Mid. after-Nguyen Knap—A Brief Ontogenical Sketch—Mandy O. Chyryry SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 4 Contents Advertisement—John Deere—Linguistic Data Harvesters

SHRLI: Stealthy High Resolution Linguistic Intake

A case study in semi-unobtrusive quasi-automated pseudo-naturalistic fieldwork

undertaken by Hellgrün Dunkelblau, Ph.D.
and Myrkur-Viviti Темнота
Department of Computational Fieldwork
Caenoches Technical School
Darkness Falls, Massachusetts

On January 1st, 2005, Caenoches Technical School officially opened the four-story Ciemność Mallumo Hall for the Humanities, a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility for housing four growing humanities departments: Classics, English, Linguistics, and Psychology. Over the previous year, while the building was being constructed, the chairs of the four departments had argued bitterly over which floor each department should be assigned to. The Dean of Humanities, in consultation with the Dean of Sciences, came upon a novel solution: divide the building into four multi-story triangular wedges and assign one to each department. Each department would then have its own entrance, office space on every floor, and equal access to centrally-located elevators and peripherally-located stairwells in its respective “wedge”.

Immediately arguments over which wedges should be assigned to which department broke out. The Dean of Sciences had the chair of the Department of Computational Fieldwork (which is under the Sciences Division of the School, naturally) randomly assign the wedges. The assignments were Psychology/north, Linguistics/south, English/east, and Classics/west. As Linguistics received the widely-coveted southern wedge, there were many accusations of favoritism, collusion, and even bribery. The Dean of Humanities officially forbade any further discussion on the topic, but the chairs of the other departments continued their protests, at least symbolically, by each declaring that the term “linguist” was not to be used to refer to the academicians in the Linguistics Department, but rather that a near-synonym be used. There is some evidence that the Classics Department chair began the movement, choosing “philologist”, but the historical record is not at all clear on the matter. In any event, the English Department chair similarly dictated “theoretical language researcher” and the Psychology Department chair mandated “applied psycholinguist”.

As a form of counter-protest, the Linguistics Department immediately undertook an effort to construct a Synchronic Dialect Map of Ciemność Mallumo Hall, which purported to show the “dialectal variation and effect of altitude on dialect boundary mixing in multi-departmental buildings”. There was, of course, no dialect boundary mixing on the day of the survey, regardless of altitude. The results, in the form of a high-resolution dialect map, were ceremoniously delivered to the Dean of Humanities in January 2005. The Dean attempted to ignore the petty childishness on all sides, but the Linguistics Department continues to deliver the cumulative dialect maps each year (renamed the Diachronic Dialect Map of Ciemność Mallumo Hall in its second iteration), up through the most recent in January 2010. Likewise, the chairs of the other departments continue to demand that the term “linguist” not be used by their faculty, students, or staff.

The results of every Mallumo dialect map to date have been identical, as presented below.

All Floors
January 1st, 2005-2010
linguist (Ling.) theoretical language researcher (Eng.)
philologist (Class.) applied psycholinguist (Psych.)

Unbeknownst to the four departments in Mallumo Hall, the Department of Computational Fieldwork (currently and historically housed in the aging but generally adequate Tma Synkkyys Hall for Other Computation Sciences, built in 1882) worked with the contractors for Mallumo Hall to install a dense array of over 18,000 stationary and roving SHRLI sensors throughout the building during its construction. SHRLI (“Stealthy High Resolution Linguistic Intake”) sensors feature radio communication, GPS tracking, advanced 3D Doppler sonar imaging, rechargeable solar batteries, and real-time automatic speaker identification and speech recognition sampling capabilities. These nano-scale machines permeate the very warp and weft of Mallumo Hall, and use complex artificially intelligent algorithms to redistribute and cluster the roving sensors based on the number of people present and the amount of conversation taking place at any given location.

The SHRLI sensors, because of their inherently stealthy nature, reveal the true complexion of naturalistic language use, and thus provide a much more accurate and more fine-grained Diachronic Dialect Map of Ciemność Mallumo Hall. For the last five years we in CompFwrk have been gathering and collating such data from the SHRLI sensors in Mallumo. Advanced as they are, the sensors deployed were early prototypes, with limited life, and only 70% of them remain active. As more continue to malfunction and stop reporting data, the quality of the information we can collect will decrease below some critical threshold of sampling rate and coverage, and they will become of limited, merely anecdotal value. Current models approximate the effective end of life of the system to be on or around July 17th, 2010, at about 3pm, plus or minus ten minutes.

Since we will be unable to gather a full set of data for 2010, we thought it was time to publish our results.

The interactive maps below display animated dialect maps, by floor of Mallumo Hall, for each of the five years studied. A brief impressionistic overview of the data and our hypotheses concerning the distribution of terms (based on additional “conversational turn-taking data” acquired by the SHRLI sensors) is provided as well.

In 2005, the Linguistics Department waged a campaign to end the use of the alternate terms, and the use of “linguist” did indeed spread more widely throughout Mallumo Hall. The conflict was most heated on the fourth floor, where each of the other three departments made counter-surges with varying success. “Philologist” won out on the fourth floor and held the most ground on the other floors, most likely because of its lesser morphemic complexity. By the end of the year, however, the original, “official” dialect boundaries were re-established in time for the January 2006 Dialect Survey conducted by the Linguistics Department.

In 2006, the variation initially followed a similar pattern, but with a smattering of new, more derogatory terms. “Linguistician”, “languologist”, and “langualogist” were used more-or-less in free variation in certain sub-populations, while “rider on the grad school gravy train”, despite its length, made some headway. Offensives and counter-offensives eventually resulted in a kind of floor-by-floor siege mentality, with each floor being dominated by a single term, enforced by peer pressure and social ostracism. There were still a smattering of other terms used from time to time. Some speakers clearly tried to bring some form of civility and freedom of speech back to the discourse by returning to one of the original four reasonably polite terms, while others reintroduced the more derogatory terms. None of these efforts amounted to much. Again, by the time of the official annual survey by the Linguistics Department in January, the distribution of usage had reset to the departmental dictates.

2007 saw less in the way of lexical hegemony by floor, and more in the way of isolated pockets of variation. The semi-derogatory terms “ling-geek” and “word nerd” became much more common, with “ling-geek” making considerable inroads in the Linguistics Department, particularly on the third floor, where it was taken over as a badge of honor among the linguists. Again, by the end of the year, the official departmental demarcations and mandated terminology were restored in time for the annual survey.

Floor 1
Floor 2
Floor 3
Floor 4

  2005     2006     2007     2008     2009  
(Click on a year to see the animated data for that year. Click again to stop the animation.)

linguist (Ling.) theoretical language researcher (Eng.) ling-geek
philologist (Class.) linguistician/langu(a|o)logist word nerd
applied psycholinguist (Psych.) rider on the grad school gravy train tongue monkey

In 2008, the disintegration of the “official” departmental pattern was more rapid and varied. Derogatory terms were commonly used among various sub-populations, and the term “tongue monkey”, which had popped up briefly in earlier years, gained widespread currency. Again, the usage among the linguists themselves is complex, and reflects various attempts at in-group identification (as with the use of “philologist” by linguists near the Classics department) and attempting to de-stigmatize a term by claiming it as a self-label (particularly the use of “tongue monkey” by second floor linguists). Once again, the departmental lexical norms were restored in time for the annual survey.

2009 shows the most chaotic pattern (or lack thereof) to date. There are indications that much of the flux in usage was driven by the whims of a small number of strident individuals, while others around them simply decided to “go along to get along”, and still others adopted whatever usage was presented to them, but in a self-consciously ironic and often openly sarcastic way.


The copious data we have collected, of which we have made but the most shallow presentation here, will keep much of the entire CompFwrk department busy for quite some time. On a more somber, non-linguistic note, we do not know what the linguistic patterns we have seen mean for the Humanities Division of Caenoches Technical School, but the future does not look bright. We strongly recommend to the Dean of Humanities and the chairs of the various departments that they seek counseling or, failing that, at least some form of closure-inducing arbitration.

On a brighter, fieldwork-relevant note, this early prototype of the SHRLI system functioned well beyond the expectations of its developers here in the CompFwrk department. We have already made plans to deploy the less-expensive (0.04¢ each), more-capable (20-year life and twice the processing power and bandwidth), multi-lingual (2,000 languages and dialects known, with detailed IPA transcription for unknown languages) version 2.0 of the system at several hundred construction sites around the globe. We have also been working on a more robust outdoor version of the system (OSHRLI, or Outdoor SHRLI) for deployment in less urbanized locations, and we expect to deploy several tens of million of the OSHRLI nano-machines throughout the Amazon basin (with a particular focus on the region where the so-called Pirahã “language” is “spoken”) in 2011.

Mid. after-Nguyen Knap—A Brief Ontogenical Sketch—Mandy O. Chyryry
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SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 4 Contents