’s success: the band played covers of Beatles songs.

[from AHD5] noun snowclone: A [AZ: formulaic] phrase or sentence made by substituting one or more words in a cliché, existing set phrase, or well-known sentence.

It’s a rich conceptual world.

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