Notes on Sociophonology—Lea Kim Shopmont SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents Per Legale Judicium Parium Suorum

Prescriptive Linguistics

The Future of our Field

0. Preliminary. Before readers of SpecGram start showing up at my door carrying torches and pitchforks, please note that I am not recommending prescriptive grammar, which, like all properly indoctrinated linguists, I am happy to condemn to the dustbin of history, along with automotive tailfins, formal living rooms, and the Washington Senators. No, I am recommending prescriptive linguistics, so you can all put down your pitchforks and go back to playing Grand Theft Auto.

1. The Problem. Linguistics is not very remunerative. Not very remunerative at all. Something should be done about this.

2. The Solution. Recently I had to go to the doctor, and even though I have medical insurance, for which I pay an arm and a leg, I had to pay another leg just to get a doctor to come in half-an-hour late, see me for five minutes, and then give me a prescription for a drug which, since I had been left without a leg to stand on, I wasn’t able to afford anyway. (Luckily, I was able to break into the drugstore later that night and steal a sufficient quantity of the drug, along with a sixpack of Bud and one of those jumbo rolls of paper towels. Seems like I’m always running out of paper towels.)

Reviewing the above events once I got home, I realized that health care is where the money is. So that’s where linguistics should go. And luckily, we don’t need to worry about all the regulations that afflict people in the actual health care field; for example, rules stating that doctors can’t sell drugs themselves, since that would tempt them to prescribe useless expensive drugs just to get rich off of selling them. No, we can go ahead and prescribe things ourselves, and then sell the things we prescribe. (Linguists who teach at colleges already do this, but are relative pikers. They force students to buy ridiculously expensive textbooks, but do the profs get a cut of the total sales? No, all they get are free copies of the books. If I were a prof, I’d demand kickbacks from publishers before I’d make their textbooks required for my courses).

Of course, the above plan might raise suspicions among our clients, so an even better arrangement might be for the prescribing linguist and the dispensing logopharmacist to be silent partners. They could even be a married couple. A typical lucrative transaction might go as follows: a patient complaining of headaches, and not having the money to go see an MD, goes to seek alternative therapy from a prescriptive linguist, whom we’ll call TJ. TJ lightly taps on the patient’s larynx, then places his right forefinger on the patient’s left temple while asking the patient to produce ejective stops interspersed with nasalized vowels. TJ then diagnoses “excessively forceful glottal occlusive technique leading to enhanced nasal cavity pressure which, when translated to Broca’s Area, leads to cranial discomfort”. After collecting sixty bucks (alternative therapists only demand payment after providing their services, thereby proving that they’re not wicked people like MD’s, who charge you whether or not they’ve come up with anything other than, “Beats me. I’m gonna order some tests and send you to a specialist”), TJ writes a prescription and sends the patient to JW, who, according to TJ, is “the best logopharmacist in the city”. TJ forgets to mention that JW is (1) his wife, not to mention (2) the only logopharmacist in the city.

At JW’s establishment, our unsuspecting patient gets what’s been prescribed for him, which turns out to be the five-volume DVD boxed set Learn to Speak K’ich’e, which TJ and JW picked up at a garage sale for five bucks two weeks ago. A bit dismayed by the $200 price, the patient asks if there isn’t a generic equivalent, and JW replies that there is, but only in Mexico, and it’s illegal for her to buy DVD’s from foreign countries and dispense them to her customers here. Of course, if the customer wants to drive over to, say, Ciudad Juarez and buy the generic version there, he’s welcome to do so.

The customer, who by now has realized (1) that he doesn’t know Spanish anyway, and therefore a Mexican DVD probably wouldn’t be of much use to him, and (2) wild horses couldn’t drag him into Juarez, decides to buy the DVD’s from JW. Of course, learning K’ich’e from DVD’s turns out to be so boring that he only finishes the first one, so he doesn’t even have a good basis for complaining that TJ’s prescription didn’t cure his headaches. “If only you’d completed the entire course of treatment, sir. But I’d be willing to try prescribing an alternative course of treatment if you’re not able to complete this one.”

3. Benefits. (1) Most obviously, this plan would make linguistics pay, for a lot of linguists, not just for the lucky few who get jobs at universities or as computational linguists. (2) It would also get us some recognition. Nowadays, few people know what linguistics is. Everyone knows what aromatherapy is. True, most people laugh at aromatherapy, but a sizable number of people swear by itfar more than swear by descriptive linguistics.

4. Course of Action. We can only make prescriptive linguistics work if we get a lot of linguists on board, and then limit access to the field so that only real linguists can be certified practitioners (we don’t want any old foreign language teacher, for example, to be able to hang up a shingle). The best thing would be for a prestigious linguistics organizationsuch as the LSA or Speculative Grammarianto set up a governing body. University departments of linguistics will be glad to lend their support: prescriptive linguistics will finally make it possible for faculty to answer the question that all prospective students ask, namely, “What can I do with a degree in linguistics?”

5. My Fee. I am currently awaiting trial on charges of unlawful entry and petty larceny, and therefore would welcome contributions to my legal defense fund from readers of SpecGram.

Name withheld at author’s request

Notes on SociophonologyLea Kim Shopmont
Per Legale Judicium Parium Suorum
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents