Truthiness and language: Popular perception and fall-out

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


In this chapter I draw on popular perceptions of language as revealed in personal letters, emails, online commentary and general feedback I have received during my nearly 30 years involvement with language programs for radio and television (e.g. weekly language segments for public and commercial talkback radio around Australia and the tv program Can We Help). This work shows that even when linguists think they are getting the message across, people commonly fall back on what they “know” to be true. This comfortable knowledge often goes on to inform decisions that shape the life chances of others, affecting their employment opportunities, their social mobility, their personal relationships—and, as forensic linguists have shown, can even end up putting the wrong person in jail. For some time sociolinguists have been researching public opinion about language; the work I am reporting on here piggybacks on this research, and I hope is a further step towards a better and more constructive public discourse on linguistic issues, where language users (most especially educators, politicians, lawyers and those in the media) put well-researched principles of linguistics above what can be dangerously inaccurate views about how people speak (or should speak).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Art of Language
EditorsAnne Storch, RMW Dixon
Place of PublicationLeiden The Netherlands
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9789004510395
ISBN (Print)9789004510388
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameBrill's studies in language, cognition and culture
ISSN (Print)1879-5412


  • English language – truthiness – language attitudes – prescriptivism – verbal hygiene – folk linguistics – ignorance studies

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