Boas’ iDesktopInformationTransmissionDevice—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLIX, No 2 Contents Aristotle Celebrates the Discovery of the Σύνδεσμος—John Miaou and Ann Shen Tgrii-Kearn

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editors,

In a recent news report (Kelley 2010), the claim was made that technologies such as

texting, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, all are being blamed for an increasingly unacceptable number of post-secondary students who can’t write properly.

Ann Barrett, managing director of the English language proficiency exam at Waterloo University ... [says], “If a student has problems with articles, prepositions, verb tenses, that’s a problem.”

“Little happy faces ... or a sad face ... little abbreviations,” show up even in letters of academic appeal, says Rummana Khan Hemani, [Simon Fraser University’s director of academic advising].

“The words ‘a lot’ have become one word, for everyone, as far as I can tell. ‘Definitely’ is always spelled with an ‘a’‘definately’. I don’t know why,” says Paul Budra, an English professor and associate dean of arts and science at Simon Fraser. ... “Punctuation errors are huge, and apostrophe errors. Students seem to have absolutely no idea what an apostrophe is for. None. Absolutely none. ... I get their essays and I go ‘You obviously don’t know what a sentence fragment is. You think commas are sort of like parmesan cheese that you sprinkle on your words’.”

What do you, the editors of SpecGram, think of these developments? Is this a real problem? Or is it overblown? As James Turk of the Association of University Teachers said in the article:

“You can go back and read Plato and see Socrates talking about the allegations that this generation isn’t as not as good [sic] as previous ones.”

Worried at Waterloo

Kelley, Susanna (2010), “Students failing because of Twitter, texting and no grammar teaching”, The Canadian Press, Jan 31, 2010.


@WaterlooWorried srsly? twtr is da bomb! fbook, sux tho! parmesan, ftw! roflcopter! we luv, social media, cuz, it rox0rz!!1! :) kthxbye—eds.

You can follow the editors of Speculative Grammarian on Twitter, @SpecGram.


Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

Dear Sir

I have just read with interest the article “Is Translation Possible” by Prof Trent Slater. I wonder how I might obtain a Hungarian translation for my students, who have long been convinced that translation is possible: I would dearly like to prove them wrong. If it would help, the Hungarian words for sheep include: málészájú, juh, birka and bárány.

Jeremy Wheeler


Dear “Prof.” Wheeler,

It seems that your students are missing the main point of the article about the non-isomorphicity of languages. The article uses “sheep” as its example, but one may as well include the words in the article as proof. Take, for example, the first clause:

“While translation studies continues to grow as a field...”

Going word by word, the word “while” in English has nothing to do with sheep, and yet in Hungarian, it’s translated as juh.

Before you object, recall that claiming the Hungarian word juh can be translated as “sheep” runs counter to the very claim you make in your letter. In fact, claiming that the Hungarian word juh can be translated as any word of English runs counter to your claim. And as it’s impossible to translate any word of Hungarian into any word of English, I now provide you with the absolute translation of the first clause of Prof. Slater’s article:

Juh málészájú birka birka málészájú juh birka bárány...

Hopefully this translation will prove, once and for all, that translation is impossible. If your students still won’t accept this as proof, SpecGram Translation Services can translate the rest of the article for you for a nominal fee of $24.99 per word. (Note, though, that “word” here can’t adequately be defined [even in English], so “per word”, naturally, is up to interpretation [and that interpretation will be provided by SpecGram Translation Services after you sign your contract].)

Regards (or, in Hungarian, birka málészájú),

[What counts as a nominal fee in U.S. dollars may constitute a general substantival (or even verbal) fee in another currency. We won’t even venture a vague guess about Nootka. —Eds.]


Editor’s note: In the March 2010 Letters, we denounced a reader for obtaining a bootleg Basque translation of Prof. Slater’s article. After publication, one of our own editors made the following admission:

It was actually me who smuggled an Aranese translation of that article written in Carolingian minuscule and dissimulated as a medieval charta across the Pyrenees, and handed it over to a Basque shepherd for five Etorki cheeses and one bundle of Espelette pimento. Was that bad? Anyone want to come around for dinner?

We thought it best to get ahead of the scandal and come clean. The perp has had her Speculative Grammarian Spa membership suspended for thirty days, her voting privileges for the Speculative Grammarian Editor’s Holiday Social Committee revoked, and her quarterly pay has been docked 35%. She also had her whipping sub-assistant flogged.

Boas’ iDesktopInformationTransmissionDevice—A Letter from the Managing Editor
Aristotle Celebrates the Discovery of the Σύνδεσμος—John Miaou and Ann Shen Tgrii-Kearn
SpecGram Vol CLIX, No 2 Contents