It was Scott’s first field experience, so his professor was with him to assure nervousness. The informant, who had one massive eyebrow extending all the way across his forehead, glared at them across the table. Scott pressed the record button and surveyed his Swadesh list.
The informant raised his eyebrow.
The professor frowned as Scott carefully transcribed “w^n” and added, in parentheses, “rising intonation.”
“Ah, wait a minute, Scott.” Then to the informant: “Yes, Mr. Pematesit, how do you say ‘one’?”
The informant stared.
“One,” he slowly replied, with a look of incredulity.
Scott inserted “or falling” between “rising” and “intonation.”
The professor closed his eyes momentarily, as professors will do sometimes.
“In your language, Mr. Pematesit; how do you say ‘one’ in your language?”
“In Basilewe? Oh.” Mr. Pematesit looked somewhat more cooperative. After a moment: “One what?”
“Aha,” cried Scott, beginning to write.
“Oh, right. Okay, how do you say ‘one man’?”
This the informant pondered for some time. Finally he said,
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
Scott and the professor looked at each other.
“Unless you mean a prisoner. That’s bakje. Prisoner. You win him, like.”
“Mr. Pematesit,” murmured the professor, sensing the situation slipping out of control, “can you count for us, slowly, from one to ten?” Scott readied his pencil, grimly.
“One,” began their antagonist, opening his eyes widely and extending his thumb. “Two...”
“Stop,” ordered the professor, seizing Scott’s hand in mid-
“Professor,” said Scott, “I hate to ask this...”
“Go ahead, my boy. Do you see what we are learning so far?” He laid a consoling hand on his student’s shoulder.
“Yes!” replied Scott, excitedly. “The Basilewes borrowed their numbers from the British.”
“No,” said the professor firmly. “We are learning that intelligence is inequitably distributed across members of all cultures equally. Now then, Mr. Pematesit: can you count for us, in your language, from one to ten?”
“Yes,” responded the informant, now smiling broadly. Several moments passed. Scott poised his pencil. The professor stared at the table. After about thirty more seconds there was a soft click, followed by a papery whirring sound.
“Your tape ran out,” observed the informant, helpfully.