Assistant Professor’s Song
“I’ve Got a Little List”
from The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan
If you want a grammar theory that is governed well and bound,
I’ve got a little list! I’ve got a little list!
Of universal structures and abstractions quite profound
About which, I insist, a language must consist.
No matter that a native speaker cannot understand
Or figure out a single sample sentence on demand,
The fact remains that theses have been written on this stuff,
And I shan’t give up my theory even though it stands on fluff.
If real language data do not fit it well enough,
They ought to be dismissed! They ought to be dismissed!
They ought to be dismissed! Oh, they ought to be dismissed!
For they contradict his theory, which we really can’t resist.
An I.B.M. computer that can play grandmaster chess,
No power can resist (though Kasparov persist).
So it shall be the model for the grammar I profess
And put into my list. My publication list!
It doesn’t really matter what they say in Japanese
As long as it’s compatible with Pinker’s Mentalese.
The cultural anomalies my colleagues fret about,
Pragmatics and phonology—it makes me want to shout,
“If it isn’t linked to syntax, then you simply throw it out!”
For it never will be missed! It never will be missed!
It never will be missed! No, it never will be missed!
If it isn’t linked to syntax, then it doesn’t make the list.
And if syntactic theory doesn’t get me tenure soon,
I’ve made a little list, so I won’t be dismissed,
Of erudite alternatives to make my colleagues swoon
And give my case a twist—and shroud it in a mist!
A study of the pronouns used by queer medieval popes;
Some hermeneutic notes on later Hindustani tropes;
Plus references to Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, and Barthes—
A veritable pantheon, of which I’ll be a part,
For P&T committees are now all postmodernist.
I’m sure to make the list as a semioticist!
A semioticist! The Dean will sure be pissed!
He’ll be so abstruse and cryptic that he’ll never get dismissed!
(J. M. Unger)
“It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.”
—Franklin P. Jones