Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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A is for Aardvark and author. The economic implications of having a last name with an early letter in the alphabet

Posted: Jul 26, 2014 12:07;
Last Modified: Jul 26, 2014 18:07


In many disciplines, when more than one researcher contributes to a paper, the authors are listed in terms of the relative contribution: the first author is assumed to have done the most work, the second the second most, and so on until the last position, which is often as prestigious as first.

In other disciplines, however, the tradition is to order author names alphabetically.

This can be unfair to authors whose names come later in the alphabet, because citation conventions for multiple author contributions usually spell out the names of only the first two or three authors.

But it turns out it can also have career and financial implications. As Marusic, Bosnjak, et al. (see?) report:

Economists calculated that with each letter closer to the front of the alphabet there was an increase in the probability to be tenured at top economy departments and receive professional recognition, as well as a significant increase of 0.41% in estimated salary return for an additional article with alphabetical authorship and a 3.3% chance that 1% lower ranked alphabet letter would increase total and annual publication output in mainstream economics journals (From Marusic, Ana, Lana Bosnjak, and Ana Jeroncic. 2011. “A Systematic Review of Research on the Meaning, Ethics and Practices of Authorship across Scholarly Disciplines.” PLoS ONE 6 (9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023477).).

On a positive note, it does give us new insults and methods of praise: “he’s so dumb he couldn’t get hired at Princeton even if his name began with double A!” Or “Rarer than a Zwierski in the Ivy league.”

See my followup: More on Aauthors and Aalphabetical placement


Grammar and identity: Prestige, gender, and sexual orientation

Posted: Feb 02, 2014 14:02;
Last Modified: Feb 02, 2014 14:02


A number of student in my grammar class have written essays about relative prestige in terms of grammar.

The Wikipedia has a very good entry on linguistic prestige (their linguistic entries are generally very good).

Particularly interesting for many, might be the section on gender and prestige. This section discusses what has become a rule of thumb in socio-linguistics, that men tend to speak a variety that is lower than their actual social class (i.e. is perceived by the speech community as being characteristic of a lower class) whereas women either speak at their social class level or above it.

The usual view is that men are the marked group in this (i.e. that is to say the reason for the difference is that men are doing something, rather than women). What it is thought is going on is that for men, the use of a lower class variety is a form of “covert prestige,” that is to say acquiring prestige in a counter-intuitive way by asserting a lack of prestige (sort of like a false humility or humble brag). In the case of men, this shows up in that they often claim to speak a lower dialect than they actually do.

There are some really neat studies of this. One recent one, cited by the Wikipedia, looks at Fraternity Brothers use of [n] rather than [ŋ] in words ending in – ing (most English speakers consider “dropping your g’s” in this context—that is to say using [n] rather than [ŋ] to be less prestigious).

Whether women speak a more prestigious dialect than their actual class or not is more of a subject of debate. Again the Wikipedia has some interesting references.

The foundational study in all this is William Labov’s famous study of “New York Shop Girls” and their use of /r/. New York city (and New England more generally) is a non-rhotic dialect area (meaning they drop the /r/ in words like Harvard or yard (broadly /havəd/ instead of /harvərd/ and /jad/ instead of /jard/) Since the second World War, however, rhotic pronunciation has been considered more prestigious. What Labov did was spend a day going round different department stores asking the sales clerks questions for which the answer was “the fourth floor.” His theory was that sales clerks in a higher end store (like Saks) would tend to be more rhotic (that is to say more likely to pronounce the /r/ in fourth) than those working in a lower end department store like Kleins. And that those in a mid-range store (like Macy’s) would be between the two in frequency.

The answer was exactly what he thought it would be:

the employees at Saks pronounced r most often, Macy’s employees pronounced r less often, and at S. Klein, seventy-nine percent of the respondents said no r at all. Another trend Labov noticed was that at all three of the stores, but Macy’s in particular, when prompted to say “fourth floor” a second time, employees were much more likely to pronounce the r (Wikipedia).

Finally, on a some what orthogonal note, there’s this study: Sexuality in Context: Variation and the Sociolinguistic Perception of Identity, Language in Society 36.4 (2007): 533-554.

This article illustrates the use of an empirical method for examining the perceptual identification of gayness in male speakers. It demonstrates how, by digitally manipulating the speech of isolated individuals, it is possible to obtain reliable evidence that pitch range and sibilant duration may act as indexical of a gay male identity. Further scrutiny of this result, however, illustrates that linguistic indexicality is not as straightforward as it originally appears. Subsequent analyses of the data highlight the ways in which the perceptual evaluation of sexuality is a highly contingent process, dependent upon a variety of sociolinguistic factors. An envelope of variation in listeners’ affective judgments of a speaker is shown to exist, and it is argued that research on the perception of identity must go beyond identification of salient features, and also consider when and why these features are not salient.


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