Linguistics Nerd Camp—Bethany Carlson SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 2 Contents ⟨h⟩, the Little Grapheme Soldier—Callum Robson

Metasyntactic Heuristics
An Idea Whose Time Has Come

by G. Berish
Reader in Inductive Philology
Wessex Thomas Hardy University

In the recent history of linguistics, many ideas have shown great potential as theories of Universal Grammar, only to fall by the wayside when some empirical hurdle seemed unsurmountable. Until recently, Metasyntactic Heuristics appeared to be one such theory, but recent developments indicate that the time is right to reassess it, and explore its potential further.

Metasyntactic Heuristics has its roots in the Japethic theory of Nikolai Marr, revitalized by its applicability to Universal Grammar. It envisages Universal Grammar as consisting of the heuristics that associate higher level semantics with the underlying metasyntactic components of language. It suffered an early setback in the failure of McMosky to detect the predicted correlation between ergativity and head-initial syntax in Welsh and Hebrew. However, if we take into account Theo Vennemann’s hypothesis of a Semitic substrate in the Insular Celtic languages, and Edo Nyland’s interpretation of Ogham inscriptions as Basque, the deep historical connections between the Vasconic, Semitic and Insular Celtic languages allows us to infer an underlying ergative structure to Welsh and Hebrew, with the ergative case expressed by a null morpheme.

Another problem that Metasyntactic Heuristics encountered early on was the apparent intractability of modelling the heuristic processes required by the theory. However, due to recent advances in computational linguistics, it should now be possible to model these processes by means of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. An important early result in this field is Quentin Atkinson’s model of the memetic transmission of IE languages, whose indication of a Turkish origin is in line with Hermann Kvergic’s Sun Language Theory, a key influence on Metasyntactic Heuristics. It should be noted that proponents of tagmemics urge that this work should be followed up with a mememic analysis, which will confirm whether the dispersal happened in a wrathful manner.

Metasyntactic Heuristics shows great promise in reconciling the Immediate Experience Principle to Universal Grammar. The IEP arises in Daniel Everett’s analysis of Pirahã grammar in terms of Wittgenstein’s axiom that “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.” The question arises of how, under the IEP, a hearer can interpret an utterance concerning matters of which he has no immediate experience. It can be seen that under these conditions, the utterance becomes metasyntactic, and must be interpreted heuristically.

At the current rate of progress, we can soon expect Metasyntactic Heuristics to provide us with a Grand Unified Theory which explains all linguistic observations, whether they are correct or not.

Linguistics Nerd CampBethany Carlson
⟨h⟩, the Little Grapheme SoldierCallum Robson
SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 2 Contents