What squibs are

Squibs are short notes about kinky facts of language. They may occasionally be welcome, in that they provide evidence for someone’s pet theory. Most frequently, however, they are rambunctious, insolent, nose-thumbing bazookas, taunting theoreticians of every stripe, daring them to stretch their minds enough to wrap around the damned facts the squibs call to our attention. In Athenian Greece, poets were not allowed to be citizens – they were too unpredictable, irreverent. Squibs are the poets sneering outside the walls of Theoretopolis, mocking us. But with luck, squibs become seeds.

What Squibnet is

Linguists call short notes about some facet of language squibs. Recent work in syntax (the branch of linguistics concerned with the structure of phrases and clauses) has depended heavily these squibs; four syntactic journals have regular squib columns, and one on-line journal publishes only squibs. I have a manuscript collection of around 4700 of my own squibs, which have arisen in four decades of my research. They have been scanned, and I intend to have them converted to html format and put on the web. Tyler Utt will be helping me with this large task. Ideally, this site – Squibnet – will allow other researchers to add comments and improvements. I have never put up a wiki site, but I hope that something like that will allow the syntactic conversation to flow easily. Many of these squibs call attention to phenomena not previously observed, or to problems with no currently attractive analyses. I am hopeful that the site will serve as a magnet for students of syntax, many of whom have to find an underexplored topic on which to write a term paper.

While the site will start with my own unpublished observations, my intention is to cross-index all of the squibs, linking any number of them which bear on each other, but also to link them to relevant literature and/or to researchers who have worked on related problems, and/or to other people’s squibs. With luck, Squibnet may become something like a syntactic meeting place, and a breeding ground for other squibs and (dis)agreements about syntacticians’ feelings about them. A happy announcement: Paul Postal has been keeping a squib archive of his own, and has offered these files (there is one for every year from 1992 ro 2002, except for 1994, which has vanished, Paul tells me). So this is excellent news, of just the kind that I was hoping for. I of course realize that what I have written falls far short of describing the possible outcomes of my project with any specificity. I think that the possible eventual benefits, for the advancement of research in the world of syntax in general, may be significant enough to warrant funding this request, a course of action I intend to pursue as soon as enough of Squibnet has made it into electrons to enable people to assess its potentialities. Please let me know of all goofs and missed opportunities.

Haj Ross