What is the Sound of One Vocal Cord Flapping?—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 4 Contents Linguimericks—Book ३

Letters to the Editor

Dear Eds,

Thank you for your courteous and threatening response, which I take is an approach intended to continue your support for your critics by terrorizing and infuriating them.

When I read English, I found that pressure of time obliged me sometimes to appraise a work or two without actually reading it, and this was usually very successful (indeed rather better than the alternative). When, afterwards, I read linguistics for a short time, this method was often more difficult, owing to the gnarled nature of many of the authors’ thinking, but I still remember with pleasure my brief encounter with interlanguage, for instance. Fortunately I had in the interim become a statistician, which allowed me to deal more or less severely with some of the wilder excesses of linguistic behavioural studies, but I did, nevertheless, have to read the blasted things thoroughly.

I would willingly do as much with the slim volume in question here (i.e., read it), but I fear that might lead to giggles and seduction, which would disqualify me for the stern, objective task of criticizing everything.

However, I wish you well in your pursuit of the ridiculous, and I can only say that I think your choice of linguistics as a hunting ground is an excellent one; but it does raise the question whether you are acquainted with the term ‘irony’. Floreant linguisticiani ridiculi!

Best wishes,
Andrew Duncan-Jones

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Dear Andrew,

There’s a good joke about statisticians, but there’s at least an 80% chance you’ve heard it alreadyso we shan’t bore you with it.

We are indeed familiar with irony, in a way that is not available to those who have not studied and lived linguistics over the last few decades. Our favorite relevant backformation, cribbed from Spider Robinson, goes like this: A person who commits a gluttony is a glutton. A person who commits a felony is a felon. Noam Chomsky is an iron.


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Dear Editors,

Obviously, the Very Late dialect of PIE from which twerk is borrowed is not technically Very Late PIE at all, but rather a descendent, Very Slightly Less Late Tocharian. Note, for example, the congruity of the dance move with the iconicity of the suggestive wooden edifices of the Tarim basin cemetery site:

“The whole of the cemetery was blanketed with blatant sexual symbolism,” Dr. Mair wrote. In his view, the “obsession with procreation” reflected the importance the community attached to fertility.

—Nicholas Wade, “A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets,” New York Times, March 15, 2010

I’m sure that we would all agree that a connexion between sexual symbolism and fertility is not likely to arise spontaneously; nay! it is a clear diagnostic of Tocharian cultural identity.

As for the ability of modern speakers to borrow from VSLLT, there is an obvious explanation, although not one that many will admit openly: Communities of VSLLT-speakers have persisted, hidden, well after the Tocharian Diaspora. They are obviously the source of Greek Dionysiac revels, Roman bacchanalia, That Viking Business that Ibn Fadlan documented, and whatever the heck it was that the Swiss got up to that they’ve covered up so completely.

Dr. Anhedonia Squibbe
Prof. of Apophenic Philology
Johannes Betula Institute of Diachrony
Neymwith Eld, Wiltshire, UK

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Dear Annie-Hedy,

Forget twerk, *terkw, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings, and all that rot.

We think you’ve just proven that the cast of The Jersey Shore is culturally Tocharian. Fist pump! That’s got to be the anthropological discovery of the decade, if not the hemi-century!

Unfortunately, this is a linguistics journal, not an anthropology journal, so we don’t really care all that much. Good luck with that.


Dear Sirs,

It was with great interest that my colleagues and I read the letter to your august publication from Prof. Fantilliade, particularly his discussion of Venable Blenhurst. His description of a scholar contributing to academic discourse long after his death is a sterling example of the fact that the academic world is run behind the scenes by a hierarchy of super-intelligent zombies, as Lord Keynes himself bragged when promoted to the head of the English branch of the zombie hierarchy. We have worked unceasingly to put together the chain of events whereby the Templars (who were in fact destroyed by the Catholic Church because they posed too great a threat to the vampire hierarchy running the Holy See after the Great Schism) went underground (literally) and transformed themselves into the Freemasons, and then (as shown by Merritt Ruhlen) Indo-European studies as a whole. It is no exaggeration to say that by publishing Prof. Fantilliade’s letter, you have unearthed as great a missing link in the chain of past events as the discovery in 1976 that the Sasquatch are in fact crashed UFO flight crews, and have given us the evidence necessary to discover the star system from which the controllers of the zombie hierarchy originatedand contrary to the deception practiced by Marcel Griaule, it’s not Sirius. Griaule, like most French scholars, was a vampire agent and nothing he wrote can be trusted.

Clotilde Fanbourne
Editor in Chief, Filling the Cracks in the Sacred Gourd: Studies Towards the Grand Unified Theory of the Occult Sciences, Vols. 1-74

PS. After reading several back issues, we are very impressed with your work. Would you be interested in a series of collaborations? We’ll stop by your offices in a couple of weeks for tea and a chat.

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Dear Miss Fanbourne,

Ordinarily we would tell you we had scheduled your letter for publication in 2230 and leave it at that, but you seem too obtuse to take the hint, so: all future submissions from you will be published long after your and our respective putative demises, so you should be afraid, very afraid.


PS: We already apologized to Prof. Fantilliade for publishing his letter. We’d now like to apologize to everyone else.

PPS: We’re only an august publication one issue out every twelve.

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Qrne FcrpTenz,

V’z jevgvat gb lbh va pbqr, orpnhfr V’z jbeevrq fbzrbar jvyy pbzr nsgre zr sbe nfxvat guvf. Qvq lbhe erprag ercyl gb Xba F. Cvenpŕ-Xahgg vapyhqr n frperg zrffntr? Vg fher ybbxf yvxr vg fnvq “Jngpu Lbhe Onpx”.

V’z fpnerq. Ubyq zr.
S. Erlqrrx-Ngg

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Dear Hep Cat,

Alas, no, there was no secret message. Some of our printing presses are quite oldwe even have an operational Gutenberg Mark IV from 1469and they don’t always distribute ink evenly, and sometimes the automatic justification mechanism jams, too, creating narrow columns. The typesetting interns responsible for quality assurance have been flogged.

Our digitization internswho have also been flogged, naturallyconverted the uneven ink to a bold font for the first letter of each line in the online edition, losing the subtle gradations in the ink and making the contrast more stark and giving it the appearance of intentionality.

Funny that it seems to spell out a message, isn’t it? But these things happen. Our statistical internswho have each earned one “Get out of flogging free” cardcalculate that, given the phonotactics of, the non-random distribution of function words in, and the size of the lexicon of English, for any wrapping of English text, the first letter of each line will spell out a comprehensible message about 89.4% of the time. If you don’t recognize the message, it’s probably because your lexicon isn’t as big as our lexicon. Sorry you had to hear that from us.


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Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

What is the Sound of One Vocal Cord Flapping?A Letter from the Managing Editor
LinguimericksBook ३
SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 4 Contents