Resurgent Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 1 Contents I’d Like to Buy a Vowel—Trey Jones

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

Among the Metal Mouths

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of the Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 68

Some Historical Detail

While the International Space Station continues to lose its luster as a news-worthy objet d’space, other, privately-funded orbital platforms circle the planet, literally over our heads, but metaphorically under the radar. One such platform, a top-secret space station housing an enclave of “cyborgs”, is the focus of our current research.

In the late 1790’s, inventor Jeʀ↓emiah Whitney (born Jeremiah, but renamed by his intellectual descendants), a less famous and considerably more eccentric cousin of Eli Whitney, started a small movement among a certain breed of well-educated gentlemen, all members of the Massachusetts chapter of the Dilettante Society. Whitney convinced nearly a dozen of these wealthy and well-connected men to commit their fortunes to the goal of a then outlandish dreamfamiliar to modern readers of speculative fictionnamely, the aim of merging man and machine.

By the 1810’s, the group had grown to between twenty and thirty men, their wives, and their children. In the intervening years, Whitney spent much of his time devising and building artificial speech organs, a project driven by his desire to help his younger brother, Lazlo, who had been, somewhat ironically, disfigured in a cotton gin accident. The fact that Lazlo didn’t want or particularly need his brother’s help did not quench the older Whitney’s desire to create an artificial vocal tract. Since Lazlo was not particularly helpful, Jeʀ↓emiah found ways to install his various test apparatuses in his own mouth. He would leave them in for days at a time, giving him a distinctive speech impediment.

Eventually, many other members of the group decided that Jeʀ↓emiah’s distinctive speech was not an impediment, but rather served as a shibboleth to distinguish between those truly committed to the cause, and those who were mere “spectators and hangers-on”. While other members of this proto-cyborg community worked on such varied projects as artificial limbs, permanently implantable ear trumpets, and portable odor-proof waste containment units, Whitney mass-produced a series of increasingly complex “organs of verbal artifice”.

By 1827, the group counted among its members one Galilahi, a second cousin of the more famous and somewhat less eccentric Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee syllabary. Galilahi, perhaps spurred by her cousin’s success, created an early version of an extended Latin alphabet for use by Whitney and his orally-implanted comrades, herself included. The alphabet employed what appear to be surprisingly early versions of “double-struck” letters, a style now favored by mathematicians, as well as letters inscribed in various geometric figures to represent sounds similar to, but distinct from the sounds available to unaugmented mouths.

An early sample of Gali­lahi’s script (tran­scribed below). The lan­guage is a creol­ized auxil­iary lan­guage commis­sioned by Whit­ney in 1792 and cre­ated by Leon Q. Zamen­gov, great uncle to the more famous and nota­bly less eccen­tric inven­tor of Espe­ranto, L. L. Zamen­hof. There is still much debate among Fɛʀ↓­ʁʘʊⓢ↑ scho­lars as to whether ink color was signif­icant or used prima­rily for deco­ration.

In 1864 Keolakupaianaha Worthington, a Winodanugaian refugee ostracized and eventually exiled from her home on an island in the Pacific for her lack of eidetic memory, joined Whitney’s cause. Her perfect pitch and her experience with her native language led to the use of “gear whine” as a communication back-channel with two of the other proto-Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ group members with perfect pitch.

What followed was a semi-intentional form of eugenics. Worthington became very “popular” among the men of the group, and she had eleven children and several dozen grandchildren. In modern times, all hereditary members of the Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ have perfect pitch. For decades, those who joined the group from outside were strongly encouraged to interbreed with perfectly pitched Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑. There is still some traditional pressure in this regard, but one of the non-perfectly-pitched Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ has, in the last twenty years, created an implant that registers relevant pitches of gear whine and directly triggers one of several specific auditory nerves to indicate the appropriate information to the implantee.

Over the last two centuries, the group, its goals, their speech, their writing system, and even the spelling of their founder’s name have continued to evolve from their relatively humble technological beginnings. The name of the clan is an intentional pun, clearly based on English “ferrous”. However, in the Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ language is means, quite appropriately, “of machines and men”.

Some Orthographic Detail

The Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ now use a somewhat more computer-friendly alphabetthough its character set is beyond the capability of all but the most Unicode-savvy users. The Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ have retained the double-struck letters, simplified the set of inscribed letters to only include encircled letters, abandoned distinctive color (if they ever used it, see above), adapted many IPA symbols (re-purposing the entire set of click symbols), and incorporated twenty arrow-based symbols. An extended sample of modern Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ script is provided below.

A sample of Modern Fɛʀ↓­ʁʘʊⓢ↑ text, show­ing the pleth­ora of sym­bols need by the orthog­raphy to repre­sent the mech­ano-artic­ula­tions made pos­sible by vari­ous vocal tract implants.

Some Anatomical and Articulatory Detail

The mouth of a typical 6-year-old Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ child.

The Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ are still vigorously pursuing Whitney’s original goal of merging man and machine. The typical Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ undergoes fifteen rounds of technological implantation, with a significant proportion of the implants designed to augment the vocal tract. Pictured here is the interior of the mouth of a six-year-old Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ boy who has recently undergone his third series of implants. Some of the mechano-articulators featured in this photo include a micro-scale mechanical arm, a worm gear, and a uvular clock pendulum, among other less comprehensible parts. The Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ are somewhat reticent to share all the details of their implants, and we respect their wishes. The access we’ve already been granted has been phenomenal.

The types of articulation available to this six-year-old, once he has fully integrated the components with his nervous system, will include:

According to one on-ship linguist we were able to spend a few minutes with, Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ adults have, in addition to the above, the following types of articulation:

There may be others that the Fɛʀ↓ʁʘʊⓢ↑ are not quite ready to share, and some of these may require additional aural augmentation. (Imagine the possibilities! Parents may be able to communicate in modalities that their children not only cannot understand, but do not yet have the mechanical augmentation required even to perceive!)

As one might imagine, this is a level of phonetic detail that no coursework, textbook, or other academic preparation would leave one ready to deal with. We apologize in advance for the mistakes we have certainly made even in this rudimentary introduction.

Some Tentative Conclusions

Significantly more research is necessary to unravel the complex intricacies of this system. Said research will require more and extremely abundant funding. (A typical travel allowance just isn’t going to cover launch fees!)

Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets

Somewhere in Orbit


0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant 01001100010000010100110101000101001000000100011101010010010000010100111001010100, the number 0, and the letter ⓢ.

Resurgent Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
I’d Like to Buy a VowelTrey Jones
SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 1 Contents