Linguistic Old Wives Tales—Sarah M. Isaac SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 3 Contents Diary of a Xenolinguist—So-She Hat’O

The Decline of Academic Language Departments
Whom Can We Blame?

Very Nearly a SpecGram Roundtable Discussion

A recent study found that between 2013 and 2016, American universities lost a net total of 651 language programs, defined as a class taught more than once in a while, with decreases for all languages but ASL, Biblical Hebrew, and Korean, as a result of general economic ickiness in 2008. The academic world was stunned by such a decrease, at least to the extent it could be pried from its books and/or funding drives. Fear not, though, Gentle Readers, for the Speculative Grammarian gals and guys are on the job!! We have already called a plenary and plenipotentiary executive whingeing session of the editorial board and hangers-on to brainstorm the broad guidelines for draft resolutions to establish a sub-committee to craft a sub rosa white paper on the considerations to be borne in mind when setting the agenda for the meeting to discuss whether to establish the 47 committees necessary to effectively address the issues involved in holding a round table discussion of this issue, proceedings projected for publication in the fullness of time (we’re thinking a fin de siècle sort of timetable). And given the quality of our guys and gals (though we prefer the term “Menschen and zhenshchiny”), you just know it will be ground-breaking, earth-shattering, side-and/or-ear-splitting, and headache/dyspepsia-inducing! (Though as we have yet to receive all our RSVPs, we can’t promise nausea... yet.)

Early abstracts of various arguments and counter-arguments are provided below to whet your appetite for the final product.

1. Nostra Culpa, Nostra Maxima CulpaMaximus Culpeper, Junior Financial Editor

These figures are alarming, but only to be expected. Note that the ultimate cause seems to have been economic decline since 2008. Ordinarily this wouldn’t affect academia, but starting in that year several of our editorial staff, who had entered grad school when flush funding started, were forced to put up or shut up and submit dissertations. The resulting decrease in steady funding with the loss of so many permanent grad students has had a knock-on effect, for with none of us there to take so many languages, several universities have had to cut back their offerings.

2. Dou Guai Women!Andy Laurence, Senior Statistics Intern

I would like to note that the previously quoted deadwood once again, just as in his regrettable publications, attaches cosmic significance to what is at best a baby’s burp. Statistical analysis shows that the declining figures are perfectly correlated (R2 = ‒1.0) with Speculative Grammarian subscription figures, showing that as our journal has spread knowledge of languages and linguistics, students have learned to avoid what is not healthful.

3. The Joys of Apex PredationHallie Lukoseffaluss, Junior Economics Intern

This result is only to be expected in a world in which languages are sorting themselves into positions of dominance based on economic power and inherent quality. (See Toofenklau and Talionis’s Language Ecology and Language Zoology.) It still doesn’t explain the increases in Biblical Hebrew and Korean, unless this has something to do with the spread of Korean evangelical Christianity...

4. The Joys of Parasitism on the Apex PredatorOnchocerca “Chonchi” Volvulus, Junior Big Data Cruncher

Statistical analysis shows that the declines in non-English programs are closely correlated with the development and spread of the latest brand of Chomskyan linguistic theories. As all languages are underlyingly the same, and as the processes in OT are universal, so it is unnecessary to study other languages to discover universal truths in linguistics. As one wise man in the 1960s said, “If it’s universal, then show me it in English!” Or, as a future English teacher told me in class once, “I don’t care how other languages do things, I’m here to learn how to teach English.” Here we see the benign and beneficent results of American prosperity and military might supporting the one linguistic approach that is not only true but truly useful in legitimizing the dominance of English, and while Chomskyanism and the English educational establishment separately are vulnerable, together their symbiotic parasitism of the system ensure that current trends will continue to a glorious future for all the boys and girls on staff and on board.

5. MehApathia Letharjïiïi, Strongly Agreeable Psychometric Intern

A quick questionnaire (214 questions) with responses encoded on one of six different 5-, 7-, or 19-point Likert scales, administered to a large number (n = 32) of semi-willing (0.04% response rate) undergraduate subjects (W.E.I.R.D.) was subjected to a 137-factor regression analysis, revealing 4 strongly significant (p ≤ 0.001), 8 significant (p ≤ 0.05), and 2 suggestive (p ≤ 0.10) factors was completed before we determined that (a) our analysis was fundamentally flawed because Likert-type scales provide ordinal rather than interval data, (b) we actually hate trying to pretend to do hard social science, and (c) the questionnaire was actually about attitudes towards avocado toast among pro-homoscedasticity Deep South Gen-X ex-pats living in countries adjacent to but not including the Kingdom of Lesotho.

6. By a Simple Leap of LogicSaltus N. Demonstrando, Junior Measurement Editor

If we face facts, it’s clear that this trend is not going to reverse itself any time soon, so we need to take remediation measuressuch as identifying the most useful languages and working to preserve those. There are many dimensions upon which one could rate languages, and many metrics have been proposed, but it is ultimately practical utility that matters most. I’ve recently been consulting with computational linguists who have been doing machine translation and what has become clear to me is that the best language to learnand thus to preserve in academiais a pivot language, i.e. one that is used as a stepping stone for translation between languages when direct translation isn’t possible. Clearly, if one spoke the pivot language, one would not need to know any other languages! I’ve also recently come into contact with conlangers who have been doing whatever it is conlangers do, and it made me realize that given all the weird phenomena one would need to encode in a pivot language, the ideal candidate is Lojban!

Linguistic Old Wives TalesSarah M. Isaac
Diary of a XenolinguistSo-She Hat’O
SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 3 Contents