The Speculative Grammarian Survey of Grammar Writers—The Writing Process—Morris Swadesh III SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 3 Contents Review of John Stuart Mill and the Temple of Doom—Vervet Vandiver Vanlandingham-Vanderveer

On the Quantum Nature of Linguistic Fame
A Reply to Slater

Cadwallader Colden

Dear Sirs:

Your august sterling honourable estimable creditable reputable occasionally inoffensive journal recently published a sketch of a mathematical model for the fame of a linguistic theory. While it deserves some small credit for broaching the topic, perhaps brief mention in a footnote forty years down the line in a little-read and oft-forgotten book of quaint and curious lore for the entertainment of amateurs, fanboys, and other innumerate juvenile delinquents, it is itself muddled and befuddled and would only serve to muddle the issue and befuddle others were it published where genuine scholars might actually read it. Out of a charitable desire to lighten, however little this may be done, the darkness of the sphere of discourse endusked by your publication, I shall cast a pearl or two your way before proceeding to other circles of benightednesscertainly it could not be from a desire for fame. Besides, as the results are already in press at a real journal, there are no worries of my priority being lost in your Lovecraftian murk.

One of the many offensive offenses against right reasoning and good sense in said screed is its unrelenting failure to consider the issue basic to all true science, that of measurement: How do we measure what we wish to talk about, and how do we define the basic units involved? Without deciding this question, any investigation will get twisted in navel-gazing knots, if not worse: Somewhat like the Worm of Ouroboros with its head swallowed by its tailor as Eliot delicately described his own affliction in this line, in its end is its beginning. While the author is quite rightly puzzled by the fact that linguistic theory so often outstrips the scope of what is actually known and twists and turns in artfully dodgy ways as more is learned about human language, there were, alas, so many slips twixt cups and lips at that little tea party that all of the Teddy bears and Barbie dolls in attendance on the author broke their legs on the slippery floor before reaching the bathroom, as did, clearly, the cleaning lady, hence the unhygienic mess oozing from the margins of your pages.

A proper insistence on first of all and before all other matters quantifying where this can be done leads to the following approach to tackling the issues raised by considerations suggested by examination of the ramifications of aspects of the matter at hand. As the desultory discussion in your pages has shown, the fame accrued to a linguistic theory is inversely proportional to the amount of actual new data that a publication contains. Fame is best measured as the increase in the number of people who have heard of the linguist proposing the theory, ΔT (where T is an abbreviation of tovarishch ‘comrade/trader,’ a suitably ambiguous term for our equally ambiguous ‘colleagues’), and the amount of new data as the increase on a token basis in the number of morphemes in distinct glossed examples, ΔE (E short for example), all ceteris being paribus, of course.

However, the cetera are never para, for a theory with great real-world application just isn’t as useful for the fame of a theoretician as one with little; since real-world applicability naturally implies lots of speakers from whom you can get new data and situations in which you can elicit contrary data, it’s just too darn easy to hoist such a theory on its own procrustean petard. Thus, the fame of a theory is also inversely proportional to its real-world usefulness. The best way to measure the real-world usefulness of a theory is thus by the relative number of speakers, or equivalently by making the fame of the theory directly proportional to the ratio of the number of humans on Earth to the number of actual speakers of the language in question, ћ. Finally, note that this provides only a lower bound on the famethe less similar the language is to a standard European language, the less real-world application it has. Thus, the proper expression is:

(ΔT) (ΔE) ≥ ћ

Now, as we know from the theoretical framework that American theoretical linguistic theoreticians theoretically theorize in, if one system is symbolically equivalent to another, then the two are logically equivalent as well, and thus we arrive at the greatest theoretical breakthrough since scythes were first used to cut the stalks that yielded the grains of wheat whose descendant strains many millennia later were baked into the first loaf of bread ever to have been sliced by a knife: The fame of a linguistic theory is a matter of ineluctable quantum uncertainty.

The consequences are legion. First, the more famous a linguistic theory, the less that is and indeed can be known about the languages it applies to. Second, the better known a language, the less famous it is in linguistic theory. Third, the fewer the people who speak the language, the more famous it is. Fourth, as the number of people in the world increases, so grows (in the absence of further investigation of the language) the fame of a theory. At root can be discerned an inescapable fact about all observers: Fame and knowledge are fundamentally incompatible, and an observation made for one of these purposes will by its very nature exclude the other.

Other consequences are less direct but equally significant: As there is more than one linguistic theory in the universe, we run into the problem of observing the same facts from different theoretical viewpoints, which leads to the necessity of adopting a properly relativistic approach. When this is combined with the preceding, we find that all theories have a fundamental property called spin. Now, if a set of theories had zero spin, they would all overlap in the same domain of experience and collect together in the bottom of the jar of discourse like a more or less goopy, gooey fluid and, if examined closely, would converge to the same state of knowledge and become indistinguishable, rather like successive approximations to the truth. However, as a matter of experimental fact it is found that all linguistic theories do possess non-zero spinindeed, all of them have spins that are quite odd by half, and as a result it can be shown that any linguistic theory that has actually been put forward by a linguist must therefore exclude all others from any area in which it holds, except for one other theory with the opposite spin.

Truly this explains a lot. Certainly it explains a far wider range of matters than your publication’s shaved monkey was able even to perceive lurking over there far off over the horizon of its narrow experience like a hungry jungle cat. And as this investigation has demonstrated, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, assuming the cat thinks outside its box instead of using it.

Respectfully Kindest regards All the best Sincerely,

Cadwallader Colden
Professor, Department of Theoretically Applied Physics
University to be Named after Our Nation’s First Nobel Laureate
(Yes, We Will Have One Eventually)
Quatsch-in-Schwulst, Liechtenstein

The Speculative Grammarian Survey of Grammar WritersThe Writing ProcessMorris Swadesh III
Review of John Stuart Mill and the Temple of DoomVervet Vandiver Vanlandingham-Vanderveer
SpecGram Vol CLXVII, No 3 Contents