The SpecGram Inquisition—Bill Spruiell—with Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 2 Contents Clearance Sale—Xerus & Ratufa

The Hidden Source of Theoretical Linguistics

Theoretical linguistics is known to differ from corpus linguistics with respect to the source of the examples it is based on. Introspection and imagination are supposed to be the primary reliable sources for theoretical linguists. But (via means that cannot be revealed here), we have recently discovered a short text which may force us to completely revise this common assumption, and rewrite the whole history of language sciences!

This rather ordinary, very short novel, written in a slightly strange pseudo-literary style, is anonymous. The old-fashioned values it expresses (and other clues not to be detailed here) clearly date it to a long time ago. Despite its dubious artistic value, the text will look familiar to readers of linguistic papers. This is not a coincidence: all the portions that we have marked with bold type are (more or less famous) examples that have been used (surely later) by theoretical linguists of the Twentieth Century in their articles and books, to illustrate linguistic phenomena. So we believe that this text is the real hidden source of their work. Persistent rumors also suggest the probable existence of another mysterious “*text”, where all sentences are preceded by the * symbol, but we have not yet found it. These bodies of texts (and probably a few others still to be discovered) seem to have been secretly distributed from hand to hand and shamelessly plagiarized by the whole community of theoretical linguists for years. Despite their denials, theoretical linguists have in fact always done corpus linguistics!

This text is the untold (not so) unconscious story behind most of contemporary linguistics. Does it also contain examples of still-to-be-elucidated phenomena that will inspire future generations of theoretical linguistics? We cannot tell (but the Bill-donkey-wolf sentence seems to be a good candidatewe leave this for you to discover...). Another mystery remains to be solved: who wrote this text?

Isabelle Tellier

PS: The text now appears to be full of “citations by anticipation”. Incidentally, it can also nowadays be used to test the knowledge of linguistic students: a student able to identify the users of (most of) the citations and/or to explain their linguistic interest should probably be considered to be correctly educated.

The Terrible Story of John and Mary

A man walks in the park. He whistles. He apparently walked down the garden path. Yes, he confidently walked down the garden path. The man is tall. Why does he whistle? Is the man who is tall happy? Yes, he is happy. His name is John. John seems to be a nice fellow. Why is he happy? Maybe because of what he ate. What did John eat? John ate an apple. John is the perfect ordinary man. John does everything like everyone else. Every man loves his mother. John loves his mother. Every man loves a woman. Every man loves his wife. John loves his wife. He loves Mary. But Mary is not an ordinary woman. Mary is special, Mary is great. Every man loves Mary. But John loves Mary more than anyone else. And John is loved by Mary.

John has not always been a nice fellow. Once, when he was young and was with his brother Bill, they saw a girl with a telescope and they spied on her for a long time. The telescope was supposed to be used to check that the Morning Star is the Evening Star. But the children had other interests. The boys were so insistent that they forced the girl to move. It was a long time ago. After that, John had a lot of girlfriends, but there was always something wrong with each of them. “John seeks a unicorn!” Bill said. “He wants her to be both sweet and strong, beautiful, magical and savage...” He also wasted a lot of time and money on horse races. He was very superstitious, and put his bets only on horses he had already seen running, like those of Tom’s farm. He had confidence in horses which had raced past his barn door. But, one day, the horse raced past the barn door fell. He lost a lot of money that day. That day, John was drunk by midnight.

John met Mary thanks to a local fair, where paintings were exhibited. He was attracted by a picture representing a farm with animals. The picture was painted by a new technique. The picture was painted by a real artist. The artist was Mary. The picture was the prize of a tombola. When John learned that he had won the prize, he understood it as a sign. He loved the picture so much that John wrote Mary a letter, introducing himself as a shy bachelor. “Come and visit my paint shop!”, she answered. She is living alone, he thought. All bachelors are unmarried, she thought. John met Mary. She was both sweet and strong, beautiful, magical and savage. From that day, John stopped smoking. Mary didn’t stop painting.

Mary was born in New York. Mary has lived in Princeton. She is highly educated. She impressed John not only by her paintings, but also by her language. Mary was so incredible at choosing her words! She did it with a very special care. When he was courting her, he once put a note on her door that read:

There is a book on the table. Sorry, it is not the book I told you about. Few people read many books. Many books are read by few people. The only one of Tolstoy’s novels that I like is out of print.

She answered with a note on his door:

The book seems interesting.

Another time, he painted his message directly on her wall:

What do you think of this green to improve your current picture? Do you have new ideas to improve it?
Terribly yours

She replied by painting on his wall:

Colorless green
Ideas sleep

Their love needs few words; their love is beyond language. With Mary, time flies like an arrow, in so many senses! They often go dancing. According to his dating coach, John must dance at parties. But she dances better than he does. The first time, to impress her, John performed the woman moves in the folk dance after he taught the woman moves in the opening number. “See how quickly the woman moves now”, he boasted. But Mary did even better. At dancing, too, Mary was impressive. With Mary, John is eager to please. With Mary, John is easy to please. “My little King of France” (she is of French origin), she sometimes calls him. Then, he answers, the King of France is bald, but I am not little! Eventually, he proposed to her: “If we are going to live together, we may as well do it properly.” She agreed. When they married, Mary successfully uttered the complete formula: “I take this man as my lawfully wedded husband.” Someone heard Bill say “John finds a unicorn!”...

Before he met Mary, John had tried to study medicine. But he could not go very far. “Latin is a waste of time for usto study”, he said to Bill. Bill is not a linguist. But he thought “For him, to understand this lecture is difficult.” John got hired by a small medical laboratory, in a small town. He was not very satisfied with this job. Every man thinks that he deserves a raise. But when a new boss arrived and imposed a new organization, John was frightened by the new methods. One of his colleagues complained to the boss “Everyone in the lab considers John incompetent.” John did not wait to be fired. He quit.

Like every American, John’s real dream was to live as a cowboy. When he married Mary, he bought a farm where he could live with her in the country. It was a farm far away, but not too far from Tom’s, a farm like those Mary painted, with cows, horses, chicken and a donkey. Their new neighbors were all farmers. At the beginning, things were not so easy. The work was hard, Mary did not like real cows so much. She agreed to help, but she did so reluctantly. She did not like much life in the country either. “A wolf might walk in. It would growl,” she said every night. And she did not much appreciate John’s new friends. John’s friends appealed to their wives to hate one another. John’s friends appeared to Mary to hate one another. Mary made satirical pictures of some of them. John’s friends saw Mary’s picture of one another. Several got upset and broke up with John and Mary. But, luckily, Bill came to visit them. They spent a lot of time together. It was so nice that John persuaded Bill to stay a while. Or maybe Bill persuaded John to stay a while. He loved cows, horses, chicken and donkeys. He reassured Mary: “A wolf might walk in. We would be safe because John has a gun. He would use it to shoot it.” Bill was great, Bill was sweet, Bill was funny. His name was given to the donkey.

Time has passed. Now, John is a very happy man. He whistles. He sees that Mary is very happy too. He knows that Mary is very happy too. Their first child has just been born. And Bill still lives with them. John walks in the park he has built himself, near the house. Beavers build dams, humans build parks. He thinks of the child that will play here soon, his child, their child. Now, the child is sleeping.

Tom and another man are passing by on their horse. The man is laughing at a joke. They don’t talk to John, but John hears their whispering. They seem to look at him. They talk about Mary. John does not hear them clearly, but he guesses. Who said Mary kissed him? Who did he say Mary kissed? Who pretended he saw a picture of Bill in Mary’s hands? Who did John believe the claim that Tom saw? Before John can hear them clearly, Tom and the man have already disappeared. John is very surprised, John is very upset. Mary and Bill? He has faith in Bill’s integrity. A wise man is honest! He runs into the house and meets Bill.

“Is it true that you secretly meet Mary while I am working with the cows?”

Who would you approve of my seeing?

“Anyone else! She loves me because I am a tall man and a nice fellow.”

“I am taller than you, and I know people taller than both of us...”

“She prefers my cooking!”

“You don’t take care of her any longer. Look at what you both wear!”

No one wants to admit that he might be wrong. Sincerity frightens John. The conversation starts to go wrong. John is nervous and aggressive, but Bill does not want to fight. Bill remembers that in the past John kept the car in the garage. Bill runs faster; he manages to reach the car, and the garage is open. He disappears in the dust. John cannot follow him. The horses are too far away. Once again, he is betrayed by horses. When he enters the stable, he only finds Bill the donkey. John is helpless. John is in despair. He wants to break Bill into pieces, but there is only one Bill in the room. A donkey is an animal, but John cannot stand it any more. “Bill is not a donkey, he is the wolf!” John thinks, while hitting it. He receives a donkey’s hoof kick.

Mary had been painting, but she has witnessed the whole scene. This day, she paints her best picture ever. And she gives her comments to the Sheriff: I was surprised that John came home. Bill is my friend, and so is John. Bill has a chance to live, and so does John. Who did John expect Bill to meet? I know a taller man than Bill is. I know a taller man than Bill does. I don’t like John’s cooking any more than Bill’s cooking. His going surprised me. John asked me what to wear. John told me what to wear. I asked for a green shirt, but he gave me the white one. I disapprove of John’s excessive drinking. Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.

The SpecGram InquisitionBill Spruiellwith Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie
Clearance SaleXerus & Ratufa
SpecGram Vol CLXXII, No 2 Contents