O, Apostrophe!—Anita G. Gorman SpecGram Vol CLXXIX, No 4 Contents L.U.R.V.E. is a Battlefield—How the Internet Ruins <s>Everything</s> Acronyms—Pat ben Ātar

On Ergative-Relativity

I. N. Stein

Recently I was sitting under an apple tree near Bilbao, struggling with a Basque grammar and drinking one1 of the wonderful local alcoholic ciders, when I drifted off to sleep. A falling apple hit me on the head,2 and I awoke with the sudden realization of why I was having trouble making sense of the language. You see, Basque is not an ergative-absolutive language; rather, it is ergative-relative.3

In the low speaking-rate limit, ergative-relativity reduces to the ergative-absolutive paradigm of classical New Tonian linguistics.4 Most non-native Basque scholars speak a lightly inflected language whose alignment is nominative-accusative,5 and they rarely get a chance to explore the high speech rates that are required for ergative-relativity to emerge. The declension of Basque nouns is notoriously difficult, with recursive inflectional forms that depend on case, number, and determination.6 Scarce remembered is that the first World War II–era code talker project by Gen. “Basquin’ ” Robbins7 used only inflected forms of the word “son”. The project was halted after a mere 80,000 forms due to severe mental breakdowns.8, 9

Native speakers can navigate the Basque inflectional minefield10 with ease, leading to the emergence of ergative-relative effects. At these high articulation rates, listeners can disagree on the order of events. Which came first: the ergative or dative verbal concord element? The answer seems to vary by tense and mood.11

Theory predicts that tensions will arise when an ergative-relative language is geographically surrounded by a nominative-accusative one. Language contact will naturally cause antipassive forms of the former to annihilate with passive forms of the latter. The resulting explosions may be misconstrued as antipassive-aggressive behavior.

This special theory of ergative-relativity12 is still controversial, although Prof. Polly Person agrees with me.13 I am currently exploring the predictions of a more general theory that predicts the existence of semantic black holeswords that have agglutinated so many morphosyntactic inflections that no real meaning can escape. My work has uncovered a twin paradox: if you separate twins at birth, raising one speaking a nominative-accusative language and the other an ergative-relative one, no grant proposal can raise enough money to both conduct research into the differences in their speech patterns and bribe the institutional review board to have allowed the experiment to happen in the first place.14 My theory also suggests that there may be a Multiversal Grammar, although our universe is the only one with the right principles and parameters for Noam Chomsky to exist.

1 Many.

2 Possibly in retaliation for my consumption of its pressed and fermented cousins.

3 I mean this in the astrophysical sense, not in the sense that English and Askunu are fourth cousins thrice removed.15

4 Which is universally agreed to be much better than Tony’s old theory.

5 Or in the case of English, chaotic neutral.

6 I mean this in the linguistic sense but cannot definitively rule out that Basque speakers are able to will new inflected forms into existence through sheer stubborn-headedness.

7 His subordinates considered him to be 31 flavors of crazy.

8 Fortunately, no linguistics professors were harmed. Expendable graduate students did all the real work.

9 A full history can be found in volume 1 of SemeAntics by Anne I. Solate. Readers are advised to skip the dictionary of the project (volume 2) and her proposed completion (volumes 3 through 27, so far).

10 Another abandoned military project.

11 I mean this in the linguistic sense but cannot definitively rule out that native speakers have become cross with the hordes of inquisitive foreign linguists that roam the countryside.

12 Named by a colleague whose reaction upon hearing it for the first time was, “Well, bless your heart! Isn’t that special?”

13 In fairness, she agrees with everyone else too.

14 Perhaps this is a good thing, seeing what happened to my brother Frank.

15 They exchange only the briefest of mutually unintelligible pleasantries over the hummus dip at the annual Indo-European family reunion.

O, Apostrophe!Anita G. Gorman
L.U.R.V.E. is a BattlefieldHow the Internet Ruins Everything AcronymsPat ben Ātar
SpecGram Vol CLXXIX, No 4 Contents