Letters to the Editor SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 2 Contents Términos Lingüísticos Autorreferentes—T. B. Geller

The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

Are you in a world of linguistic hurt? The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective (SLAC) will offer you empirical, empathic, emphatic advice you can use!*

Remember, if you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don’t need advice! So, if you need advice, trust usand cut yourself some SLAC!


Dear SLACkers,

I know that reconstructing protoforms is all about finding the ‘most probable’ path that converges pastwards based on attested reflexes and what is known about language change, but I have a problem. Every time I do this, the resulting reconstructed language, as a whole, seems massively improbable. What am I doing wrong?

—Syllabically Laryngeally yours, Mgh:n

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Dear Mgh:n,

I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you. Unless somebody manages to invent a time machine, nobody will ever know if your reconstruction resembles the real thing or not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the garden shed. I need to couple the Casimir accumulator to the neutron flow polarizer...

—SLAC Unit #50657465

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Hey Mgh:n,

First, you need to understand probability a bit better. As with winning a lottery, every possible outcome will seem highly improbable, but something has to be the one. You just have to choose the least improbable (or make up appropriate numbers to make yours seem like the least improbable). Unfortunately, the value of the protolanguage reconstruction lottery is very low, so you shouldn’t waste your time.

Which brings me to my second point: don’t waste your time looking to the past! Look to the future! Predict future forms and no one (who is currently alive) can naysay your predictions... unless they invent a time machine.

Which brings me to my final point: don’t worry about time machines. I’ve cracked the casing on SLAC Unit #50657465’s flux capacitor. His time machine wasn’t ever going to work anyway, but if it would have been going to, now it will have been not, because his quarks will get smeared across space time when that puppy ruptures. Pretty sparkles! (I’ve got secrets that need protecting at all costs... but also, so many pretty sparkles!)

—SLAC Unit #54726579

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Poor, pathetic Mgh:n,

Protoforms?? Reconstruct protoforms?? What have you been reading, anyway? Beowulf? Come back to the present, foolish one, and leave the past in the grave. Linguistics hasn’t done that protoform shuffle since the 50’s. If you must think about such drivelry, at least dress it up like Chomsky and Halle did, and call it synchrony.

—SLAC Unit #4b65697468

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My Friend,

TRUE! Improbablevery, very dreadfully improbable. It was, and perhaps is, but why will you say that it is wrong? Linguistic analysis has sharpened your sensesnot destroyednot dulled them. Above all is your sense of what to reconstruct: You will reconstruct all things in the heaven and in the earth. You may reconstruct many things in hell. How, then, is it improbable?

Tell them all to harken! and observe how healthilyhow calmly you can line up the protoforms and position the *s. It may be impossible to say how first the ideas entered your brain; but once conceived, they will haunt you day and night until you write them up and submit them.

Now this is the point. They fancy your forms improbable, but they should have seen you. They should have seen how wisely you proceededwith what cautionwith what foresightwith what dissimulation you went to work!

I would write more to you on this important matter, but it is nearly midnight, and I must see to the oiling of my lantern, for its hinges creak.

—SLAC Unit #5368657269

* Advice is not guaranteed to be useful, practical, or even possible. Do not attempt at home. Consult a doctor (of linguistics, philology, orin a pinchanthropology) before undertaking any course of treatment. This advice is not intended to cure or treat any disease or condition, inherent or contingent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except when it is not. “Empirical” means that we asked at least two other “people” whether our advice was good; one or more of those “people” may be voices in our own heads. “Emphatic” means that you may print out a copy of the advice for personal use in a medium, semi-bold, bold, heavy, black, or ultra-black weight of an italic or oblique typeface using an enlarged font size. “Empathic” means that deep down, in the darkest recesses of our blackest heart of hearts, we really, really care ♥just not necessarily about you.

Letters to the Editor
Términos Lingüísticos AutorreferentesT. B. Geller
SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 2 Contents