Discovered in SPIT
COVID-19 is amongst us—and indeed between us. For that is how it spreads: droplets of grim, bubbling, infected saliva jettisoned from the oral orifice of an infected homo sapiens into the nasal mucus or throat of another. But new research suggests a cure is in sight, although not, surprisingly, from traditional medicine: linguistics is the source of the proposed cure for COVID-19.
Researchers at the San Phernando Institute of Technology (SPIT), have discovered that at most 87% of COVID-19 is spread through droplets expelled by sneezing, coughing and gasping. Of the remaining 13%, the overwhelming majority comes from simply talking. But it turns out that not all speech sounds are COVID-19–contagious equal. Plosives, in particular ejectives, and to a lesser degree fricatives, produce more spittle per segment (SPS) than laterals, nasals and vocalics.
Armed with this knowledge, associate professor Sally Varr at SPIT has begun work on a COVID-19–safe language. Dubbed Covlang, this constructed language lacks plosives and fricatives and uses no places of articulation further forward in the oral cavity than the alveolar ridge. This phonetic inventory ensures an extremely low SPS, making Covlang a potential part of the package to help get the economy back in business.
Early tests are positive—if you’ll pardon the pun! In combination with a mask and a transparent plastic shield, at a distance of at least two meters, or on the telephone, Covlang speakers show a greatly reduced propensity to pick up the disease from someone else when speaking compared to other languages. A minor methodological flaw which has been pointed out by some critics is the fact that only Sally Varr and her research assistant, Ian Feque-Tead, speak Covlang sufficiently to have a conversation, and they have been in isolation in Basement Level 23 of SPIT since before the outbreak. However, with government backing, up to a half a dozen more people should be fluent in Covlang by 2022, at which point any erroneous findings from the experiments so far can be ironed out.
But Covlang goes way beyond simply fixing the current chaos and economic collapse we are slowly reality-adjusting ourselves towards. A secondary, but linguistically significant, outcome of the creation of Covlang is the discovery that conlangs can actually have an impact on human well-being beyond providing “authenticity” to a sci-fi or swords-and-sandals blockbuster movie or TV series. Esperanto, the wildly successful conlang of the 19th century, was hailed as the language of hope; perhaps it is Covlang that truly deserves that corona.