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SPhLiMTic GlimpsesA Partial Transcript from the Session on Inchoative Hypothetical Confluences of Σύμφωνον-Φωνῆεν Transference, Part VIII of XXIX, held during The 2018 Symposium on Philologic and Linguistic Meta-Theorogenisis

SPhLiMT High Committee of Beneficent Overseers

The Symposium on Philologic and Linguistic Meta-Theorogenisis (SPhLiMT) is a semisesquiquinquennial meeting of over 2500 philologic and linguistic Global Thought Leaders (GTLs) who gather to discuss global stimulus poverty, political uptalk, climate-induced sound change, and whatever else keeps them up at night. The ideas and concepts discussed at SPhLiMT set up strong undercurrents and overtones that rush and reverberate throughout our disciplineestablishing the direction of linguistic and philological research, outreach, overreach, preaching, treachery, esquirearchy, and other words fitting the r-ea-ch pattern for years to come.

The proceedings are generally kept confidential, but the secretive SPhLiMT High Committee of Beneficent Overseers has decided to grant the plebes common linguistic folk a brief view into a tiny and unimportant corner of the conference, in the name of increased apparent transparency.

Below is a partial transcript of part VIII of XXIX of the Session on Inchoative Hypothetical Confluences of Σύμφωνον-Φωνῆεν Transference at SPhLiMT. Participants in the session must be kept anonymous, but are labeled as numbered Global Thought Leaders in the transcript below.


GTL1: I propose a meta-theory that vowels have historically fled from Slavic, towards Finnish.

GTL2: Are vowels attracted to snow, or does the cold make it more difficult to form consonants?

GTL3: Perhaps they’ve actually gone to Hawaii for the weather.

GTL4: During the Soviet Era, Nikolai Marr labeled vowels as a feature of bourgeois capitalist languages, leading to purges of vowels. Matters were far worse in the Caucasus.

GTL5: The transfer of vowels from the Slavic languages toward the Finno-Ugric languages is closely associated with the rise of Russian autocracy. In the glorious days of Proto-Slavic freedom, all syllables were open and speakers were free to open their mouths widely and speak freely. However, as the czars expanded their authority, freedom of speech, both semantic and phonetic, was increasingly shackled, and with the loss of vowels in weak position, the incidence of closed syllables and clustered consonants huddling together like political prisoners bound for Siberia spread; the sociopolitical effects are well exemplified by Patrick Henry’s example sentence that is a foundation stone in phonetico-political theory, “Give me liberty or give me death,” where the open final syllable of “liberty” contrasts strikingly with the closed syllable of “death.” (A similar phenomenon in Russian is the use of “da” for ‘yes’ in most social circumstances, but the special closed-syllable form “das” is used when speaking to the autocrat: “Das, gosudar'!”) Related to this was the neutralization of so many vowels, akanje (neutralization of a and o and their widespread reduction in unstressed syllables) and ikanje (neutralization of e and i in unstressed syllables), which significantly do not hold in a number of Siberian dialects of Russian located far from the centralizing tentacles of Moscowwhich is itself symbolized by the development of a single stress in every word no matter how vast, even one with as many syllables as Russia spans time zones, with all force and vigor crammed into the center. This contrasts with the retention of vocal(ic) diversity and multiple accents of more than one kind in other Slavic languages, such as Czech and Polish, and rightly calls to mind Czesław Miłosz’s comment that Polish and Czech poets are deeply suspicious of the hypnotizing effect of Russian’s patter-like pattern of one stress per word.

GTL6: It’s not really vowels that are the issue here. The real fact is that consonant density correlates positively with military power (think “plosives”). As Soviet military power increased, vowels were driven out of Slavic languages, and took refuge in neighboring languages that had somehow avoided Stalinist domination. The most peaceful generally have the lowest consonant-to-vowel ratios. Some extensions of this theory suggest themselves, notably in the form of aspersions to cast at cultures perceived to be militarily inept. But my hands will remain unsullied on this score.

GTL7: That also works pretty well for Hawaiian, especially if you extend “military power” to “aggressiveness”. But what about the other partner in the great vowel-consonant exchange, Welsh? How powerful or aggressive are the Welsh?

GTL1: They came second in the Six Nations so...

GTL4: Of course, the Welsh llaterall ffricatif arose in imitation of the noise made by dragons when breathing fire.

GTL1: Perhaps consonants are just afraid of leeks and icons. That would explain the rarity of consonants in IT abbreviations too.

GTL5: Yet the lateral fricative in standard Mongolian arose less than a century ago (if we go by contemporary linguistic descriptions), probably during the period before the death of Stalin and Choibalsan, and there are no reports of Mongolian dragons at any time during that period. Which is probably due to the Mongolian communists suppressing the reports on order from Moscow so as to prevent the rebirth of Mongolian militarism as part of the Stalinist efforts against pan-Mongolism.

GTL8: Interesting hypotheses all around, though I fear that we have strayed too far into the weeds, given our intended Übertheoretical focus. Leave it to the great unwashed and huddled masses of plebeian, riffraffical hoi polloi to transform our soaring excogitations into mere publishable works. It’s not like any of us need tenure.

GTL1: I have no idea how this could become an articleexactly the same as Russian-natives say when looking at English.

GTL9: Ba-dum-tss!


GTL10: You there! Transcription peon!

GTL8: I believe the more colloquial term is “brachygrapher”.

GTL10: You there! Brachygraphical peon!

GTL8: Close enough.

Brachygraphical peon whimpers.

GTL9: I have been reviewing the transcript, and I believe that “Welsh lateral fricative” should be transcribed in a way that is... I don’t know... more Welsh, more lateral, and more fricative!

GTL4: Indeed, it should be “llaterall”.

GTL7: And “ffricatif”. Those crazy Cymri use letter <f> for phoneme /v/, so words beginning with /f/ are written with <ff>...

GTL7 writes on whiteboard: (a b c ch d dd e f ff g ng h i j l ll m n o p ph r rh s t th u w y)

GTL7: ... the ninth letter of the Welsh alphabet.

GTL11: By my count, the ninth letter is <d>.

GTL5: Funny, by mine it’s <e>.

GTL12: Linguists are so good at math!

GTL11: I was counting “(”, but not spaces.

GTL1: The ninth letter of “the Welsh alphabet” is <a>.

GTL10: Ba-dum-tss!

GTL5: But probably not if “the Welsh alphabet” is in Welsh.

GTL7: Oh, you sillies! The space character isn’t a letter!

GTL13: Good thing you pointed that out, because I was going to insist that the ninth letter is <h>.

GTL14: For Pāṇini’s sake, give it a rest! Session adjourned until tomorrow at 5 a.m.!

GTL14 gavels the session to a close.

The Words of the Prophets Are Written on the Restroom Walls...Art Paul and Simon Garfunkel
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SpecGram Vol CLXXXII, No 2 Contents