Piotr Pablo Paulsen’s Post-Prescriptivist Performance Piece
The editors of Speculative Grammarian are proud to
support myriad expressions of the linguistic arts.
We present to you here a special work composed by the famous linguistic performance artist, Piotr Pablo Paulsen of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“ ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ ”
Paulsen is well-known for his guerilla street theatre. For his most recent public work, Βασιλευς Λεαρ, Paulsen translated King Lear into ancient Greek, dropped all the consonants, and sang the resulting “polytonic vowel space,” in character and with costume changes, on a street corner in Philadelphia.
Another of Paulsen’s more famous works, Nude Infix Descending a Syntax Tree, baffled and outraged many prescriptivists, to whom it symbolized the unintelligibility of modern linguistics. For this piece, Paulsen chalked on the ground of Trafalgar Square a large X-bar-style binary syntax tree for a complex sentence—chosen at random from Jacques Derrida’s 1967 opus, Of Grammatology. Paulsen traversed the tree from root to leaf, reciting the sentence at each node, inserting the well-known English infix, f**king, between the two constituent children of the node. At each node he flipped a coin to determine which
branch of the tree to descend next. When he reached the leaf node, he properly infixed f**king into the word found there.
“In language, the ignorant have prescribed laws to the learned.”
The British bobbies were unimpressed with Paulsen’s performance—citing him for using the F-word around children and, more seriously, doing so in the nude. Paulsen appealed to the local linguistics community for support, but professors at Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of London all declined to intervene, claiming the psychologically implausible infixation mechanism the piece evoked was theoretically inelegant. Paulsen spent six weeks in gaol—suffering for his art, as many great masters have done.
Clearly we are honored to have such a genius of the linguistic arts present a gem of absurdist stream-of-consciousness prose-poetry. Without further ado...
Late Monday Night Hard Rocking Christmas Trees (a Fable)
Once upon a time, sorta long ago, this guy, who couldn’t never be a prince of no kind, wrote an article for Speculative Grammarian. His article wasn’t good. It was bad. It was very bad. It was really bad. It was redundant and he made some mistakes that maybe no one ever made before. Run-on sentences. The article was written with some sentence fragments. It had misused passive voice. He used “it” a lot to talk about things he wrote about.
He managed to crudely dangle modifiers, split infinitives, and usually he screwed up his parallel structure. He used a lot’ve slang. He used contractions, and misspelled things. It had a lot of sentences starting with “he”. He didn’t proof-read, he didn’t proof-read, or check for typing erors. It was bad. It was really bad.
And he started sentences with conjunctions. It lacked organization, too. He uses big words he
didn’t know half-hazardly, trying to sound like he knew what he says. He got his tenses wrong. It was bad. Really bad. Fragments and it was redundant. Run-ons, too.
“Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.”
Finally he was done, and all it was lacking was a title to synthesize, symbolize and bring together and to stand for all the article was about. Problem was, it didn’t have much to synthesize, symbolize, bring together, or stand for. And the organization was really bad, too.
In desperation, he free associated until he got a name... sometimes he used second person and first person, too. You know, his cat’s name was Maynard. I always liked Maynard, myself. And there was some irrelevant information in there at places sometimes, and the organization was bad, and it had run-ons. Fragments, too. Repetitive, even. The name? Some bad rhetorical questions were thrown in, and no conclusion at the end was made; lacking organization.
And you can guess the name.