Extract from an Interview with Eglantine Lady Fantod, Dowager Professor of Philology at Cambridge University—Freya Shipley SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 1 Contents Improving L2 Performance with Pirahã, Shigudo, and Simple English—The effects of syntactic and semantic priming on successful L2 communication—Jeannot Van Tricasse

The Narcolinguistic Effects of Professional Athletic Strikes:
The hidden danger of baseballis your community safe?

George E. Will, Linguistics Institute of the Washington Post
Bruce Arena, Lacrosse Linguistics Institute
Larry James Bird, French Lick Linguistics Lab

A recent Speculative Grammarian news report called attention to the factwhich was only discovered latelythat Canadians stopped speaking for a period during the years 2004-5. This unprecedented complete cessation of language-mediated interactions by an entire nation-state was said to be totally unexplained. However, the explanation is as plain as (to put it in the Canuck idiom) the nose on your face during a Manitoba winter.

In fact, the drop-off in Canadian language production in 2004-5 coincided precisely (to the very day) with a “lockout” of professional hockey players by the owners of the National Hockey League. This lockout had the result that professional hockey was not played that fall or winter. The key dates, along with the original news story’s description of the associated catastrophic linguistic consequences, are provided in Table I.

Effects of NHL Lockout on Canadian language production
16 Sept. 2004Lockout begins“Language production dropped off dramatically”
13 Oct. 2004Season opener cancelled“Most Canadians stopped speaking at all”
16 Feb. 2004Entire season cancelled(Source did not bother to mention this date)
13 July 2005New collective bargaining agreement reached“Canadians abruptly started talking again”
5 Oct. 2005Opening night (all 30 teams play)“Language ... made the final jump back up to normal levels”

It seems, in short, that with the cancellation of the NHL season, Canadians just had nothing to say for a period of several months. At the same time, they may actually have been clinically depressed en masse, though a survey of the psychological literature of the period turns up no evidence that any other, non-speech behaviors changed during this period. When the lockout ended, language use immediately began to recover throughout the country. Although this phenomenon is clearly unprecedented, it is equally clearly a case of simple causation: no hockey, no talk.

The present study follows up on the insights gained from this Canadian situation to ask the question: what have been the effects on language use of other major-league sports work stoppages? Specifically, are US residents affected by sports strikes in the same way that Canadians were by the hockey season cancellation?

Using recordings we had gathered as part of a large-scale American Spoken Corpus project, dating from 1973 to the present, we checked for pervasive or systematic changes in the amount of language produced by all Americans before, during and after major sports work stoppages. Our data show that the cancellation of part or all of the season of most professional sports had no discernible effect on language use by Americans. The amount of speech produced before, during and after these events was essentially constant. Our review included work stoppages of both the National Basketball Association (1 July-12 September 1995 and 1 July 1998-20 January 1999) and the National Football League (20 September -20 November 1982; 22 September-25 October 1987). Similarly, the NHL (hockey) stoppage which was the focus of the Canadian phenomenon also did not appear to affect language use in the United States.

Baseball, though, is different. We found that language use in the USA, Canada (especially Toronto), and even Mexico actually rose significantly during all of the major-league baseball work stoppages that we surveyed. Our striking observations are summarized in Table II.

Effects of Major League Baseball work stoppages on N. American language production
1-13 April 1972Players’ strikeNumber of conversations per speaker per hour rose 5%.
12 June-
31 July 1981
Players’ strikeAverage words per minute in conversations rose 18%.
15 February-
19 March 1990
Owners’ lockoutClausal density, measured in verbs per event per subject noun phrase, rose 7.9%.
12 August 1994-
2 April 1995
Players’ strikeFluency rose 6%.
5 July-
16 September 2003
Owners’ lockoutMean Length of Utterance rose 5%, argument density rose 8%, and discourse coherence rose a whopping 84%.

These remarkable statistics lead to the conclusion that baseball actually depresses the rate of language use by the entire population of baseball-playing nations. The very fact that professional baseball is being played, anywhere on the continent, seems to disincline speakers to talk.

This effect was not found, we should note, simply in conversations in which the subject matter was related to baseball. No. All conversation on all topics, among all speakers, increased by various linguistic measures during each baseball work stoppage. In each case, language use returned to pre-strike levels after play resumed.

We conclude from this phenomenon that baseball is a narcotic, operating not at the individual but at the societal level. It is an activity which affects not just its participants and spectators, but everyone else, as well. Why this should be so, we can only speculate, but terms such as “soporific” and “stultifying” do come readily to mind. We can only imagine the glory which must have been North American language use prior to the founding of the National League in 1876, or even prior to the fiendish Alexander Cartwright’s foisting of a codified system of “rules” for this game onto a defenseless and presumably loquacious public in 1845.

The results of this purely linguistic study suggest a very practical application: baseball should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as are all substances which have similar narcotic properties. We, the researchers, certainly feel unsafe, knowing that baseball players and baseball fans are allowed to freely operate motor vehicles on our public roads.

Extract from an Interview with Eglantine Lady Fantod, Dowager Professor of Philology at Cambridge UniversityFreya Shipley
Improving L2 Performance with Pirahã, Shigudo, and Simple EnglishThe effects of syntactic and semantic priming on successful L2 communicationJeannot Van Tricasse
SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 1 Contents