Thursday, December 31, 2015

10 years on

This year marks the end of Jabal al-Lughat's first decade. Hard to believe I've been doing this for ten years - when I wrote my first post (on N'Ko) in 2005, I formally hadn't even begun to study linguistics! It's been a great way to explore ideas not yet ready for writing up, to record observations or resources, and, sometimes, to get in touch with interesting people. This date seems as good an excuse as any to thank you all for your comments and support, and to wish you all a happy 2016.

It's been interesting to observe the changes in blogging over the years. When I started in 2005, the "blogosphere" was still new enough to be vaguely trendy. The term had apparently caught on in 2002, and that's also when linguistics blogging started to be a thing; Language Hat was started in 2002, and Language Log in 2003. Blogs tended to link to each other a lot, and you could follow the links back to see who was discussing what you had posted and in what context. However, that gradually changed sometime around 2011 or so, as Twitter and Facebook took over (a phenomenon that very much struck Hossein Derakhshan upon his release). For a long time now, most of my inbound links that aren't Google searches have been those shortened URLs habitually used by Twitter, or Facebook pages accessible only to somebody and their friends. Blogs are probably more numerous than ever, but I'm barely seeing a blogosphere any more, in the sense of an ecosystem of blogs interacting with one another; rather, most of it seems to be feeding into two big private aggregators, and a lot of the conversation is taking place there directly, with no blogs involved.

In case you were wondering: the pageview records only go back to 2010, but over the past five years, my top ten most popular posts have apparently been:

  1. Does Arabic have the most words? Don't believe the hype (2013 - almost 3 times as many views as the next one)
  2. Kabyle dialect geography and the Kutama-Zwawa divide (2006)
  3. How different are Egyptian and Algerian Arabic, really? (2013)
  4. Gaddafi Jr's speech (2011)
  5. Who has more than 40 words for camels? (2007)
  6. No, Berber isn't descended from Arabic (2009)
  7. A little mystery: an unidentified Indic language in the Genizah collection (2013)
  8. Wikileaks and Algeria's "language crisis" (2011)
  9. Language use in Tunisian politics (2011)
  10. Beni-Snous: Two unrelated phonetic forms for every noun? (2009)

All but two of these posts feature Arabic; apparently, rather more Internet users are interested in Arabic than in Berber or Songhay, understandably I suppose. Most of them wouldn't be anywhere near my own top ten; indeed, two of them are just quick and dirty passing comments on current events, with no further relevance. However, the Beni-Snous one seemed important enough to me that I gradually ended up developing it into an article: Syntactically obligatory code-switching? The syntax of numerals in Beni-Snous Berber. Of wider interest are several posts addressing popular conceptions and misconceptions: No, Berber isn't descended from Arabic and Does Arabic have the most words? Don't believe the hype remain fairly accessible debunkings of myths that unfortunately remain popular, while How different are Egyptian and Algerian Arabic, really? takes a step towards quantifying a question usually discussed much more impressionistically. Wikileaks and Algeria's "language crisis" also kind of fits this category, addressing misconceptions about Algerian sociolinguistics that seem to affect quite a few decision-makers.

So if I wanted to make this blog more popular, it seems that the way to do it would be to start posting regularly about popular myths about Arabic as reflected in current news stories. Needless to say, that's not in my plans - as long as I have anything to say about it, most postings here will continue to be esoteric, eclectic, sporadic, and of limited interest.


John Cowan said...

Hurrah for the esoteric, eclectic, and sporadic World Wide Web! It was, after all, where the Web began: there's nothing wildly popular about CERN.

PhoeniX said...


I've never quite considered it, but you're absolutely right that the 'blogosphere', which really was a thing when you (and I) started blogging has basically disappeared. I kind of miss that. Any ideas about a format that could make something akin to that reappear?

nginarra said...

Congrats on the milestone! A nice reflection on what the old 'blogosphere' has evolved into. Glad to see you keep on keeping on. Our blogging has gone through its most untrendy phase now. My prediction is that we'll be super cool in about two years time! Haha. :)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

John: And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time...

PhoeniX: Me too! I'm not sure there's anything we can do to reverse the domination of Twitter and Facebook, but live blogrolls at least help a little to restore that sense of interconnection. I also have the impression that there's more interaction happening on Tumblr, but somehow that platform just seems to have too much of a cutesy emo undergrad vibe to take seriously.

Nginarra: Give it another few years and with any luck we'll be retro chic :)

Y said...

Thank you for your persistence!

As it happens, blogs like yours are one of the only sources for current linguistic research for non-professionals, or for professional linguists in other specialties. Anyone can go to the science section of the news or to any number of popular science periodicals and learn about graphene, or black holes, or bower-birds. There's nothing like that for linguistics. The contact situations in Korandjé and Siwa are fascinating, and I wouldn't have known about them if not through your blog, and I daresay researchers interested in contact but not following the specialist journals may have learned about them here as well. I knew nothing about Berber except that it is AA and has funny phonetics, and knew nothing about Songhay except that it's a language nobody knows how to classify, until I started reading your blog. Carry on, and I hope more specialists will follow your example. Don't worry about the 'blogosphere'.

(P.S., I'd love it if you wrote about the historical phonology of Berber. Why do some Berber languages have initial geminates? How unique is Tashlhiyt phonology compared to other Berber languages?)

Languagehat said...

A belated happy blogiversary, and I am in total agreement about the dissipation of the blogosphere -- while I appreciate the value FB and Twitter provide, I am furious about what they have done to blogs. Some of my favorite blogs have gone silent as their proprietors confine themselves to Facebooking and tweeting. Doesn't it bother anyone that their thoughts simply sink into the seabed instead of staying around for years to inspire conversation? Bah! Anyway, congratulations, and don't you dare start tweeting instead!

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Y, Languagehat: Thank you for your kind comments!

Y: I'll bear that in mind, but you might also want to check out PhoeniX's blog for that: .

Yacine Messaoui said...

It s bit late to wish your blog happy anniversary but better late than never. I have been following your blog for years, not on a regular basis but rather in some sort of binge reading way. After months of busy life, I come back to it when a big event takes place hoping that you will write about it through your linguistics lens and then I cannot to stop as all posts seem to be so interesting.

What I find appealing about your blog is the relation you make to the current affair events while sticking to the linguistics angle.

Writing about linguistics, like any other academic topic, can be very technical and boring but the difference of Jabal lughat is to use linguistics to better discover, understand and question the world.
As for the blogosphere and social networks, I think that a Jabal al-lughat FB, medium page or Twitter account is not a bad idea after all. It can allow you to engage with a wider community about the linguistic discipline and the topics you research. I bet that you may find more songhay, kabyle and Siwi people on FB than on It can also be a way of democratizing this discipline and may be dream that one day it could be acknowledged that it is not less important than physics or drawing. After all one can argue that children at school may be better off understanding some linguistics basics which can help them improve their communication skills rather than learning by heart the world capitals or any other silly info which can now easily be googled :)

Till then keep up the good work!