An Advance Critique of the Psammeticus Press <i>Contrastive Grammars Series Series</i>—Anonymous SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 1 Contents No Escape From the Bremley Bump—Don’t Try Linguistic Analysis in the Privacy of Your Own Treehouse—Milton B. Radley, Ph.D.

Linguists Need Prescriptivists

and probably Pig Latin, too

It has been theorized before that many of the perceived constraints on human language (and thus on any universal grammar of human language) are actually more likely to be constraints on the ways that human languages can change as they are transmitted from one generation to the next. On the other hand, language games, such as Pig Latin, Verlan, or Opish, often require transformations that violate the so-called “rules” of Universal Grammar™. Nonetheless, those who fully internalize these often twisted and sometimes broken languages can achieve a fluency parallel to their fluency as a native speaker of a “natural” language.

Even more telling, certain kinds of hypercorrection in natural language have led to rules that clearly violate UG. The classic example is pronoun coordinationas seen in many dialects of Englishnamely, “John and I” vs. “me and John”. Traditional grammar distinguishes these two coordinations based primarily on casesubject vs. object. Certain dialects, however, distinguish the two on politeness and formalityformal vs. informal. In such dialects, sentences like those in (1) and (2) are common:

(1) Me and John are going to the store.

(2) Please be so kind as to forward that to John and I.

Once mainstream linguists stop labeling such examples as “theoretically infelicitous” (but nonetheless common) performance errors and look at the actual datatheir failure to do so being a deliberate obtuseness and willful ignorance that borders on the criminal!linguistics will make leaps forward in the understanding of the true capabilities of the human language organ.

What will it take to make such obviously rule-governed “silly games” and “performance errors” a topic of mainstream linguistic research? The answer is not entirely clear, but increased exposure to such data (both in everyday life and in an academic setting) can only speed up the process.

As such, the first recommendation of this committee is that linguists stop even trying to shoot down or shut up the pedantically pointless pronouncements of prescriptivistsit hasn’t worked so far, and thus wastes our valuable time. But more to the point we need these twittering authoritarian blowhards to twist the language of the socially insecure and linguistically naive masses into novel shapes that reveal the true limits of the underlying structure of language.

More radically, the second recommendation of this committee is that introductory linguistics classes (i.e., the staple “Ling 101”) stop bothering to try to be a true introduction to the art and science of linguistics. Instead, make students’ first exposure to linguistics a course where undergrads’ grades depend on their ability to become fluent in language games like Pig Latin or Verlan. Since this could actually be fun for many students, such a winner of a class will likely increase enrollment in both the Ling 101 course and the following course (where real linguistics would be taught). The shock of the transition from total fluff to hardcore linguistics will likely decrease the number of eventual linguistics majors. This is a win-win situation, since increased enrollment means more money for departments, while a decrease in the number of linguistics majors will thin the herd out in the academic linguistic job marketanother development of which we are in sore need.

Finally, we would like to say “ankyouthay!” to all our readers for your help and support in this matter.


Anderson, Stephen (1992). Amorphous Morphology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ones-jay, Ey-tray (1993). As-lay of-lay et-yay un-lay-itled-tay. Houston: Rice University Press.

Dr. Illiamway Afiresay, hDPay Unilay-ersityvay of Ornay-ayway
Dr. Iamwill Iresaf, DPh Tysiverniu of Waynor
Dr. Willopiamop Safopireop, PophopDop Uopniopveropsioptyop of Noropwayop

An Advance Critique of the Psammeticus Press Contrastive Grammars Series Series—Anonymous
No Escape From the Bremley Bump—Don’t Try Linguistic Analysis in the Privacy of Your Own Treehouse—Milton B. Radley, Ph.D.
SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 1 Contents