A Final Word on Fame, Formulæ, and Linguistics—Jonathan van der Meer and Lagâri Hasan Çelebi SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 1 Contents The Swiss Data Massage Villa—Advertisement

The Speculative Grammarian Essential
Guide to Linguistics
A Review

by Don Boozer
Librarian for the Language Creation Society

The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics. Trey Jones et al., eds. Washington: Speculative Grammarian Press. 2013. c.360 p.
ISBN13: 9780615845869. $12.99

The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics is an anthology of articles, essays, and other content gleaned from the online publication Speculative Grammarian or SpecGram “as it is known to devotees and sworn enemies alike”. The following scenario might provide some rough idea of the tone of “the premier scholarly journal featuring research in the neglected field of satirical linguistics”:

Ben Zimmer1 and The Harvard Lampoon have a torrid one-night affair (over a spaghetti and lasagna dinner) from which results a lovely baby. This baby grows up and goes off to college, enrolling in a linguistics class taught by Noam Chomsky.2 The student (neé baby) promptly gets into a heated argument on the finer points of generative grammar and drops the class in order to seek out a more well-rounded linguistics education. The student travels the world studying, “computating”, and documenting the languages of the world (or simply making stuff up), but eventually winds up teaching comparative and historical linguistics at a prestigious institution by day and writing for MAD Magazine by night.

Take all those ingredients together (and maybe throw in a few strains of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Stephen Fry, and George Carlin), and you’ll get a taste of what the “neglected field of satirical linguistics” has to offer the lucky reader.

Back in the real world, SpecGram can be traced back to 1988 when Tim Pulju and Keith Slater (students at Michigan State University at the time) founded Psammeticus Quarterly. After Pulju and Slater left MSU, satirical linguistics became a neglected field. After a hiatus and an irregular publication history of various satirical linguistics journals (under various titles), SpecGram began in 1993 with Pulju serving as the first managing editor. Once again, when Pulju left graduate school in 1998, satirical linguistics had a dry period and SpecGram ceased to be printed. The journal lay in wait for another victim editor to resurrect it. Somewhat later, Trey Jones suggested bringing SpecGram online and became the new editor of the journal. A new era in satirical linguistics was born!

Jones (who studied linguistics at Rice University and is currently a computational linguist working as a Senior NLP3 Engineer) has continued at the helm of SpecGram to the present and takes the role of primus inter pares among the five editors of The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics. The additional members of the cabal esteemed group of editors responsible for the present volume all come with stellar credentials in the field of linguistics, satirical and otherwise:

Over the years, SpecGram has had innumerable4 contributors, and The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics collects some of the best, most humorous pieces from many of these (and provides some new material) including essays, cartoons, and much more. The volume is divided into almost twenty sections with headings one might expect from a guide to linguistics including:

and others one might not expect like “The Prudent Fieldworker’s Guide to Preparation and PackingProfessor Athanasious Schadenpoodle”, “Linguistics Love Poetry”, and “The Encyclopedia of Mytholingual Creatures Places, and Things” with the latter being a clever linguistic take on mainstays of mythology and legend.

Another very clever piece is the “A Self-Defining Linguistic Glossary”, almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. Entries include:

If you get any of those, the Essential Guide becomes essential reading for you.

The humor of the Essential Guide, however, is not limited to the essays and other longer pieces themselves. From the cover itself (which is actually part of a game explained on page 327), the editors pack so much badinage into footnotes, title page details, marginalia, quotes, and the multi-part “Choose Your Own Career in Linguistics” (in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure story) that multiple readings will be necessary to catch all the clever wordplay. The details tucked away are textually reminiscent of Sergio Aragonés’ graphic Marginals in MAD Magazine: hidden little gems just waiting to be discovered.

Only those who are truly devoted to something can produce fine satire and parody. One of the reasons that The Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings was such a successful parody of Tolkien’s masterwork was the attention to detail that obviously came from a love of the original itself. Why else would the authors have gone to the trouble of satirizing the Elvish language?

Likewise, Jones, Slater, Spruiell, Pulju, Peterson, and the contributors to SpecGram obviously know their stuff, don’t take themselves (or their discipline) over-seriously, and enjoy playing with linguistics, language, and languages to create something new, amusing, and (dare we say) even educational at times. The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics provides a light-hearted romp for those unafraid to plunge into the invigorating and hilarious waters of “satirical linguistics.”

1 Yes, that Ben Zimmer, “language columnist, linguist, lexicographer, word nut”.

2 Yes, that Noam. Variously referred to (depending on one’s perspective) as Dr. Chomsky, Gnome Chomsky, Noam Chimpsky, etc.

3 NLP = Natural Language Processing. Not to be confused with Neuro-linguistic Programming or Neo-Latin Patois.

4 Figuratively, of course. Obviously, there have been a finite number of contributors. Duh.

A Final Word on Fame, Formulæ, and LinguisticsJonathan van der Meer and Lagâri Hasan Çelebi
The Swiss Data Massage VillaAdvertisement
SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 1 Contents