Saturday, April 7, 2007

LibraryThing and linguists and linguists who blog about LibraryThing

So I was reading this post by Arnold Zwicky over at Language Log, about LibraryThing and linguists. Well, more specifically about the LibraryThing group I Survived the Great Vowel Shift. He analyzes this list, available on the front page:
Top shared books (weighted):
  1. The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax, and other irreverent essays… by Geoffrey K. Pullum (23)
  2. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (77)
  3. The World's major languages (23)
  4. A course in phonetics by Peter Ladefoged (25)
  5. The language instinct by Steven Pinker (49)
  6. The Odyssey by Homer (78)
  7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (72)
  8. The complete works by William Shakespeare (72)
  9. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (69)
  10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (86)
If you're wondering about the ordering, it's because of LibraryThing's weighting technique. Although I poked around the site a good bit, I wasn't able to find an explanation of weighting, but I had a hypothesis and I tested it with my trusty graphing calculator, and it held. What this ordering means, as fas as I can gather, is that it relates to the ownership within the group of a given work versus overall ownership of the work throughout LibraryThing. For example, only 23 members of the group own The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, but only 50 people on LibraryThing own it -- so 46% of people who have this book in their LibraryThing catalogs are members of this group! By contrast, 73 people in the group own The Name of the Rose, which seems like rather a lot more, until you realize that this is only about 1.9% of users who own the book. By the time you get to number 10, The Hobbit, you're down to .86%. The group zeitgeist also includes this contrasting list:
Top Shared Books (unweighted)
  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (86)
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (86)
  3. (83)
  4. (82)
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (82)
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (79)
  7. Harry Potter and the goblet of fire by J.K. Rowling (78)
  8. The Odyssey by Homer (78)
  9. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (77)
  10. 1984 by George Orwell (73)
From this list, we discover little interesting. Apparently lots of people own The Hobbit! And they read Harry Potter! (Also there are apparently two different works whose title is merely a spacebar . . .) (And a sidenote: I would suspect that the reason that The Hobbit, beats out The Lord of the Rings so soundly in terms of ownership, no matter where one looks on LibraryThing, is because of the concept of what defines a "work". An omnibus Lord of the Rings and a boxed set Lord of the Rings are obviously the same thing, but there are also three different works involved -- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, and LibraryThing doesn't currently have a way to acknowledge that. No, really, I was just reading about it.)

So, returning although the post that got me thinking about this by Arnold with a difficult last name says that Shakespeare and Homer beat out technical works of linguistics, technically he's right -- but then, Rowling and a spacebar beat out Shakespeare and Homer! And if you look at the numbers in a slightly different way (a way with division in it! Man, computers rock), technical works about linguistics dominate 4 out of the top 5 slots, which isn't so bad.

P.S. Another part of the analysis that stood out to me was
Tolkien and Pinker are no surprise to me; when I talk with young linguists about what got them into linguistics, Tolkien's invented languages and Pinker's Language Instinct figure prominently in their stories.
And speaking not as a young linguist, but a budding linguist (I used to use that term all the time, but had forgotten about it entirely until I ran into this group), I can definitively say that if I were to tell the entire story of what pulled me into linguistics, Pinker would figure rather prominently, and Tolkien would certainly figure somewhere.