The editorial staff of this journal was recently invited to help the linguistic side of groundbreaking1 paleoquasianthropological research, and as I had both the qualifications and the opportunity to participate,2 I was dispatched to supervise five interns and a couple of freshman needing extra credit in introductory linguistics in a linguistic research project that was described as “hush-
We arrived in Calgary early on the afternoon of 12 February 2015, where we were whisked away without passing through customs to a private airplane that flew us to an unspecified site in the Yukon Territory. A gold prospector had discovered a group of Neanderthals preserved under the ice in a bowl in the mountains, and not only was this the first Neanderthal site in the New World, but in fact the Neanderthals had been fully preserved in the ice. Even more significant, besides the earth-
The Neanderthals were thawed out over three weeks in such a way as to prevent much damage on the cellular level. We then set to work communicating with them and spent the next six months compiling a dictionary, reference grammar, and corpus of texts. While the detailed findings cannot be discussed until certain legal processes have run their course, it is safe to say that, contrary to certain predictions on Usenet, their language did not resemble Ancient Greek, proto-
It was an interesting meeting of different mentalities, this project. While we learned Neanderthalish, the Neanderthals learned modern English, and they were intrigued by the concept of writing, which they took to with great skill. Unfortunately, there was little reading material. I had taken a complete run of SpecGram issues for the period 1980–2010, and this served well for a few days. However, we found our informants to be first puzzled and then increasingly disgruntled as reading lessons proceeded. Finally, late one night two weeks after said lessons had been started, the Neanderthals broke out of their barracks as a group. Their tracks were traced as far as a large glacier, where it was discovered they had plunged into a deep crevasse. In situ examination showed that they had burrowed into the ice for over a mile and collapsed the tunnel behind them so as to refreeze themselves. On a pillow in their barracks was found a short letter in the handwriting of the social leader of the Neanderthals that read (spelling regularized): “We can’t take any more of your culture. The reading materials are lousy
As we debated whether to try to rethaw them, the site was shut down and all materials were seized by Canadian customs and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a massive sting operation. After several months of legal wrangling, the five interns were all granted hardship refugee status and the two freshmen and yours truly were dropped off at the border and ordered at gunpoint to leave the country. In conclusion, while it was an unsuccessful experiment, an important lesson can be drawn from it: The procedures for reviving frozen persons have not yet advanced enough to prevent serious cognitive deficiencies in the subjects.
1 Icebreaking in some parts, permafrost-
2 That is to say, he has been unemployed for a long time and his humor has been especially insufferable of late. As we had tired of him standing around the offices bothering all and sundry by constantly saying, “Don’t mind me, I just lurk here,” we gladly took the opportunity to give all concerned a break. —Eds.
3 It is the last of these that eminently suited Thompson for the work, as opposed to any of the other editorial staff. —Eds.
4 According to not truly officially authorized but to a computer indistinguishable from truly officially authorized investigative computer work carried out by Butch McBastard, the major constraints were found to be theoretical and financial. On the first count, it was thought that anyone actually successful in theoretical linguistics would be (1) too bound to a pet theory to do any good and (2) utterly untried and incompetent at fieldwork. On the second count, it was thought anyone actually successful in linguistics would cost too much. SpecGram was the leading candidate on both constraints, and we might add that by the same criteria Thompson was the best candidate on staff. —Eds.
5 In one email message examined by Butch McBastard, one anthropologist wrote to another, “Told you we should have gone with Language.”
|A Nindefinite Determinism
|Penultimate Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
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