Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another irregular semi-installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.
The Boy Who Stuttered Wolf
A Linguistic Tale of Caution Among the Tʷɪči0
Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 65
Nestled along the unforgiving and unforgivingly-named Ridge A of the Antarctic Plateau—renowned as the coldest, driest, and calmest place on earth—there is a generally unknown group of people, descendants of the self-preserving staff of numerous doomed Antarctic expeditions. Their ancestors came here as early as the 1940s and, upon hearing the plans of their expedition leaders, they decided to wait for rescue among the piles of supplies deemed “too heavy to carry” and “unneeded by the true explorer”, while their leaders trudged off into the swirling snow towards frozen death.
These people now call themselves the Tʷɪči and their struggle for survival is moving. Over the years they have come dangerously close to running out of food and other necessities on many occasions, only to be rescued by an influx of newcomers unwilling to follow some ɪdjɨt (Tʷɪči for “explorer”) into the great white beyond. They have suffered from political turmoil as well—not from within the group, which is uniformly focused on survival, but from governmental agencies that either refuse to acknowledge their existence, or deny their citizenship. Currently, the UN Bureau of Antarctic Management will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the Tʷɪči, but they do fund regular airdrops of food, clothing, and other supplies to Ridge A, under the annual budget line item “Antarctic Guilt Emission Reduction”.
The Tʷɪči claim a mixture of English, Russian, American, Dutch, Indonesian, Portuguese, and Esperanto ethnic and linguistic ancestry, and their language is a generally unsurprising creole of those verbal ingredients. The most interesting facet of the creole is a innovative use of reduplication not to indicate mere intensification, but full-blown alarm and emergency. We theorize that the source of the innovation is the combination of cold and malnutrition which renders many Tʷɪči unable to raise their voices or otherwise expend any significant amount of energy to indicate excitement, concern, or other emotions. No matter the source, this feature of Tʷɪči has led to at least one very unfortunate consequence for a member of the Tʷɪči, John-Ivan-Shawn-Johannes-Yohanes-João-Johano, a young boy with a bad stutter.
Some Personal Linguistic History
Our young protagonist is known as “JJ” to most people—in part to shorten his rather long compound given name, but also as a sideways reference to his stutter. JJ’s mother tells the story that when he was about 7, he entered the area where his father was speaking to some of the group’s elders, who were working out the rationing plan for winter supplies. JJ tried to say the following:
|hunger-1sg-DIM ||father ||conj.|
|“I am a bit peckish, father, and it is a little warm in here.”|
What came out was more like this:
|“I am dying of starvation, council of elders, and the entire
vicinity is being consumed by a conflagration of epic proportions.”|
Two elders where injured trying to put out a fire they could not find, and several very valuable units of intravenous nutrient solution were wasted on JJ, when his tremors of fear, caused by the commotion, were mistaken by the village medical team for a near-death starvation-induced seizure.
On another occasion, as his sister, dressed for her debutante ball (Tʷɪči kin-tsea njera), entered the room, JJ tried to say mjerm anae rmos ajega, “My beautiful sister arrives!” but instead said mjermjerm anae rmormormormos ajeajega, which roughly translates as “An onslaught of wanton harlots in whorish clown paint invades!” His sister, usually a staunch defender of her brother, was so mortified that she was hospitalized with a humiliative hematoma.
A Cautionary Tale
Thus, to the Tʷɪči, stuttering is the social equivalent of Tourette Syndrome in America. It is recognized as a medical condition, and no blame accrues to the sufferer. However, the unavoidable side effects cause such discomfort in others that social ostracism is often the result. Further, despite their best attempts to ignore JJ’s stutter, many of the Tʷɪči cannot help but react to it as if a real emergency was unfolding. This has led to a kind of “alert fatigue” among many—an unfortunate situation which could eventually have quite dire consequences.
During our stay with the Tʷɪči—well after we had met with JJ and become familiar with his situation—JJ came running in from outside, and he said:
ososposospo lalala rrerrere svisvsvisvisvisvie nenennenen
“An earth shaking polar bear army splits the ground open with
their thundering strides as they descend upon us in the
armageddon foretold in the stories of the old ones.”
What most hearers assume he meant was something along the lines of:
osospo la re svie nen
“A polar bear is walking through the snow outside.”
But what he actually meant was:
osososospo la rere svisvisvisvie nenen
“A stampede of polar bears is coming straight for us.”
An interesting side note: thanks to a satellite-enabled laptop provided by the UN Bureau of Antarctic Management and an online subscription to Speculative Grammarian, there are several budding linguists among the Tʷɪči. They have analyzed, in their armchair amateur way, osospo as a reduplicative intensification of ospo (“arctic fox”), indicating a much larger and more dangerous white furry creature. That is, alas, only a linguistic just-so story. Our research indicates that it is actually a portmanteau of Indonesian beruang and Czech medvěd (both “bear”), demonstrating the subtle but consistent influence of Czech on the Tʷɪči, all of it traced back to a single agéd Czech porter who joined the group in 1962, and died in 1968 of a ruptured spleen after consuming over 100 pounds of rotting seal blubber in a four hour period. It was on a bet, naturally.
Back to our cautionary tale of woe. Several of the village elders who heard JJ yelling laughed uproariously at what they thought he meant, namely that a polar bear was walking in the snow outside. This is because, of course, there are no polar bears in the Antarctic. What they did not, and could not know, was that JJ had just witnessed the crash of the transoceanic animal conveyance of Barnum and Bailey’s Curious Circus of Antipodean Antics. Immediately after the crash, the polar bears had eaten most of the other animals, then begun stalking JJ, who immediately ran homeward as fast as he could.
Alas, the laughing Tʷɪči were neither ready for not any match for the rampaging polar bear horde, which injured several dozen Tʷɪči and severely damaged much of their already fragile infrastructure.
After our harrowing antarctic polar bear experience, we left the Tʷɪči for some time. When we returned, we brought along one of our long-time traveling companions, Kimimiminini of the Oboioboioboiwikantsitstil, who has become quite the insightful linguist herself over the years we have worked together. However, even when speaking in Oboioboioboiwikantsitstil (which has nondistinctive reduplication), Kimini caused grave distress to the Tʷɪči, who were still on edge after JJ’s unheeded warning nearly led to the armageddon, called Parhapëk, foretold in the stories of the old ones. Sadly, Kimiminini was forced to leave Ridge A before she could contribute to our analysis of Tʷɪči.
More research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of this system. Said research will require more and abundant funding.
However, there are perhaps some early conclusions to draw from our experience. Maybe some languages are just more evolutionarily fit than others, in the biological rather than linguistic sense. The linguistic structure of Tʷɪči conveys a small but remarkably clear survival penalty to its speakers—namely, they are unable to recognize warnings given by stutterers. Compare the Oboioboioboiwikantsitstil, most of whom still don’t even know what stuttering is. Just food for thought.
|Claude Searsplainpockets &
Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets
|Somewhere in Antarctica
0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant #4, and the letter J.