SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 1 Contents Letters to the Editor

Sturm und Drang und Drang und Sturm

A Letter from the Managing Editor

We had thought that perhaps the Sturm und Drang surrounding Center Embedding Passives would have died down by now, or at least moved over to Linguistica ad nauseum, given the length of the discussion, or, just as appropriately, Linguistica ad hominem, given the vitriolic ink that has been spilled in these hallowed pages over the matter.

But then, this April, The Center for Center Embedding embedded in The Central Ürümqi Center for Centrist Linguistics placed a paid advertisement in this journal, calling for more research. Then in May (published in June) no other than Sir Edmund C. Gladstone-Chamberlain wrote to us with his thoughts on the matter.

As we noted in our reply, we have some fascinating new light to shed on (or at least heat to add to) the discussion. Senior Editor Keith W. Slater was digging around in his great-grandpa Keiller W. Slater’s attic when he stumbled upon an early hand-written draft of Boas’s Handbook of American Indian Languages. In the margin next to the entry for Mekem (a Brazilian language and in fact the only New World language in the list of languages that have been deemed relevant to the discussion of center embedding passives), none other than Ole Franz himself had written this prescient comment:

Future linguists no doubt will discover other languages of this character, though as far as we know today Mekem is unique in its internally-reflexive construction. I dare not publish these observations today, but posterity will bear witness to the human capacity for self-reversal to which Mekem transparently testifies. I can only wax wistful at the vision of desktop information transmission devices, sending words and even pictures from one man’s study to another, even across the world, which this language’s amazing construction presages. Based on Mekem alone, I might venture to predict that inherently reflexivizing languages with such names as Ere and Manam must certainly remain hidden in the world’s most out-of-reach places, and that someday their speakers will create dictionaries for all the world to have instantaneously transmitted to their own desks, where they will be able to reformat them at will.

One cannot help but wonder what Boas would have made of the current state of affairs in linguistics, in technology, in the world as a whole. Ah, that is nought but idle speculation. Rather, as Sir Edmund has exhorted us to do, we should get back to the data. That leads to the kind of practical speculation to which any grammarian may aspire.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 1 Contents