Safety precautions for data mining expeditions—Prof. S.N.L. Ingqvist SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 2 Contents Inside <i>SpecGram</i>: A view from the front lines—Skip Tacular
Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another installment of indeterminate regularity in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

The Laziest Language on Earth

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of the Perry So-so 0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 61

Introduction

Back in 1922, my Historical Linguistics professor, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, noted that ease of articulation is a driving force in language changehence the regular occurrence of lenition rulesbut the opposing need to maintain a clear communication channel prevents everything from degenerating to a long low mid vowel.

Turns out he was wrong.

Anthropologic Background

The Perry So-so don’t really seem to care how well they communicate; they live in an amazingly fertile valley, and work an average of 12 minutes a week, gathering food. They sell the excess (about 70% of what they gather) to pay for luxury items, mostly sweets, cable TV, and video games.

Unlike many tribes that are in danger of losing their identities after extended contact with wider civilization, the Perry So-so lose very few members of their community to the lure of the big city. In fact, their numbers are slowly but steadily growing as people shuck off their cares, drop out of the rat race, and come here to sit back and stop trying so hard. I call this group “the dropouts”.

Linguistic Data

The only phoneme in Perry So-so is /ə/, but vowel length(:) and tone(↑/↓) are distinctive.

A short glossary illustrates pretty much the entire language.

ə   yes, sure, whatever, uh huh, acknowledgment of message received.
ə↑what?, who?, when?, why?, where?, how?, question, whatever
ə↓no, I don’t think so, whatever
ə↑↓I dunno, whatever
ə:um, uh, mild discomfort, feigned interest, whatever
ə↑:moderate discomfort
ə↑::extreme discomfort
ə::mild boredom, lack of interest, whatever
ə:::moderate boredom, whatever
ə::::extreme boredom, whatever
ə↓:mild disgust, distastefulness, whatever
ə↓::moderate disgust, unhappiness, displeasure
ə:::::::::::::::::::::zen meditation

There is also an artificial construct used by a very small minority of Perry So-sodiametrically opposed to the dropoutswho wish to leave the Perry So-so community, but have not quite mustered the gumption required to learn a foreign/real language. Most damagingly to their goals, this small group has been uniformly unable to master any foreign/real phonemes, but they have created a kind of modulated codelike that used by computer modems in the old daysin which to communicate. They vary the tone and length of the one vowel of Perry So-so to transmit their subtler, more complex messages:

ə↑::::↓::↑:::↓::::↑::↓::↑::::::↓:::↑::::::↓::↑:::↓::↑:↓:     ‘hedgehog’

This form of communication is estimated to be three times as inefficient as Morse Code, and seventeen times more annoying than Volapük. Also, because Perry So-so has no real writing system, most of the monolingual Perry So-so “go-getters” (of which there are less than a dozen) can only recall 20-50 of these artificial, agreed upon, tone- and length-modulated vocabulary items. Unfortunately, it is rarely the same 20-50 that any of the others can recall.

Also in contrast with the go-getters, and in a way complementary to the way the dropouts contrast with the go-getters, there are the “mellow ones”. They make up the most die-hard Perry So-so members of the next generation. They are so unconcerned with communication that they have begun to lose the vowel length and tone distinctions.

However, they need to have more than one signifier to represent the myriad potential signifieds in their environment. So, they have inadvertently developed two additional modes of manual communication: they use one signed morpheme (of which almost any hand gesture is an allomorph) and one tactile morpheme (almost any touch by hand). The modality is the primary distinction and bears all the meaning:

ə   negative
[sign]positive
[touch]want, need, desire

So, picking up an item and gesturing with it means something like “I want this”. A grunted schwa in reply is “no, you can’t have it”. Loudness of voice, speed of gesture, and firmness of touch may signify emphasis, but I can’t be sure.

Context is usually sufficient to differentiate forms of desire. Touching and gesturing about food is “I want to eat”; the same to a video game console, “I want to play”; to another person’s erogenous zones, “I want sex”.

Unlike so many other cultures where the elders decry the linguistic innovations of the young as debasement and degradation of the language, the older Perry So-so don’t really seem to care that much, one way or another, about these “innovations”.

Definitive Conclusions

That’s it; that’s all there is. No more funding needed for this one.

References

Claude Searsplainpockets Somewhere or Other

Notes:
0 This paper was made possible without the help of anyone, really. It was a 25-minute side trip on an otherwise wasted Thursday. It is brought to you by the letter /ə/.

Safety precautions for data mining expeditions—Prof. S.N.L. Ingqvist
Inside SpecGram: A view from the front lines—Skip Tacular
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