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The Linguistics Wars

by Dæriam Landec, Ph.D.
l’École de SpecGram, Istanbul

As is widely knownthough not exhaustively covered in the linguistic, academic, or mainstream pressan unfortunate series of events that have

“Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!”
—William Shakespeare

become widely known as “The Linguistics Wars” unfolded in Montana in the spring of 2005. Over the course of a few days, several devastating attacks were launched between the Montana Morphemic Militia (M3)a group that has been variously described as a linguistic-oriented paramilitary organization and a military-oriented paralinguistic organization [Harris 1993]and the Montana field office of the First Earth Battalion (F.E.B.)a formerly secret but still active unit of the U.S. Army established in the late 1970s to exploit paranormal and other alternative forms of military intervention [Ronson 2005].

The M3 was formed in 1996 by Elizabeth Kiraliçe and Carlowitz de la Voivodina, two retired career U.S. Army officers formerly attached to the F.E.B. A Freedom of Information Act

“It is with a word as with an arrowonce let it loose and it does not return.”

request reveals, in heavily redacted documents, that Lt. Kiraliçe served as a linguistic advisor and Maj. de la Voivodina as a technology advisor on Project Noam de Guerre during their time with the F.E.B. It seems clear, in light of the events comprising “The Linguistics Wars”, that Kiraliçe and de la Voivodina “liberated” key technologies from Noam de Guerre, and transferred those technologies to the control of M3in particular, the core of the now infamous “language bombs”.

Once the duplicity of the M3 founders became clear to the leaders of the F.E.B., the U.S. Army made clear their intentions to recover the stolen technology and shut down M3. Kiraliçe, de la Voivodina, and others in the M3 leadership took the offensive, and detonated the first language bomb at the F.E.B. Montana field office headquarters. F.E.B. retaliated in kind with a language bomb strike on the M3 compound. Counter strikes, counter counter

“I have been a believer in the magic of language since, at a very young age, I discovered that some words got me in trouble and others got me out.”
—Katherine Dunn

strikes, offensive initiatives, and defensive attacks followed from both sides, each seemingly more injurious than the last, though none critically crippling to either side.

Below are excerpts taken from contemporary primary sourcesincluding reports from local print and broadcast media, documents internal to both M3 and the F.E.B., and others. Because of their uncertain geographic location and general lack of grammaticality, blog posts reporting on incidents are considered unreliable indicators of the effects of the language bombs.

April 1, 2005. A Determiner Disrupter was dropped by M3 on F.E.B. headquarters. From an internal F.E.B. memo that day:

Small language bomb seems to have been detonated at Battalion MT headquarters, rendering many Battalion staff incapable of using most determiners. Due to usual style of military communication, effects seem to be minimal, and key channels have not been disrupted. Paramilitary group M-Cubed has claimed responsibility, but is unconfirmed at present time.


“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
—Rudyard Kipling

this memo was initially interpreted as an April Fool’s joke and not taken seriously by most F.E.B. officials.

April 2, 2005. A Vorpal De-Verbulator was prematurely detonated at the F.E.B. main gate, killing the M3 operative who attempted to deliver the language bomb. Nonetheless, many of the expected effects were felt throughout the F.E.B. offices. From an internal F.E.B. email:

Second, more sophisticated language bomb detonates at Battalion MT headquarters today. Determiners still missing, but now staff only use simple present verb forms. Compound verbs and other tenses missing. Copula missing as well. Bomb damages gerunds for some speakers. Communications complicated, but judicious use of time adverbials compensates. CO suspects M-Cubed and suggests retaliation.

Clearly the severity of the threat from M3 had become clear to F.E.B. by this time.

April 3, 2005. A Pronoun Impactor was dropped on the M3 compound by the F.E.B. From Elizabeth Kiraliçe’s personal diary:

First Earth has fought

“Words. Frail beasts of burden that crashed down to their knees under what she wanted to say.”
—Fannie Hurst

back. Clearly First Earth is weak, in that the only bomb First Earth could concoct has destroyed pronouns. Ha! Like Elizabeth or M3 really need pronouns. Interactions are mildly delayed by the lack, but the lack hardly disrupts communication. Many of M3’s Morfimista allies are suggesting a switch to Spanish, which is pro-drop. Ha! M3 will prevail!

April 5, 2005. In the morning F.E.B. launched a Plurals Pounder at M3. M3 retaliated in the afternoon with an Agreement Randomizer. For the first time, it becomes clear that the effects of attacks on both sides are affecting the general populace. From a regional newspaper’s April 5 Evening Edition:

Many local resident today reports exceptionally odd speaking behavior from many local resident and many local resident’s neighbor. Seems that resident’s very ability to speak resident’s native language deteriorates. Many resident blame multiple explosion reports by some at local U.S. Army post, and also in forest near known paramilitary compound. Nothing clear at current time, though.

April 9, 2005. A series of

“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.”
—Peter Finley Dunne

rapid volleys between M3 and the F.E.B. followed over the next three or four days. Many believe, based on de la Voivodina’s lab notes, that the Extreme Vowel Harmonizer that detonated near the F.E.B. launch facility was directed toward M3 by the F.E.B., but exploded on launch. That claim has never been proven. What is known is that a Prepositional Movement Cluster Bomb and a Semi-Benign Bjorker fell on the M3 compound during this time. A Tourette Time Bomb and a Non-Restrictive Pseudo-Random Move-α Demodulator affected F.E.B. headquarters.

From an F.E.B. internal email from April 8:

D*mn communucotions becemes much more severely ovor course of last few f*ckung days damage. Beceme d*mn nightmære Commahnd and Control, and ordors routunely misinderstands, or complotely in-f*ckung*-cemprehensible. Sh*t! Our attompts at countor attacks less than maximally productuve, as seem f*ckung suporior to ours their technelegy.

From de la Voivodina’s lab notes of April 9:

While M3’s technological sophistication increases, Bjork! First Earth’s response of the bomb M3 devises seem more and more like Bjork! pale copy. Clearly M3 crippled First Earth’s technical ability Bjork! and of robust innovation any chance First Earth had when Elizabeth Bjork! and Carlowitz left. Bjork! Bjork! No single government should Bjork! wield the power First Earth does. Bjork! With M3’s latest advance, from a weapon M3 is but one step and a half which may well to the whole First Earth Battalion Bjork! give the coup de grace. Bjork! Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!

From the transcript of a local news broadcast the morning of April 10:

Of f*ckung persen thousahnd yesterday Bjork! begins area fleeing Grunt! after hear news that between local offuce of U.S. Armoo’s Battahluon First Earth Woof! Woof! Aoooooo! and infæmiss linguistic paræmilitary group knows as sh*tty Montahna f*ckung Morphoomuc Burp! Militia, “Linguistic Bjork! War” breaks out. Of confluct f*ckung horrufuing side effect speaks d*mn English to many persen’s abuluty incleede irrepæræble damæge. Of both d*mn Swedish and f*ckung Turkush tourusts Bjork! in both native languæges Bjork! visiting groups reperts odd effects also. Grunt! Bjork! Belch!

April 15, 2005. After several days of quiet,

“Learn a new language and get a new soul.”
—Czech Proverb

another series of fusillade and counter fusillade of language bombs flew between the two camps. Records may indicate that an Ultimate Intensifier, a Cluster Reducer, a Liquid Melter, and a Triller 2 da Max fell on M3, while a Compulsory Inverter, Morphemic Atomizer, and Nuclear Onset Reduplicator hit F.E.B. No reliable written records internal to either combatant exist from after these attacks. However, at this point the local populace was beyond panic, and local authorities had halted all non-essential activities everywhere. The only known example of the after effects of some of these attacks comes from an emergency transponder set up by the local government on April 13:

Bjorrrk! Who hearrr and f*ckung compolohonds d*mn messæge to anywen. Beteween Almoo base herrre Bjolk! and gorrroup of sh*tty sulvuvarrrusut rrringuisit Bjorrrk! goes on totol compoloote arrr out warrr. Many pelsen’s d*mn rrranguæge Bjolk! and many pelsen’s f*ckung rrrives d*mn Arrrmoo base and many Grunt! surrrvuvalusut linguisit deseterrreys. Bark! Woof! Barrrk! Many perrrsen in corrrossfurrr helepless hoperrross disitirrræght victim catches. D*mn! D*mn! Bjorrrk! Bjolk! F*ck! Alorrrot pelease Burp! federrrahl authorrruty Bjolk! and send immediæterrry withight derrray light now help! Bjolk! Grunt! Bjorrrk! Belch! Bjorrrk! Burp! D*mmit arr to h*rr!

[A rough translation is provided below.]

To anyone who hears and comprehends this message. There is an all out war going on between the Army base here and a group of survivalist linguists. They have destroyed many people’s language, as well as their lives. We are helpless victims caught in the crossfire. Please alert the federal authorities and send help immediately.

This sad message repeated for four more days before the federal government finally stepped in to help.

“The word ‘good’ has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”
—G. K. Chesterton

At this point the exact sequence of events becomes very unclear. There are theories that the rapid language changes interacted in unpredictable ways in the language centers of the people affected, or that the direct effects of the language bombs overlapped to create new effects. Wavelet theories of grammaticalization have been invoked to explain the snippets of mangled language that escaped the effected area, as have the Heisenberg Ungrammaticality Principle, Phoneme/Morpheme Duality, Syntactic Synergism, and others.

April 19, 2005. Eventually, U.S. military brass attempted to take control of the situation by threatening both sides of the confrontation with annihilation from tactical nukes. By that time the effects of the language bombs were so severe that neither side could properly comprehend the threat, and neither stepped down. A Dynamic Dyslexifier, identified by the mangled remains, was launched but shot down by a Patriot Missile. A similar fate befell a Diachronic Deleter, a Synchronic Scrambler, and no less than three Phonetic Filibusters. But over one hundred more weapons were launched, and the contents of their payloads we will never know, because the final weapon deployed was a Blank Slate.

Conspiracy theorists like to suggest that the federal government launched the Blank Slate to end the conflict, but there is no good evidence to support this position. Most arguments for laying the

“Such an adventure as thisa fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other? How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight! Especially with such a ground-work of anticipation as her mind had already made.”
—Jane Austen

launch of the Blank Slate at the doorstep of either M3 or the F.E.B. come down to which side one favors, and whether one considers the Blank Slate to be the most awesomely destructive linguistic weapon ever used on civilians, or the only hope for the salvation of the horribly damaged minds of those civilians. Some cite de la Voivodina’s lab notes of April 9, and his obvious paraphrase of Norbert Wiener, as evidence of some Ultimate Weapon in the making, but history will never truly know for sure.

The Blank Slate effectively reset the language centers of all it affected to their pre-critical-period state. Without the framework of language, all detailed memories of the incident faded from the minds of those on both sides, as well as all local civilians and some of the less well shielded federal troops. International linguistic aid agencies, including the Red Palatoalveolar Click and Linguists Without Borders, stepped in to provide emergency assistance and retraining in local dialects of English. The rehabilitation continues to this day. No charges have been brought against members of either side of the conflict, as all have been deemed incompetent to stand trial by a panel of Government Linguists.

Clearly, there is much to learn, linguistically and politically, from the folly of these Linguistics Wars. And learn we must, lest we be doomed to repeat this tragedy.


The Linguistics Wars, Randy Allen Harris, Oxford University Press, 1993.

The Men Who Stare At Goats, Jon Ronson, Simon & Schuster, 2005.

The Wrathful Dispersion Controversy: A Canadian Perspective—Q. Pheevr
Call For Proposals—The Endangered Languages Armamentation Programme
SpecGram Vol CLI, No 1 Contents