Unceasing Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 2 Contents The Speculative Grammarian Survey of Grammar Writers—Data and Analysis—Morris Swadesh III

Strings and Things: A Unificational Meta-Theory for All Linguistics

Trent Slater

Despite the best efforts in those sciences that ignore the importance of morphological historiography,1 it has so far proved impossible to provide one theory to rule them all. Thus, as head of the largest group of linguistic meta-theoreticians in the Whole World,2 I feel that it falls to me to propose and prove a Grand Theory of Everything Linguistic.

First, it is necessary to outline the main reasons for the creation of linguistic theories. According to my exhaustive research,3 there are only three rationales that require investigation.

Rationale 1: Linguistic theories are invented in the vain hope that they might actually explain data.

This, of course, is the rarest reason. One only has to examine the contents of any theoretical work in any field of linguistics to realise that data for most theories either consists of things invented by the theorist and subsequently defined as “typical” or “grammatical.” A contrary example is, of course, those theories that are created ex nihilo and ad hoc by those unwise enough to dabble in the dark recesses of experimental or field studies. These theories tend to be devoid of any philosophical merit and thus tend to be ignored by the larger research community. Subsequently, rather than being classed as “theories,” they are labelled “conjectures” and left ignored in volumes including error bars and 4.

We thus pass on to the second, more logical rationale.

Rationale 2: Linguistic theories are invented in the vain hope of setting the research agenda.

It is a well-known fact that many linguistics professors dream of having their own army of lackeys to do their bidding. Given that few funding councils are willing to pay for manor houses, moats and feudal retainers in the current economic climate, the nearest that one can ever come to achieving this aim is to set the agenda for what is “interesting.” It is commonly believed that a thing only exists after a theorist has written a paper about it and thus many theories are written to attempt to limit or even stretch the boundaries of what counts as linguistics.

The aforementioned field and experimental linguistics have, in an example of extremely poor taste, set about undermining this honoured principle by importing theories from non-linguistic fields. Thus, interpreting studies scholars have dared to use theories from sociology and psychology; evolutionary linguists have dared to turn to archaeology and even our most faithful companions in literary linguistics have begun to betray their upbringing and use maths!

Setting the research agenda is now much more difficult than it used to be. Gone are the halcyon days when a bearded theorist could dream up a prospective theory on temporal adverbials and have hundreds of post-docs run to analyse it. Instead, though it pains me to write this, the field has reached a stage where no one actually sets the research agenda; like a wild, untamed beast, it goes where it alone wills.

Rationale 3: Linguistic theories are invented as an attempt to become famous for creating linguistic theories.

We thus arrive at the most common rationale for linguistic theories: fame. Here we are not talking about fame in the vulgar, worldly sense, involving Porsches, pretty people and paparazzi. The type of fame sought by linguistic theorists involves selling more than 14 copies of your latest monograph, having your name engraved on your office door and being able to pretend that you are mildly perturbed by the amount of attention you receive at conferences.

It almost goes without saying that this kind of fame cannot be found by explaining mounds of data or expounding ideas that are subsequently researched in depth. To do so would expose theorists to the danger that their theory might actually become testable and, perish the thought, be shown to be incorrect. No, the greatest and most powerful linguistic theories are those that can withstand the pressure of data by being entirely impervious to investigation.

This leads to the conclusion that there is a standard way of calculating the fame and power of a linguistic theory. If we take ΔT as representing the power and fame of a theory and ΔΘ as the operator designating the volume of data contained within it, it is clear that ΔT is in inverse proportion to ΔΘ. Thus, we have the equation:

ΔT =

However, the relationship between ΔT and ΔΘ cannot be quite so simple as even a smidgen of field or experimental data reduces the fame of a theory dramatically. In addition, it would seem that if a theory is applicable to any real-world issues, this also has a dramatic effect on its ΔT. We thus must introduce a third variable to represent real world applicability, here assigned the symbol Ω. We thus arrive at the following equation:

ΔT =
= ΔΘ

1 Yes, I am talking about you “Physiks!”

2 There are only 2.5 of us but, after the infamous “who can eat the most cherry Bakewells?” incident at our last staff meeting, we are now officially the largest group of theorists around.

3 I didn’t do much but it was very exhausting!

4 The original manuscript was unreadable at this point due to scratch marks and what our editorial administrators assumed was spittle.

Unceasing Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
The Speculative Grammarian Survey of Grammar WritersData and AnalysisMorris Swadesh III
SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 2 Contents