As is widely known
become widely known as “The Linguistics Wars” unfolded in Montana in the spring of 2005. Over the course of a few days, several devastating attacks were launched between the Montana Morphemic Militia (M3)
“Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!”
The M3 was formed in 1996 by Elizabeth Kiraliçe and Carlowitz de la Voivodina, two retired career U.S. Army officers formerly attached to the F.E.B. A Freedom of Information Act
“It is with a word as with an arrow
Once the duplicity of the M3 founders became clear to the leaders of the F.E.B., the U.S. Army made clear their intentions to recover the stolen technology and shut down M3. Kiraliçe, de la Voivodina, and others in the M3 leadership took the offensive, and detonated the first language bomb at the F.E.B. Montana field office headquarters. F.E.B. retaliated in kind with a language bomb strike on the M3 compound. Counter strikes, counter counter
“I have been a believer in the magic of language since, at a very young age, I discovered that some words got me in trouble and others got me out.”
Below are excerpts taken from contemporary primary sources
April 1, 2005. A Determiner Disrupter was dropped by M3 on F.E.B. headquarters. From an internal F.E.B. memo that day:
Small language bomb seems to have been detonated at Battalion MT headquarters, rendering many Battalion staff incapable of using most determiners. Due to usual style of military communication, effects seem to be minimal, and key channels have not been disrupted. Paramilitary group M-
Cubed has claimed responsibility, but is unconfirmed at present time.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
April 2, 2005. A Vorpal De-
Second, more sophisticated language bomb detonates at Battalion MT headquarters today. Determiners still missing, but now staff only use simple present verb forms. Compound verbs and other tenses missing. Copula missing as well. Bomb damages gerunds for some speakers. Communications complicated, but judicious use of time adverbials compensates. CO suspects M-
Cubed and suggests retaliation.
Clearly the severity of the threat from M3 had become clear to F.E.B. by this time.
April 3, 2005. A Pronoun Impactor was dropped on the M3 compound by the F.E.B. From Elizabeth Kiraliçe’s personal diary:
First Earth has fought
back. Clearly First Earth is weak, in that the only bomb First Earth could concoct has destroyed pronouns. Ha! Like Elizabeth or M3 really need pronouns. Interactions are mildly delayed by the lack, but the lack hardly disrupts communication. Many of M3’s Morfimista allies are suggesting a switch to Spanish, which is pro-
“Words. Frail beasts of burden that crashed down to their knees under what she wanted to say.”—Fannie Hurst
drop. Ha! M3 will prevail!
April 5, 2005. In the morning F.E.B. launched a Plurals Pounder at M3. M3 retaliated in the afternoon with an Agreement Randomizer. For the first time, it becomes clear that the effects of attacks on both sides are affecting the general populace. From a regional newspaper’s April 5 Evening Edition:
Many local resident today reports exceptionally odd speaking behavior from many local resident and many local resident’s neighbor. Seems that resident’s very ability to speak resident’s native language deteriorates. Many resident blame multiple explosion reports by some at local U.S. Army post, and also in forest near known paramilitary compound. Nothing clear at current time, though.
April 9, 2005. A series of
“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.”
—Peter Finley Dunne
From an F.E.B. internal email from April 8:
D*mn communucotions becemes much more severely ovor course of last few f*ckung days damage. Beceme d*mn nightmære Commahnd and Control, and ordors routunely misinderstands, or complotely in-
f*ckung*- cemprehensible. Sh*t! Our attompts at countor attacks less than maximally productuve, as seem f*ckung suporior to ours their technelegy.
From de la Voivodina’s lab notes of April 9:
While M3’s technological sophistication increases, Bjork! First Earth’s response of the bomb M3 devises seem more and more like Bjork! pale copy. Clearly M3 crippled First Earth’s technical ability Bjork! and of robust innovation any chance First Earth had when Elizabeth Bjork! and Carlowitz left. Bjork! Bjork! No single government should Bjork! wield the power First Earth does. Bjork! With M3’s latest advance, from a weapon M3 is but one step and a half which may well to the whole First Earth Battalion Bjork! give the coup de grace. Bjork! Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!
From the transcript of a local news broadcast the morning of April 10:
Of f*ckung persen thousahnd yesterday Bjork! begins area fleeing Grunt! after hear news that between local offuce of U.S. Armoo’s Battahluon First Earth Woof! Woof! Aoooooo! and infæmiss linguistic paræmilitary group knows as sh*tty Montahna f*ckung Morphoomuc Burp! Militia, “Linguistic Bjork! War” breaks out. Of confluct f*ckung horrufuing side effect speaks d*mn English to many persen’s abuluty incleede irrepæræble damæge. Of both d*mn Swedish and f*ckung Turkush tourusts Bjork! in both native languæges Bjork! visiting groups reperts odd effects also. Grunt! Bjork! Belch!
April 15, 2005. After several days of quiet,
“Learn a new language and get a new soul.”
Bjorrrk! Who hearrr and f*ckung compolohonds d*mn messæge to anywen. Beteween Almoo base herrre Bjolk! and gorrroup of sh*tty sulvuvarrrusut rrringuisit Bjorrrk! goes on totol compoloote arrr out warrr. Many pelsen’s d*mn rrranguæge Bjolk! and many pelsen’s f*ckung rrrives d*mn Arrrmoo base and many Grunt! surrrvuvalusut linguisit deseterrreys. Bark! Woof! Barrrk! Many perrrsen in corrrossfurrr helepless hoperrross disitirrræght victim catches. D*mn! D*mn! Bjorrrk! Bjolk! F*ck! Alorrrot pelease Burp! federrrahl authorrruty Bjolk! and send immediæterrry withight derrray light now help! Bjolk! Grunt! Bjorrrk! Belch! Bjorrrk! Burp! D*mmit arr to h*rr!
[A rough translation is provided below.]
To anyone who hears and comprehends this message. There is an all out war going on between the Army base here and a group of survivalist linguists. They have destroyed many people’s language, as well as their lives. We are helpless victims caught in the crossfire. Please alert the federal authorities and send help immediately.
This sad message repeated for four more days before the federal government finally stepped in to help.
“The word ‘good’ has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”
—G. K. Chesterton
At this point the exact sequence of events becomes very unclear. There are theories that the rapid language changes interacted in unpredictable ways in the language centers of the people affected, or that the direct effects of the language bombs overlapped to create new effects. Wavelet theories of grammaticalization have been invoked to explain the snippets of mangled language that escaped the effected area, as have the Heisenberg Ungrammaticality Principle, Phoneme/
April 19, 2005. Eventually, U.S. military brass attempted to take control of the situation by threatening both sides of the confrontation with annihilation from tactical nukes. By that time the effects of the language bombs were so severe that neither side could properly comprehend the threat, and neither stepped down. A Dynamic Dyslexifier, identified by the mangled remains, was launched but shot down by a Patriot Missile. A similar fate befell a Diachronic Deleter, a Synchronic Scrambler, and no less than three Phonetic Filibusters. But over one hundred more weapons were launched, and the contents of their payloads we will never know, because the final weapon deployed was a Blank Slate.
Conspiracy theorists like to suggest that the federal government launched the Blank Slate to end the conflict, but there is no good evidence to support this position. Most arguments for laying the
“Such an adventure as this
The Blank Slate effectively reset the language centers of all it affected to their pre-
Clearly, there is much to learn, linguistically and politically, from the folly of these Linguistics Wars. And learn we must, lest we be doomed to repeat this tragedy.
The Linguistics Wars, Randy Allen Harris, Oxford University Press, 1993.
The Men Who Stare At Goats, Jon Ronson, Simon & Schuster, 2005.