SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 3 Contents Letters to the Editor

The Safety is Off

A Letter from Associate Editor Mikael Thompson

In the wake of a couple of recent articles, it was suggested to us that we start adding trigger warnings at the head of each article. Granted, the ensuing conversation was less than satisfactory: When asked which articles were meant, the reply of “You know which ones, you lousy vandalous punks!” was less than helpful, however flattering to the collective editorial ego; and upon our asking why we would need trigger warnings, the answer of “You don’t want to alienate or traumatize your readers” suggested an unbridgeable gulf in our respective outlooks.

Luc Dall’Armellina, 2014, “Jeux dialog­iques & dialog­ique du jeu: éléments pour une esthétique de l’altérité”, In: Catherine Boré (ed.), Études de linguistique appliquée Nº1/2014.

Chiasmus of the Month
November 2015

However, we decided it would be better to make a decision after learning what trigger warnings actually are, and here, as in so many other lesser matters, Butch McBastard was quite helpful. Apparently the term refers to instructions for the proper use of tasers and other office equipment, but he added that the intern handlers are already well-trained in those. So, as our journal does not yet have the ability to taser readers through the Internet, we failed to see the need for trigger warnings, and in any case, if we had such capabilities, why would we have such warnings for the reader rather than the editorial staff?

Fortunately, we then remembered a passage in an article in a lesser journal, Language or some such thing, that we ran across when slumming. “The widespread loss of short final vowels triggered an avalanche of secondary splits that nearly doubled the consonant inventory.” It was, if you will, like Grand Theft Auto for historical linguists, and that suggested that, yes, perhaps it would not be entirely amiss to add trigger warnings for phonological triggers or triggers for sound change, if only for them that get their jollies that way.

But then again, as historical linguistics teaches us, practically anything can cause a sound change, and as Optimality Theory, well, not teaches, but at least asserts in its program of sophistry and CV padding, there’s an effectively infinite number of universal constraints. Why, reading Claude Searsplainpockets might cause spontaneous palatalizations in readers that would lead to a merger of tea and key in a few years! Reading Trent Slater might lead to English dialects with ATR vowel harmony in a century! The dictates of prescriptivism and descriptivism here run together: By all means let us institute trigger warnings!

However, the practical difficulties immediately showed themselves, rather like those shadows in the corner that might or might not be a ghost late at night, while the psychological state of the narrator makes it clear only that the author had too much time on his or her hands. For if anything can be a trigger for a phonological process or sound change, then the only truly effective trigger warning would be a narrow transcription of the article with an accompanying feature analysisand while we produce those in editing as a matter of course, they’re proprietary. We were stymied until we glanced at the latest batch of intern disciplinary reports and a light shone. It’s short, it covers all eventualities, and, best of all, it’s in the public domain. And so, we are pleased to unveil our brand new trigger warning:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXXIV, No 3 Contents