Dedication—Mikael Thompson SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents Letter From an Editor—Athanasious Schadenpoodle

Editor’s Contractually-Obligated Introduction

Mikael Thompson

It is meet and proper to say a few words of explanation1 about how this collection came to be. At the council at which we agreed with all alacrity to contribute to the Festschrift for Trey Jones, it quickly became apparent that despite Trey’s well-earned reputation as the towering figure in modern linguistics, the very fact that this journal would be the venue for his Festschrift means he must perforce suffer a flood of rancorous, envy-ridden comments from lesser minds. It was agreed that we should consider a Festschrift for at least one other linguist who has made as great and profound a contribution to the field of linguistics. And then there was a great silence, and after many moments a low “Hmm” was heard, and after another lengthy pause, “Yeah.” Finally someone timidly suggested “Saussure,” and after the laughter died down other suggestions were floated by, only to be sunk forthwith. Martinet? Merely one sharp cough. Greenberg? Pulju grimaced, and that was that. Labov? The less said about that the better. Jakobson? A scoff and two coughs spaced out dactyl-like. At the end, the name that had been left unnamed hung heavy in the air, and Spruiell sighed, “Well, if it must be so... But who should edit it?” There then followed such tales of woe, of poverty, and of serious medical disorders without visible symptoms that one wonders how such an ill-starred lot managed to survive childhood, much less finish school.

Unfortunately, in the meantime I had moved too slowly, and upon hearing a particularly Dickensian tale I muttered a tad too loudly, “Nam ipse salus si cupiat hanc familiam saluare vix potest”; Peterson looked at the door, wagged his finger, and said, “Tsk tsk tsk. Back to your corner, Dogbody.” “Oh, let the mongoloid do it,” said Slater, who of all people should know the proper term is ‘Mongolist.’ Said motion having carried with all but the statutorily unbinding one-third of a vote wielded by your humble narrator, there then followed a rancorous debate (“It wasn’t funny when Coolidge said it, and it’s not funny now. —No, that doesn’t mean you’re too humorless for the job”, “Your career’s already laid out on a cold hard slab”, “Quick! Close the window”, and the like), and then a sudden recitation of certain dark misdeeds thought long buried and unknown made me waver2. In the end, yours truly was strong-armed3 into signing a contract, and after a short discussion the details of the Festschrift were hammered out. “Whatever,” said Müller. “Just leave us out of it,” added Cruz-Ferreira4.

Returning home to my less than sympathetic wife (“Тэр хүнээр чи бахархахгүй юу? Тэр хүн бол чиний бичдэг хэл шинжлэлийн хөгжилтэй элэглэлээс хавьгүй илүү бичдэг, авьяастай хүн байншдээ гэж хэлээд...одоо чи түүний авъяасыг хүлээн зөвшөөрч байхгүй юу? Ямар атаархуу хүн бэ.”), I sat in my study in quite a study until I remembered the pronunciamento on the cover. It is a little-acknowledged topic in linguistic research that should be addressed: the matter of boredom in fieldwork, even dislike, and it is fitting that the discussion be so dedicated, for truly boredom and dislike are singularly ill-suited to any Festschrift for Trey Jones.

Mind you, it is not nearly so great a problem in linguistics as in anthropology, a field crippled by the personality disorders of so many of its leaders. A cursory reflection reminds us of studies spoiled by investigators so bereft of humor they couldn’t take (or get) a joke (e.g. Derek Freeman, The Fatal Hoaxing of Margaret Mead), of fieldworkers so hidebound and judgmental that trivial cultural differences utterly alienated them from their subjects (e.g. Colin Turnbull, The Mountain People), and of ungrateful cads (e.g. Bronislaw Malinowski, A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term). I asked several anthropologists of my acquaintance to comment on this lamentable state of affairs, but they all refused to talk to methereby testifying to the state of denial across the entire discipline. As we reflect on current practice, we linguists can truthfully say, Et in Arcadia nos! Nonetheless, surely there are a few linguists less than enamored of fieldwork; should we do them the injustice of harboring the suspicion that they’re simply just not very good linguists, or should they not face the charge forthrightly?

I then set about soliciting testimonials from linguists likely to have been bored learning languages, starting with those of my students who managed to finish their linguistic training, but all three of them refused to talk to me. I then contacted a number of linguistic fieldworkers, though for various reasons many important figures were left alone (Dixon, for example, was out after cutting me3 at a conference). The remarkable consistency in their responses in immediately turning the discussion to my mental health attests to the widespread normalcy and general well-balanced personality almost universal in our fieldworkers. Still, hard digging did find a few contributors willing to publish reminiscences of their time in the field.

Hence the sad consequence that this Festschrift is so small, but there is a bright spot still: I must confess that ever since a thorough search of the Speculative Grammarian archives a few years ago turned out entirely negative, I have been puzzled by the oft-repeated assertion that Noam Chomsky has received short Schrift in SpecGram. I am pleased to announce that thanks to my efforts, this is now true.

While our other contributors need no introduction, Jake “Keg Killer” McCollum needs every word. As a student at Texas A&M University, McCollum’s legendary drinking bouts the nights before his linguistics tests solidified his calling as the world’s leading expert in typological oinoglossology, the study of alcoholic terminology. Unfortunately, they have also solidified his inability to obtain an academic position due to short-sighted campus alcohol policies. He is the creator of the Barmobile, a small hot dog truck converted into a fully stocked bar that not only constitutes the basic tool of modern oinoglossological fieldwork but has made McCollum a hero in several Asian countries. I managed to track down McCollum on leave in the United Kingdom, in the pub London Blitzed wearing his trademark “Éireannach trí dheonú Dé ach ólta, mo rogha féin” T-shirt, where the following interview was recorded.

McCollum: Oh, hey, I remember you, yeah. Let’s see, UB, right? That was some good work you did with me on the classification of western mixed drinks. Brilliant idea using the color charts5. Yeah, that was a fun time. Do they still have that crystal monument they raised to me, the one in the shape of a glass?

—[Pause.] No, that was an ice sculpture. It melted around the second week of April the next year. Hotter than normal that year. Sorry.

—They told me it was a crystal monument. Bolor, right? That’s rock crystal.

—Yes. But Bolor’s a brand of vodka. They’re the company that sponsored your research.


—It was a big advertising coup. Your informants? All hired by the company.

—So my results, that they call pure vodka ‘crystal,’ all that, they’re all a lie?

—Oh, no, all the other results are true. Just that one’s dodgy. They love you though. “Modern linguistic research proves Bolor means ‘pure vodka’,” best slogan anyone had heard in years. Their profits doubled overnight.

—That’s why you were smiling at the ceremony. A unique sight that.

—Of course. It was damned funny. My face was still sore the next day.

—When I met you I thought you were the surliest drunk I’d ever known, but it turned out you were sober. Want a drink?

—This round’s my treat. It’s on my expense account anyway.6

[Four rounds later, we discuss the question.]

—A couple of years ago I started to do fieldwork in this village. The Barmobile was in the shop, but that’s never a problem if you know your stuff. But this village, they were all strict Muslims. Had no terminology at all apart from a general term meaning “unlawful to drink.” Didn’t have a drop of anything stronger than tea, sabotaged my still four separate times, hid the turpentine just to make fun of me. I’ve never been so bored in my life. Threw in the rag after two weeks and never looked back.

Susanna De Klerk received her PhD in linguistics from SUNY Stony Brook for her field work documenting the now-extinct Klenbrighouti language, an otherwise unstudied isolate spoken in southern Dagestan.

Yes, I went to the small town of Klenberfortkhalmpha in 1992 to document a language I had heard rumors of from Lezgian and Dargin informants. It's a fair ways west of Izerbash and quite inaccessible, and it has since been abandoned. When I got there I learned there were only two native speakers left, both old men in their 80s, but very friendly and eager to help me record their language. And what a language it was, with a rich consonant inventory, phonemic tone and stress, distinctive vowel length, and simply a delight grammatically24 cases or case-like forms falling into 10 major declensions, for example. And my informants were so very helpful, or so I thought, repeating the material at several sessions so I could get all the details. But it turns out that's a less recognized danger in working with older informants in a dying language; they simply didn't realize they were repeating themselves. Even when I'd turn the conversation to something else, they'd soon work their way back to where they started.

And not just that. Here are representative samples from my data7:


Yes, it was all just along those lines. Remember, I'm from Sullivan County, up in New York, and my mother was a cook at the Flagler Hotel, and we lived on the grounds. In the late 70s. I went to college to get away from that. After the second month, I often couldn't stay awake until the end of my informant sessionsthough, to be fair, neither could my informants. And even after I finished my field work and wrote it up, the trouble didn't stop. Our first meeting after I turned it in, my adviser Hyman Salmon just glared at me and said, “You've got to be joking.” He insisted on borrowing all my field recordings and two weeks later at our next meeting he had a bundle of transcriptions he'd made on his desk and said, “It's not believable, but there it is.” Turns out he'd actually tracked down a couple of Lezgians who had had dealings with Klenbrighs in the distant past who had vouched for the authenticity of the speech in the recordings, and he had the Lezgian I had used with my informants on the recordings as well and had spot-checked four hours of my recordingswhich he later said was the most interesting hour and most deathly dull three hours of his linguistic career.

1 Or apology. 2 Slightly. 3a,b Literally. 4 You passive-aggressive twit. [MCF]

5 Mongolian has a general term for liquor (arxi) and two terms for colored and clear hard spirits, kon’yak and vodka. A color chart was used to find the prototypical colors and boundaries for the names applied to western mixed drinks of different colors. See Thompson, M.A., “Berlin and Kay at the Bar,” International Journal of Theoretical Mixology 13(3):17–65 (2007).

6 No it’s not. Check the contract. (Our copy, not yours.) [MCF]

7 ABL, ablative; ALL, allative; COP, copula; DA, definite accusative; EX, existential verb; FUT, future; IA, indefinite accusative; IP, intransitive perfective; LOC, locative; NOM, nominalizer; NP, nonpast; NTR, interrogative; P, past; PCV, perfective converbial; PP, past participial; Pr, processive; TN, transitive nonpast; TP, transitive perfective.

DedicationMikael Thompson
Letter From an EditorAthanasious Schadenpoodle
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents