Linguistically-inspired band names

As I finished that last post, this Language Log post popped up in my RSS reader. It’s Mark Liberman’s third attempt to summarize some of what’s happening in the “linguablogosphere”. In the first one (back in May 2004), Mark wrote:

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed reading this morning, just browsing our blogroll from B to D (I’ll start from some other point in the alphabet tomorrow)

Mark’s a busy guy, and there’s a lot of linguablogosphere to cover: “tomorrow” became September 2004, when Mark wrote:

It’s getting to be pretty hard to keep with the language-related blogosphere.

That day, Mark went from A to C. So now it’s February 2005, and Mark has started over from the beginning of the alphabet, going from A to E.

21 letters to go — but I have to go shopping for dinner. I’ll continue the journey tomorrow. Apologies to anyone I’ve missed; this dense, scholarly blogging stuff is hard to do in a hurry.

At this rate, I’m thinking I should rename this blog “AAA-phonoloblog” or something. Or, Mark might try hitting his blogroll randomly instead of alphabetically. (Note that my blogroll is displayed randomly; maybe this isn’t something you can do with MovableType? Too bad.)

ANYWAY, the last linguablog that Mark mentions in this third post is Experimental Linguistics (“posts from graduate students at Yale Linguistics, now posting from two continents”), where “LO” (= “Linguistic Object”?) recently commented on the Canadian hip-hop band name Fatal Phonetics. LO writes:

I am not sure if they will ever make it, but the name does not seem to help. But it is quite funny the idea to name your band with some linguistic inspiration. What about “sympathetic syntax”, “phreakin phonology”, etc.

Having played in a few bands with other linguists, the topic of linguistically-inspired band names has come up a couple of times, with hit-and-miss results.

The first band I was in was called The Floating Tones — we played at the 1991 Linguistic Institute at UC Santa Cruz (and this was before I had decided to actually become a linguist, and it was probably the reason why I decided that becoming a linguist might not be such a bad idea). (See Note 1.)

The second band was called Sloppy Identity, which played at the 1993 Linguistics Institute at Ohio State. (See Note 2.) I was hoping we’d be The Headless Relatives instead, but I was somehow overruled. Too bad.

In between these two bands I played a few times with Jaye Padgett (guitar). We were later joined by Chris Kennedy (bass), and one day the three of us almost played with Geoff Pullum (who would have played guitar, but alas, it didn’t work out). Throughout grad school, me and my buddy Ed Keer often played with several other linguists (see Note 3). But these jam sessions were mostly for fun and we never gave any thought to band names. (I did think that the title of my dissertation, Harmony, Dominance and Control, could have been a good band name — or at least a good descriptor of some Goth Rock band.)

Now I’m in a band with some polisci grad students at UCSD. We’re throwing around some possible band names, and one of them is Remedial Syntax Workshop (not my idea, really). It probably won’t fly, but the linguistically-inspired band name theme is clear.


  1. Apart from me (on drums), The Floating Tones were: Jennifer Arnold (viola), Spike Gildea (guitar, vocals), Michael Herweg (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Shelley Waksler and Amy Heilman (vocals), Ivan Sag (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), and the late, great Derek Gross (guitar, vocals, songwriting). If you were at the 1991 Institute and saw us play, you probably thought we sucked. We were playing more for ourselves, anyway. (back)

  2. Ivan Sag put this band together and played keyboards as well as overall band leader. I had a lot of fun with these folks, but sadly I don’t remember everybody who was in it. We practiced for all of two days and played one party, so it’s not like we really bonded or anything. I did figure out, years later, that one of the guitarists was Steve Wechsler — but only because I went to the 2002 TLS/SWOT meeting and was put up at Steve’s house. We spent the first hour after we met trying to figure out why we each looked so familiar to the other, and then something clicked. Very weird. (back)

  3. Among them Brett Hyde (country vocals), Alan Prince (guitar), Viviane Déprez (punk rock vocals), Takeo Kurafuji (Van Halen guitar), Bruce Hall (sweet Gretsch guitar), Joe Pater (discowpunk guitar) … (back)