Dear reader, please enjoy the following extract from my latest book, Don’t Sneeze, There are Snakes. [Pages 27-32, Chapter 2; “Wheeze Me Up!”]
As is customary in Linguistics, in order to get the most reliable data from a language community you’re dealing with, you may have to take part in local customs and traditions. For example, my experience of dealing with English speakers in England has led me to drinking more than my fair share of tea1 or indeed many pints of beer2. Something similar was about to take place with regards to the Atishu people of the Amazon Rainforest, and thankfully did not require any tea to be consumed.
For you see, what you will already know, unless you have elected to start reading from this page, is that the Atishu are a people who have had cold and flu symptoms for generations and the resulting prolonged period of necessitated adaptation has led to the incorporation of coughs and sneezes into the language’s phonology, or as I later referred to it phlegmology, an extension/
subsection of phonology.
So for me to get to know more about the Atishu’s phlegmology, I had to become one of them. In the sense that I had to become ill to actually understand them and truly appreciate their system, also seeing as I’d been ill for a few weeks, and, well, this seemed like the best time to visit.
Both living with, and studying, such a people was an interesting experience to say the least. Albeit filled in a haze of coughs, sneezes and splutters, though what we may take for granted when we become ill is something that the Atishu people require to communicate every day. In this sense, I should stress here that their use of coughs (etc.) has been controlled over time to make the speakers understood, though there may be the odd extra cough or sneeze which could alter the semantics of a sentence, or render it ambiguous; however by and large this is a non-
frequent occurrence at most.
The Atishu have formed an abundance of words which include their sneezes, wheezes and coughs. Here, let us take a look at a small sample of how the Atishu use these.
Sneezing or the “Sternutative Ejective” represented by /Ϩ/
— and thus in phlegmology is [+STE] — is used within words to indicate if something is positive or negative; however the polarity is dictated upon whether there is reduplication involved or not. So, /noϨə/ is their word for sad, whereas /noϨϨə/ is their word for happy. I was able to establish similar patterns in other pairs of words. For example, /mucuϨ/ is bad, and /mucuϨϨ/ is good, so as you may have figured negative polarity is the default setting in Atishu. Well, your language probably would be too given the circumstances!
Coughing noises being “Pertussives”
— represented here by /Ӟ/ — are [+PERT], and are used as a mark of (asserted) understanding or agreement. Like the previous case of reduplication it’s once for “yes!”, and twice for “yes, I agree!”. A typical example of this is; /siç/ which is “neutral knowledge”3; when this becomes /siçӞ/, this is basically “I understand the knowledge presented”, and /siçӞӞ/ is therefore, “I agree with your view on the knowledge presented”.
Wheezes are “Stridorant”, represented by /Ӫ/, and are primarily applied to vowels which are [+stri]. These have an unusual function as they are applied to make distinctions between two extremes. If we take <light>/
<dark> and <lite>/ <heavy> as two examples, the Atishu have two base words for these, so /nost/ is shade and /ril/ is weight. The basic premise is that if something were darker, or heavier, more wheeze would be used, starting with /noӪst/, which could become /noӪӪӪst/. The clearer the vowel ([-stri]) the more light/ lite the something is.
And something which I think is quite ‘Wunderbar!’, hiccups (“Singultives”, [+SING]) are used to mark the end of a conversational turn, a feature which is very polite, though a fit of hiccups can be seen to be a quite rude device to stunt a conversation’s flow. Typically, Atishu willingly remove themselves from a conversation should this occur, until the hiccups have gone.
So far we have learned that the Atishu are a kind and considerate, yet honest people and this can be understood through their language alone! Without the coughs, sneezes and so forth, the Atishu language and their people would perish. Avoid tea at all costs.
1 Horrid stuff.
3 Knowledge which is not yet known, and so can’t be judged.
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