On Egslunce—Name Withheld SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No 4 Contents Izzy as Pie—by Dạ̃bḃlÿ Dũṫch S̊.

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

It’s Notso Clear Now, Is It?

An Anthropological Linguistic Comparison of Notso Yi and Winodanugaian0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 67

Introductory Similarities

As faithful-readers will surely know, there have been a number of potentially interesting developments related to Winodanugai (Searsplainpockets 1993) and Notso Yi (Slater 2012), and the impressive feats of memory needed to speak these languages, as sketched in one of the present author’s recent articles comparing the two (Searsplainpockets 2012). As is standard practice in more traditional fieldwork, I took extensive blood samples during my time among the Winodanugai in the early 1990s. It is now time to reanalyze those samples with more modern equipment, techniques, and perspectives (as is always the case when progress has marched on, as it inexorably will).

It is also clearly time to collect new samples from the Notso Yi in China. Our working hypothesis is that it is unlikely that the Winodanugai and Notso Yi are actually related in any way, but their speakers may share common genetic markers for enhanced memory that will prove useful to linguists and other researchers. After our arrival in China, we placed a call to Mr. Slater’s office, and one of his assistants gave us the necessary directions (in proto-Nostratic for some reason, but that is neither here nor there).

We arrived, unpacked our gear, and introduced ourselves to the Notso Yi speakers. They immediately asked for our international cell phone numbers so that they could begin to send us data-laden text messages, as they had with Mr. Slater. They were surprised when we took out our notebooks asked if we could just talk to them, but they agreed enthusiastically.

Linguistic Similarities

Even a cursory examination of the phonology and morphology of Notso Yi (au naturel, as it were) makes it clear that it is not related to Winodanugai. Notso Yi is fundamentally a Sino-Tibetan language, and Winodanugai shows much evidence of being Austronesian (Searsplainpockets 1993). However, as the result of a computer glitch, some of our Notso data was accidentally encoded as “Vietnamese Windows-1258”, which made immediately apparent certain unexpected sound correspondences between Notso and Winodanugai. In particular, Notso // and Winodanugai /d/, Notso /t/ and Winodanugai /g/, Notso /a/ and Winodanugai /ŋ/, and Notso /˧˨/ and Winodanugai /w/.

Once these correspondences are taken into account, there is an unexpected 63.79% Swadesh overlap between Notso and Winodanugai. Consultation with our quintessentially computational colleague (Chit Fullah, personal communication) indicates that this is 64.88% likely due to chance similarities, so we put it out of our minds.

Cultural Similarities

Similarly to the Winodanugai, the Notso Yi take their near perfect memory for granted, and do not look kindly on those of their own kind who demonstrate “weak” memories. No small amount of English has crept into their speech (blame Slater 2012, perhaps?), and they now often refer to the weak-memoried as the “Nutso Yi”. This is somewhat more kind than the Winodanugai, who refer to the one non-eidetic speaker on their island as “the idiot”.

Though the question is a bit too anthropological for our taste, it is hard not to ask whether there is some universal principle at work here. Are those with perfect memories more likely to condescend? Or is it more generally that those with high skill levels look down on those without? Does it matter whether the skill is innate or achieved through practice? Are language-related skills more likely to co-occur with these personality traits? Some enterprising linguistic anthropologist should look into it. For now, we have bigger fish to fry.

Genetic Similarities

To review, it is unsurprising, given their well-remembered history, that the Winodanugai have genetic markers indicative of both Polynesian and European (primarily British) descent, and that is indeed what we found upon re-screening the relevant samples.

What was surprising, though, is that the Notso Yi appear to be quite closely related to the Winodanugai, having not only many European genetic markers, but also several genetic markers particular to the Winodanugai, which may be related to memory. Unsurprisingly, the Notso Yi also have many genetic markers indicating they are related to several local populations, especially other Yi.

Historical Similarities

The compelling history of the Winodanugai is well-documented, thanks in large part to their nearly perfectly transmitted oral tradition. The compellingly mysterious origin of the Notsoas distinct from other Yiis significantly less clear. What is well-known is that in the early 1860s a small band of oddly-accented Europeansassumed at the time by the Yi to be more of the many missionaries who visited the area where the Yi lived after the Second Opium War“went native” and joined the group that became the Notso. Not long thereafter, the Notso group began to acquire certain cultural traits and then later grammatical features that require better-than average to near-perfect recall.

The outlines of this vague history shows many parallels with the more detailed accounts of the Winodanugai, which faithful readers (as well as those with excellent memories) will recall includes the incorporation of eidetic Europeans into the local population, followed by the cultural devaluation of non-eidetic group members.

Reconstructed Similarities

After relaying via email, telegraph, and carrier pigeon to some of our erstwhile Winodanugai informants the highlights of what we had discovered, they enthusiastically responded with an interesting historical anecdote: on August 23, 1861 a group of first-generation Winodanugai, unsatisfied with life on the island after hearing many perfectly-recollected stories of Europe, built a new ship and set sail for “home”. They were never heard from again, and were assumed lost at sea. Is it possible that they ended up in China, and so far from the coast?

Unlike the European founders of the Winodanugai, these individuals felt the need to hide the story of their travels from their adopted tribe, the Notso Yi, so we may never know for sure, yet it seems to us the most likely explanation.

The Swadesh overlap, previously discounted by us as mere statistical noise, now hints at some common substrate to two separate language replacement events. We would have liked to have delved deeper into the lexical similarities and differences between Winodanugai and Notso, but time and funding did not permit us to do so.

Perhaps, having laid a proper foundation with with in situ field work, we may avail ourselves of the Slater Method, even hosting a multi-continental summit between the Notso and the Winodanugai via telegraph.

Tentative Conclusions

One obvious conclusion we must draw is the clear superiority of anthropological linguistics to the Slater Method, and even more so to “deskwork” (take that, Onesimus!).

Beyond that, more research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of these languages and their relationships. Said research will require more and abundant funding.

Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets

Somewhere in China

0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant 0-1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34-55-89-144, the number , and the letter φ.

On EgslunceName Withheld
Izzy as Pieby Dạ̃bḃlÿ Dũṫch S̊.
SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No 4 Contents