Just Friend?—Helga Langenase & R. Lola Rennt SpecGram Vol CLX, No 2 Contents On the Correct Usage of the Ellipsis—Darius D. Dolesworthy, Otis Oswald Ott, and T. Thadeus Theotokopoulis

Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another irregular installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

’Trilaas in Manila

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Multi-Trill Counting0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 64

There is a little-known tribeliving in diaspora and without a homelandwhose otherwise mind-numbingly boring language features a remarkable counting system unlike any other. We caught up with a large group living in the capital of the Philippines. Several older members of the tribe claim the name of the tribe was once “Obliert Rilaasiant”, but no one remembers where the name came from or what it might mean. Now they call themselves by a shortened form: ’Trilaa.

While no respectable linguist would describe a language as “boring”, the ’Trilaa themselves say that, according to the lore handed down from their ancestors, they once spoke a language so boring they could not get their children to learn it once they had access to other languages. Now the ’Trilaa have lost their language, except for one fascinating feature, a number-counting game. At first glance, particularly in translation, the game seems pretty boring, too:

“1, 2, 4, 8; 12, 10, 9, 5, 3; 5, 10, 5, 10; 9, 6, 9, 6; 7, 11, 13, 14; 15, 0, 15, 0, 15!”

What makes the number-counting game interestingto both the ’Trilaa and the linguistically-mindedis its odd compositionality. The numbers for 1, 2, and 4 are voiceless trills (bilabial, alveolar, and uvular). 8 is a voiced glottal fricative (or, as we’ll see, perhaps simply “voicing”).

1 = ʙ̥       2 = r̥̩       4 = ʀ̥       8 = ɦ

Other numbers, up to 15, are produced by making the unique binary compositional co-articulation. Thus 5 is simultaneous voiceless bilabial (1) and uvular (4) trills. 13 is the same as 5, but +voicing (which is +8). Some of the sounds are quite complex, but easily produced with practice. 15 is three co-articulated voiced trills. Oddly, 0 is represented, at least in the number-counting game, by silence.

We can represent the originally bland-seeming number-counting game graphically, revealing its complex, abstract, sweater-like pattern:

ʙ̥ (1)                                
ʀ̥ (4)                                
+voicing/ɦ (8)                                
    1 2 4 8   12 10 9 5 3   5 10 5 10

ʙ̥ (1)                                
ʀ̥ (4)                                
+voicing/ɦ (8)                                
    9 6 9 6   7 11 13 14   15 0 15 0 15

Many ’Trilaas sing this song quietly in public, and they occasionally encounter other ’Trilaas. One of our informants tells of meeting another ’Trilaa who spoke only French and, he thinks, some variety of Khoisan. They met in an airport in Frankfurt, but could not speak to each other (in their ancestral tongue or any other). They sang the counting song together a few times, hugged briefly, shed a few tears, and went on their separate ways.

Not all meetings are so pleasant (even if bittersweet).

Our informants also tell us that there are a small number of ’Trilaas who use a nasal-ingressive voiceless velar trill rather than silence for 0. My informant says singing the counting song with them is quite jarring, because where there should be respectful silence, the nasal-ingressive-voiceless-velar-trill–using ’Trilaas “snort like swine”.

There has even been violence against the nasal-ingressive-voiceless-velar-trill–using ’Trilaas by the silent-0 ’Trilaas. Most ’Trilaas advocate peace, given the precarious situation of their people, but the pro-violence individuals claim the nasal-ingressive-voiceless-velar-trill–using ’Trilaas actually contributed to schisms that lead to the diaspora. The nasal-ingressive-voiceless-velar-trill–using ’Trilaas counter that the silent-0 ’Trilaas are more likely to have contributed to the tediousness of the ’Trilaa language that their folklore says lead to its disuse and eventual loss.

For now they are a conflicted people who have lost their homeland, their history, and their way. Perhaps someday they will come together as a people, but we do not hold out much hope.

[Editor’s Note: They’ve been found! See issue CLXI.2.]

Claude Searsplainpockets &
Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets
Somewhere in the Philippines

0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant #αλφάβητο-счисления-1.6180339887-ϕ, and the allophones [ȹ͡f] and [ȸ͡v]

Just Friend?—Helga Langenase & R. Lola Rennt
On the Correct Usage of the Ellipsis—Darius D. Dolesworthy, Otis Oswald Ott, and T. Thadeus Theotokopoulis
SpecGram Vol CLX, No 2 Contents