Linguistics Manifesto—Ling M. Anifesto SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 2 Contents On the Wild Extrapolation of Rhodes’ Tame/Wild Scale—Fugacious Ƕ. Bangzerrungen

The Meadian Median
Questioning the Average Preponderance of Fake Data

Nizgul Gibblefist
University of Herefordshire

What have linguists learned from our friends and colleagues in the field of Anthropology, considering the long-standing and ultimately irresolvable controversy surrounding Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa, and Derek Freeman’s water-muddying critique thereof? What is the median frequency of such (allegedly) Mead-like data, and the thesis-corrupting consequences thereof? Have we in linguistics adequately protected ourselves from the possibility of data falsified by informants, or even the reputation-tarnishing accusation thereof? Will we fallindeed, have we already falleninto a similar trap, to suffer the field-damaging repercussions thereof?

Claude Searsplainpockets’ preposterous labio-nasal, for example, is merely the most ridiculous of a series of ridiculous datasets and analyses. Similarly, is the idea that there is a language isolate in Brazil with a tiny phoneme inventory and all meaning able to be carried by prosody, without recursion, color terms, numbers, or historical evidence of personal pronouns, and virtually no kinship terms, embedded in a virulently monolingual culture without art, personal ownership, significant incest taboo, nor any drive to create or retain durable goods more or less plausible than the idea that the Pirahã culture is actually engaged in a multi-decade cross-generational avant garde anthropological performance piece? For now, these are perhaps paranoid possibilities; let us hope they do not devolve into cautionary tabloid tales for our field.

The much ballyhooed “Slater Method™”in which data is provided remotely via Skype, text messaging, and email, typically in translation via English, and often even pre-formatted and ready for publicationis, in inexpert hands, a dangerous methodological shortcut that threatens the integrity of any data or analysis it engenders. One of my grad studentswho shall remain anonymous while some future possibility of a career still remainsbrought to me the following virtually camera-ready Slaterian-style data. Lean in close and try to make sense of it.

   yri   ul   i  g  nxo    sge    pr   zwo   fn    a
   |    /  \  | /   |      |  \  /  \   |   /  \   |
   SG   DESC  VB    PRO    1  N  DOBJ   N   ADVB   2
   |    |  |  | \   |      | /   |  |   |   |  |
   I    d  o  b  e  you    am    t  o   a   ?  X   !

Now, if you step back from the dataliterallythe difficulty in understanding the meaning and annotations disappears and the pranksterish nature and intent of the informant becomes clear:

   XXX   XX   X  X  XXX    XXX    XX   XXX   XX    X
   |    /  \  | /   |      |  \  /  \   |   /  \   |
   XX   XXXX  XX    XXX    X  X  XXXX   X   XXXX   X
   |    |  |  | \   |      | /   |  |   |   |  |
   X    X  X  X  X  XXX    XX    X  X   X   X  X   X

Of course, finding an informant by answering an ad on Craigslist was not the best first step in the investigation.

The entire enterprise of Anthropology has been tarnished by the astronomically high-profile Meadian debacle. We need to make this kind of informant hucksterism more widely known so that we can protect ourselves and our field in the future.


• Daniel Everett (2005). “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language”, Current Anthropology, 46.
• Derek Freeman (1983). Margaret Mead and Samoa.
• Margaret Mead (1928). Coming of Age in Samoa.
• Claude Searsplainpockets (2006). “Hunting the Elusive Labio-NasalAn Anthropological Linguistic Study of the Beeg Haan Krrz”, Speculative Grammarian, CLI.3.
• Keith Slater (2006). “Evidential Complexity and Language Loss in Pinnacle Sherpa”, Speculative Grammarian, CLI.4.

Linguistics ManifestoLing M. Anifesto
On the Wild Extrapolation of Rhodes’ Tame/Wild ScaleFugacious Ƕ. Bangzerrungen
SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 2 Contents