Conversations with the Arch-Linguist
Part One in a Series by Jim Brentley
Note from the Editors: This is the first report from our newly-chartered bureau of investigative reporting, which will, from time to time, supply us with items of linguistic interest which they didn’t want you to know. Assuming, of course, that Jim Brentley is not killed in the line of duty, which is actually quite likely.
Note from the Author: I feel a duty to discourage you readers from trying this kind of stuff on your own. You’re likely to get killed, or worse even. The political forces involved in the international linguistic espionage community are always watching and listening, so watch your butt, because on the level of defense intelligence, the linguistic world is knee-deep in the ripe, rotting corpses of failed political careers and raving, frothing linguists who didn’t know what they were getting into. So catch your breath and pull your hat over your ears—the slime is bubbling and we’re going down.
The offices of the Defense Department Bureau for Linguistic Counterintelligence are housed in a nondescript building in rural Virginia just down Highway 6 from the NSA translation center, within a couple hundred miles of many of the other supersecret government agencies which were established and located in the Eastern U.S. near the beginning of the Cold War. The windows are mirrored glass, if they are in fact windows (Pfundstein cites a contractor saying the original windows were to be four-inch vibration-damping Pyrex, but budget concerns forced most windows to be covered with the same steel-reinforced concrete used for highway overpasses, and the mirrored glass is just for cosmetic purposes). Employees park in an underground garage, but entry into the main building occurs much further below ground-level, probably in a dual-elevator airlock system, although none of my sources would comment any further. In short, the building is somewhat less accessible than a six-story mirrored-glass-covered block of granite.
Michael Howard (his actual name, of course is a secret. Most BLC employees are given a number of identities by the government (Michael has seventeen Social-Security numbers) which are used almost interchangeably within the Bureau. The reason for this is probably anonymity—the idea of a man with seventeen names is more unsettling than that of a man with no name at all—but even Michael doesn’t know for sure.) is in his mid-thirties, has a wife and a son, a cat named Lester, a small boat, a used Honda, and the outward appearance of someone who might work in a feed store or sell eggs door-to-door. His paychecks are inscribed with the name “Payment Guaranteed” where my paycheck usually says Langue du Monde. Bankers in the area have grown used to this, but Michael is sometimes nervous about working for an agency that officially doesn’t exist.
“I don’t have a singles scrap of proof that I’m even employed by the government. My wife has learned not to ask; it’s just a source of stress. As far as my family is concerned I just sit behind a desk and get payed for it. I’m glad they understand—they’re all I’ve got.”
“My co-workers don’t exist either,” he jokes. It’s easy to tell that he’s nervous about talking to me. Over the course of dinner he dropped his spoon three times and threw a carafe of wine out the window.
Michael is the man in charge of a small department with a long name: The Linguistic Counterintelligence Task Force on Accusative-Weakening and Patient-Centered Voice Phenomena. They call themselves the Ergativity Police.
To be continued next issue...
||Vicious Overlap—Keith W. Slater and Rob Norris
||Langue du Monde — JLSSCNC Vol XVI, No 1 Contents