Linguists from across Zoom gathered to raise scholarship funds and answer the question, “What is a squib?”
“What is a squib, what is a Squibber scholarship? Well squibs are mysteries. We linguists when we find something that we don’t understand we poke at it and it pokes at us and sometimes we work on it sometimes for a year, or ten years, sometimes we never get anywhere with it because it’s so hard,” says John ‘Haj’ Ross is a linguist poet, author, artist and Professor at the University of North Texas, Department of Linguistics.
Ross joined the department more than 25 years ago. The Haj Ross Squibber Scholarship is endowed in his name to support linguistics students during matriculation at the University of North Texas. The Zoom event offered a unique format and opportunity for people to safely engage to support the scholarship during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Introducing the guest of honor, Sadaf Munshi, the Chair of the Linguistics Department told the audience, “Haj played a role in generative semantics along with great thinkers like George Lakoff, James McCawley, and Paul Postal. His 1967 MIT dissertation is a landmark in syntactic theory and documents.”
In recognition of Ross’s love of music, the event included a performance by Ehsan Matoori, a musical guest from Kashmir. The online format allowed for plenty of interaction through an interactive Linguistics quiz was created to keep people engaged. By the end of the evening, the group raised $2,850! Not only, that by the end of the evening most everyone understood what a “squib” is.
In closing Ross eagerly gave another lesson about Squibbs, “I will give you a very easy one, English has two ways of negating adjectives so you can say happy and unhappy, proud and unproud but you can also say possible and impossible and decent and indecent, why can’t you say undecent, why can't you say unpossible? Well, it turns out we know …that it’s because possible comes to English through Latin and all of the words whose negative start with in or im they come from Latin and the ones that start with un they come from Germanic sources...
He ran up the hill
He ran up the bill
He ran the bill up
He ran the hill up
That mystery is called a squib!” says Ross. The Squibber scholarship supports student discovery of grammar through study of such puzzles. If you haven’t gotten around to donating you can find the link to the fundraising page here.