Preliminary Report on B—,
one of the Tantric languages of Hm-hmumble-rsia
B— is a non-Outdoor European language, closely related to D—, T—, and G—. Together with Professors Jim Matisoff and Charles Li, I have been engaged in nonstop field research on B— for the past thirty-eight years. We are now in a position to hint at a suggestion of a tentative report on our earliest preliminary findings.
|1. Waveforms for four B— stops:|
Detailed and Highly Technical Phonetic Overview
Stop consonants show delayed release. Delayed release is what the Tantric languages are all about. You put your tongue on your alveolar ridge, say, and you just leave it there. The seasons change. Children grow up. Do you ever release it? That’s not the point, dear.
Language and Culture
Speakers of Tantric languages learn to prolong the act of speaking in order to focus, rather than dissipate, potent articulatory energies. In this way the process of giving tongue is translated from the plane of mere chatting to the realm of Being. There is no ‘goal’ in B—, only the present moment of perfect and harmonious articulation. Conversation between two partners, when entered into with awareness, is a gateway to spiritual and confabulatory ecstasy.
Before embarking on an utterance, communicants spend years under the guidance of a spiritual teacher. Equally crucial are visualization of the phoneme and vocal preparation through mantras. These practices can be construed as seeing and speaking the phoneme into being. Internalisation of the entire phonological system is thus effected, so that the aspiring utterer in effect ‘becomes’ the phoneme.
Alas, field work necessarily proceeds at less than what Mary Haas termed “a lickety-split pace.”1 While linguists hover, microphones poised, awaiting the ultimate release of what is confidently predicted to be (say) a /k/, the remains of pre-contact Tantric culture erode daily. Language loss is accelerated by the impact of westerners for whom talking is about getting things done. Maintaining relationships, exchanging information, learning the inmost thoughts and feelings of a loved one: these are concepts alien to traditional B— culture, and thus are not encoded in the language. Recent reports suggest the existence of a lingual backlash (terribly painful) among speakers of B—, in reaction to the incontinent plosivity of television programs. This movement advocates the restraint not merely of articulatory release, but of respiration itself. Adherents are said to be dying off quickly.
University of California at Santa Barbara
Visiting Fellow, Institute For Epiglottal Phenomena, St. Andrews University, Fife
Sanskritologist-in-Residence, Fortnum & Mason
1 It has been suggested that B— may not actually be an abbreviation, but the full name of the language. It is certainly all that any of us has heard to date.