The Phonology Class—Metalleus SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 2 Contents Safety precautions for data mining expeditions—Prof. S.N.L. Ingqvist

Linguistic Koans

Culled from the sacred texts by Z. En ‘Bud’ Dhist

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What is the sound of one vocal cord flapping?

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An undergrad asked the professor, “Does English lack tone?”

The professor replied, “Mm hmm.”

Suddenly, the student was enlightened.

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Two students in a fieldwork class were listening to a tongue flapping in an informant’s mouth. One said to the other, “The rounding of the vowels is non-contrastive.”

The other replied, “The aspiration of the consonants is non-contrastive.”

The professor overheard this, and said, “Not the rounding, not the aspiration; mind is non-contrastive.”

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Consider: always doesn’t always mean ‘always’.

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The linguistics professor sought to enlighten a Ling 101 class.

“In English, a double negative can indicate a positive. In Spanish, a double negative still indicates a negative. However, in no language does a double positive indicate a negative.

A sarcastic voice from the back of the lecture hall called out clearly: “Yeah, yeah.”

Suddenly, the professor attained enlightenment.

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The linguistics professor explained the principles of determining phonemic inventory, including minimal pairs and complementary distribution.

Then the professor held out /h/ and /ŋ/. “If you call them //, you oppose their reality. If you do not call them //, you ignore the facts. Now what do you wish to call them?”

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A young linguist-in-training asked the professor, “What is the true semantics of syntax?”

The teacher picked up a glass of water and threw it in the student’s face, saying “Go wash out your mouth!”

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A student came to the professor, saying, “The more I study the less I understand. For ten years I have studied transformational grammar, optimality theory, functional theory, corpus linguistics, and even stratificational linguistics. I can construct trees, move-α, order constraints, infer grammar rules statistically, build relational networks, and describe almost anything tagmemically. My thesis defense is in three daysyet I do not feel that I am any closer to grasping the true nature of human language.”

The professor sat silently for several moments, then spoke thus: “A child of four, raised in Mexico, has a better grasp of the subjunctive mood than you ever will, my monolingual pupil. A child of six, raised five hundred years ago in an Oneida village, had a better understanding of polysynthetic morphosyntax than you ever will. A child of eight, raised in Africa, has a more thorough familiarity with multilingualism than you ever will. Yet none of these children ever did or ever will know any linguistic theory. And yet they all grasp the true nature of human language.”

And the student was enlightened.

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The Phonology Class—Metalleus
Safety precautions for data mining expeditions—Prof. S.N.L. Ingqvist
SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 2 Contents