Scientists have long recognized that the average professor of education is remarkably close to man himself in brain capacity and physiology, and we have all marvelled at how human they sometimes appear. Yet these creatures
This is puzzling, for their sophisticated vocal apparatus allows these professors to produce a great range of sound. Most curious of all is the fact that professors of education have, in the course of their evolutionary development, generated a complicated set of verbal signals which are remarkably close to human speech and even seem sometimes to use human words. So varied are these sounds, in fact, that linguists and anthropologists were convinced for a while that they formed a language. It was only with Claude Pooter’s pioneering study of 1957, Eighteen Months Among the Professors, that this system was recognized for what it is
Of these, the lulling noise is by far the most interesting. Directed at the students, this steady stream of sounds, usually delivered in a low monotone, can last between fifty and ninety minutes and seems to send the students into a kind of stupor during which brain activity virtually ceases. Unfortunately, the relationship between professor and student is still unclear. Fromkin contends that it is basically parasitic, that the professors somehow obtain nutrition from the students. A similar view is held by Whippins and Snagle, both of whom see the relationship as symbiotic rather than parasitic. Whippins argues that the professors aid the students in their mating rituals, while Snagle contends that the students “milk” the professors rather as ants milk aphids.
There seems to be little support for the more radical idea recently put forth by Ryakovsky that there is no relationship between professor and student; after all, something must bring them together. But whatever the answer, until the vexing problem is solved, there seems little hope of understanding these lulling noises.
The key of course is with the professors themselves, and since Pooter’s study, there have been over twenty significant attempts to teach them to use language in hopes that they could unravel the secret.
For a while it was thought that if the professors were placed in human families with children who were themselves learning to speak, they might acquire language, but these experiments were fruitless. The professors seemed uncomfortable with the children and spent most of their time uttering cries of attack, such as “zero productive” and “absent compatible normative interface!” In no case did a professor gain even the rudiments of human language, and eventually the experiments were abandoned as both useless and cruel.
The most successful experiments are those which have used visual symbols. Figsworthy used brightly colored plastic discs with pictures of foods, a television set, and a toilet, and simples symbols for words like “happy”, “want”, “no”, “sad”, and “goodbye”. After fourteen months, over 70% of the 216 professors in the study were able to use these discs to indicate their needs and even to make simple sentences. Unfortunately the professors have not yet been able to make the transition between using the discs and using real words, and their spoken “language” still consists of strings of their usual sounds. Figsworthy has shown, however, that the professors are capable of using a form of language, and he is confident that there will be a breakthrough to spoken language.
A great deal of research remains to be done before we can actually communicate with these fascinating creatures in a meaningful way, but thanks to the work of men like Pooter and Figsworthy, the future looks bright.