Untold Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 2 Contents The SpecGram Inquisition—Bill Spruiell—with Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie

Degenerative Grammar

by Desirée-Debauchée Cyntacks & Dec A. D’Cadence
X. Quizzit Korps Center for Advanced Collaborative Studies

Since the 1950’s, linguistics has been wild with excitement over Chomsky’s insights, collectively known as “generative grammar.” As all non-linguists know, however, grammar as speakers encounter it in daily life is actually degenerative. As one prominent analyst (Ellen DeGeneres) has put it, “Entropy rules.”1

Excursus on Formalism

The formula for information-theoretic entropy is given by:

H(x) = -∑ p(x) logb p(x)

This information is neither here nor there with respect to the present topic, but it does make us look smart.2


So the question that arises is, “How does a grammar that is literally falling apart actually convey anything?” Or more pertinently, why haven’t any human languages been reduced to their bare parameters by now?3

To properly address this question, we must first of all take to heart the lessons of ecdysiastry: You don’t need to take it all off to obtain the desired effects. That is, once the fabric of language has degraded sufficiently to cover only the most essential parts of the message, the listener/beholder will devote sufficient attention to those that the fabric need not further unravel.4

Nevertheless, in situ observations have confirmed that, while teenage speakers often resort to grunts and nods (Ditarie, 2012), most speakers are capable, barring performance errors, of producing well-formed, grammatical utternaces.5 An alternate view, espoused by Noam Givón (1988), is that it is precisely those grammatical utternaces which should be considered performance errors, since true human language has been reduced to below-grammatical status by the invention of adolescence.

The first published works on this topic were a series of empirical analyses of formerly formal utternaces by graduate students at Disaffected U. Their published work ‘Ya coulda talked tooohoom ever it was: Studies of the language of degeneration’ (2000) had a powerful impact on mainline syntactic theory.6

Yet, as has already been established elsewhere, mainline syntactic theory is rarely studied by anyone outside the dusty halls of academia. Therefore, data has been collected from within these same dusty halls to see if academic language is actually any less degenerated than field data. The results of this exploration have, sadly, been lost due to an unfortunate incident with a grumpy emeritus professor, a large mug of coffee, and some over-excited undergraduate students.

1 “... and linguists drool,” as the full quote concludesthough that is neither here nor there with respect to the present topic.

2 Pace Goldsmith (1976).

3 Though at least one language, Perry So-so, seems to be “degenerating to a long low mid vowel” (Searsplainpockets, 2007)though that is neither here nor there with respect to the present topic.

4 See Styne and Sondheim (1959, 1962), Gypsy, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” (1959 edition), “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” (1962 celluloid revision)which is both here and there with respect to the present topic.

5 However, if a given speech error is repeated often enough, such utternaces may come to be accepted as well-formed.

6 Note, however, that there is no evidence that these students were ever involved in “mainlining” (5α,6α)-7,8-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-diol diacetate (also known as “diacetylmorphine”, “H”, “smack”, “horse”, “brown”, “black”, “tar”, or “heroin”).7

7 On the other hand, there’s no evidence that they weren’t.

Untold Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
The SpecGram InquisitionBill Spruiellwith Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie
SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 2 Contents