On Linguistic Death Cults
A Letter from the Managing Editor
For those not familiar with the casting of pods in which some of the editors of SpecGram engage, I feel obligated to comment on a story we recently discussed, in which it was reported that the last two speakers of Ayapaneco refuse to talk to each other (“Language at risk of dying out—the last two speakers aren’t talking” by Jo Tuckman, The Guardian, April 14, 2011). This is clearly a linguistic suicide pact. Using the powerful but subtle method of mathematical induction—which allows linguists to take a single example of almost anything and extrapolate wildly in any direction—it becomes clear that these last two speakers are the remnants of a linguistic death cult, and that [±linguistic death cult] is a likely important feature of Universal Grammar. Compare the recently reported-on Ghwǘǜb language, which exhibits certain linguocultural features that make it mind-numbingly difficult to acquire non-natively. We now have very strong inductive evidence that Ayapaneco is [+linguistic death cult], making it more difficult to transmit from one generation to the next. These UG feature settings are very rare, and are probably going to become extinct before too long. We need to study them now, so that we can then apply the principles of evolutionary psychology—which is even more powerful than mathematical induction—and postulate biosociocultural pressures that made these UG features adaptive for these cultures. Obviously, the Ayapaneco language developed in a biosociolinguocultural environment that favored silence, or at least reticence. Perhaps there were large predators with excellent hearing in the vicinity. Or maybe the constant danger of avalanches. Or perchance an abundance of cranky grandmothers with metal spoons who would brook no foolishness from boisterous children. Unravelling these mysteries could lead us to the Ayapaneco urheim, which I can already predict will be in either Basque country, or Atlantis. We need to immediately dispatch large teams of linguistic anthropologists to the area and have them listen to these two men not speaking, so that we may gain further insights and generate a large number of unfalsifiable but publishable theories.
In a related matter, several readers took the news that SpecGram may cease publication in December of 2012 more than a little hard. There were tears, pleading, and angry recriminations. And that was just from the baristas at the coffee shop in the basement of our office on the Imfolozi river.
Don’t worry too much just yet. If SpecGram’s centuries-long mission to render linguistics 85%+ self-satirizing is completed by the time the Mayan Long Count calendar completes the 13th b’ak’tun, then we may in fact close up our doors. But if not, we’ll have to stick around for another b’ak’tun and try to get it right.
||Letters to the Editor
||SpecGram Vol CLXII, No 4 Contents