Anti-Rhetoric: A Critical Methodology for Critically Assessing Critical Thinking—Butch McBastard SpecGram Vol CLII, No 3 Contents Brother, Can You Paradigm?—Harris Risman
Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another semi-regular installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

Morphological Spectroscopy

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of the Wuh Nwur Dianz 0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 59

Recently I

Bent-tail Yogh
have had the pleasure of investigating a previously unstudied language of the Caucasus mountains, which I have tentatively placed in a fairly obvious location near the root of the Dené-Sino-Caucasian macro-family tree. The people who taught me about their language call themselvesand I in turn call their languageWuh Nwur Dianz, which translates roughly as “the second most fertile of the several peoples of the long-forgotten valley that floods twice per decade except when the first semi-serious sacrifice of the blue moon is on the second Thursday of the third month in the Julian, not the Gregorian, calendar, and who like avocados when they are a little bit over-ripe, but not yet quite squishy.”

This fairly descriptive name is clearly a fossilized mini-history of the Wuh Nwur Dianz, as they are the only inhabitants of the valley in which they live, the valley has not flooded in living memory, they do not practice any form of sacrifice, they have used the Hindu calendar for at least the last several hundred years, and none of them growor even seem to likeavocados.

As interesting as the historical and anthropological facts are, they can’t hold a candle to the linguistic situation. The intricate and highly fusional morphology of the Wuh Nwur Dianz requires a level of analysis from native learners that is significantly more complex than any other language with which I am even vaguely acquainted. I would compare learning most morphologically complex languages to understanding how an Erector Set works; in contrast, figuring out Wuh Nwur Dianz is the linguistic equivalent of doing nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Linguistic Background

The level of complexity of the particular patterns of a language may change the order in which they are acquired, which may in turn have fairly drastic consequences. For example, Peperkamp (2004) shows that in

Reversed Turned Script A
languages with easy-to-infer stress patterns, stress patterning is typically acquired early, and need not be stored lexicallyand thus is less likely to show exception. In languages with more complex stress patterns, the lexicon, well underway before the stress code is cracked, contains stress information, which may include lexemes (say, for example, of foreign origin) that violate the general but more difficult-to-infer rule. In this latter case, the rules for stress patterning are learned later, and exceptions must be noted in the lexicon.

Also of note, several papers (Bod 2001, Jurafsky 2003) report that at several levels of processing, phrases larger than morphemes or “words”, up to and including complete sentences (like I love you or I don’t know; see also Onesjay 1993 and the discussion of ankyouthay), can be stored in the lexicon. In fact, it is well attested that such fixed phrases can undergo further phonetic erosion, as in the case of Spanish vuestra merced > vuced > usted (Penny 1991).

Similar phenomena overlap catastrophically in Wuh Nwur Dianz, and as a result of the bruisingly complex fusional morphology, absurdly numerous noun classes, a shocking number of homonyms, bizarre lexical oddities, and the generally lazy and destructive phonetics of the languageit is actually easier for child language learners to learn most utterances by rote than to analyze them.

Linguistic Data

Half-barred U
Several examples from Wuh Nwur Dianz will serve to extensively muddy the waters while demonstrating the basic outlines of some probably relevant phenomena. The “citation form” is what you would hope to look up in the dictionary, if only there were onecompare to English I don’t knowand it is almost impossible to get any of my informants to produce these forms. The “spoken form” is the form usually provided in isolationcompare to English dunnobut it is rare in rapid speech. The “lazy form” is by far the most common form used in everyday speechcompare to the English tone-only verbal shrug poorly transcribed as / I will freely admit to the prescriptivist leanings in me that this exposessuch forms are impenetrable!!

Please pass the X

lazy form    
spoken form iʰso
citation form
ij- x- su- o
“Please pass the salt”
notes “Salt” is treated as an aggregate noun of the eighth type (tasty things). Requests are made using the polite imperative subjunctive form.
lazy form ɨə
spoken form ɨʔa
citation form
ij- x- ta- aa
“Please pass the pepper”
notes “Pepper” is treated as a collection of individual entities of the third type (spicy things).
lazy form n
spoken form ɪŋ
citation form
ij- x- n- g
“Please pass some milk”
notes “Milk” is a mass noun of the second type (white things), and can only be referred to in the indefinite.
lazy form ã
spoken form xʲã
citation form
ij- x- n- aa
“Please pass the paprika”
notes “Paprika”, like “pepper”, is treated as a collection of individual entities of the third type. It is also a homophone with “milk”.
lazy form
spoken form ʷõʲʢ
citation form
aw- uo- n-
       ij- g

“Please pass the steak”
notes For cultural reasons, food like “steak”, which consists of a dead animal, must be addressed indirectly and deferentially as a sign of respect. In essence, one asks, “please have the steak use you to pass it”. “steak” is a noun of the seventeenth type (dead animal food things). Note also the homophonous n and (possibly polysemous?) g.

The Wuh Nwur Dianz are fond of a certain brand of low-brow British linguistic humor, and as such are frequently heard to say things like the following.

There is an X in my hovercraft

lazy form    æʃ
 spoken form alsyo
citation form
aa- ə- l- r- sy- o
eel   be   INDIC.IMPOL;3RD.SG.SBJ.14th;LOC;HUMOR   in   hovercraft   POSS.1SG;LOC;OBJ.SG.32nd
“There is an eel in my hovercraft”
notes “Eel” is a noun of the fourteenth type (slimy things). “hovercraft” is of the thirtysecond (technological things). There is an explicit grammatical category for humorous or sarcastic remarks.
lazy form    ʘs
spoken form mbərs
citation form
l- ə- mb- r- sy- o
elephant   be   INDIC.IMPOL;3RD.SG.SBJ.15th;LOC;HUMOR   in   hovercraft   POSS.1SG;LOC;OBJ.SG.32nd
“There is an elephant in my hovercraft”
notes “Elephant” is a noun of the fifteenth type (heavy grey things). Note the bilabial click in the lazy form.
lazy form    u
 spoken form ksyõtbʴ
citation form
g- akseeomatik- ə- b-
eggplant   might   be   SUBJUNC.IMPOL;3RD.SG.SBJ.16th;LOC;HUMOR  

       r- sy- o
in   hovercraft   POSS.1SG;LOC;OBJ.SG.32nd

“There is an eggplant in my hovercraft”
 notes Eggplants were only introduced to the Wuh Nwur Dianz in the last decade or so, and they thought them a hoax at first. As a result, “eggplant” could only be referred to with an explicit modal “might” and the subjunctive form of the verb. This has been grammaticalized. “eggplant” is a noun of the sixteenth type (hypothetical things). This phrase is considered the height of Wuh Nwur Dianz humorit is interesting to note that the lazy form does not show the usual vaguely comprehensible (if extreme) phonetic reduction. It is, however, homophonous with u, which corresponds roughly to English ha!

Linguistic Analysis

Basically, I can’t really make heads or tails of this language beyond reporting the facts above. I can only hope the Wuh Nwur Dianz speak Russian as well as they seem to, and that my Russian translator did a good job.

Tentative Conclusions

Uncrossed Female Sign

More research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of this system. Said research will require more and abundant funding.


Claude Searsplainpockets Somewhere in the Caucasus

0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant #3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510..., and is brought to you in part by the number π, the letter Π, the mathematical operator ∏, and the mesons π +, π -, and π 0.

Anti-Rhetoric: A Critical Methodology for Critically Assessing Critical Thinking—Butch McBastard
Brother, Can You Paradigm?—Harris Risman
SpecGram Vol CLII, No 3 Contents