You Have Two Cows...
by Beau Vign & Dogie Vheel
X. Quizzit Korps Center for Advanced Collaborative Studies
Many students of politics and economics are familiar with the “You have two cows...” series of satirical metaphors for various political and economic systems. The most commonly cited variations on the theme include the following:
- Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
- Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the government and the government gives you some milk.
- Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the government and the government sells you some milk.
- Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
These aphoristic encapsulations are generally concise, incisive, and memorable, and valuable to teachers and students in conveying and learning the essence of these econopolitical -isms.
Linguistics would do well to emulate them, so we have spent the last thirteen years distilling the essence of several linguistic subfields, ideologies, and adjacent ideas and subjects into the formalism of bibovinity.
Ruminate on them to your betterment!
- Phonetics: You have two cows that, at first glance, appear to be more-or-less identical. Upon closer inspection with a microscope you discover minor differences that depend on where each cow is in the field and in relation to other cows. Phonologists tell you they are basically the same cow.
- Phonology: You have two cows which never appear in the same context, though they look different. Therefore you conclude that they are underlyingly the same cow.
- Autosegmental Phonology: You have two Holsteins. You demonstrate they are both purely white, and share the same black spots.
- Optimality Theory: You have two cows. You eat the one that is less attractive.
- Morphology: You have a cow and an -s.
- Syntax: You have a cow bound to a tree whose traces you wish were an empty category.
- Generative Syntactics: You have two cows. They moove α.
- Theoretical Linguistics: You have a cow. Like some linguists, it inputs grass and outputs theory.
- Universal Grammar: You have a vast herd of cattle, but Chomsky claims they’re all the same.
- Chomsky’s Competence Cow: You have a spherical cow in a completely homogeneous speech-community.
- Poverty of Stimulus: You have two cows. You must have inherited them, because you couldn’t have acquired them any other way.
- Stratificational Grammar: You have two Holsteins. You posit that they came into their paddock completely white, and that invisible elves stand on invisible diamond-shaped platforms above them, throwing black paint at them.
- Generative Semantics: You have two cows. You account for the similarities in their appearance by making wildly detailed diagrams of the paths they have worn in their paddock.
- Discourse Analysis: You have representations of the cow genre. How does that relate to political discourse in Southern Saharan Steam user groups?
- Variationist Sociolinguistics:
- Have you two cows?
- Do you have two cows?
- Have you got two cows?
- Y’got two cows?
- Historical Linguistics: On the basis of some Swadesh lists, we think you had took owls.
- Historical Linguistics (Analogical Division): You have two kine.
- Classical Philology: You have a cow. It says “mu,” which reflects how it originally asked for water.
- Greek Philology: You have two cows. You use them to pull a plow backwards and forwards as you recite a text.
- Etymology: You have a cow and a beef.
- Indo-European Linguistics: You look at your cow and your beef and realize you have two gʷṓws.
- Paleography: You have two cows. You examine them with a microscope to see if anything’s written on their skin.
- Old Testament Text Linguistics: Noah had two cows.
- Spelling Reform: You have a kough and a qao, but you want tu kowz.
- Typology: You have two cows. Probably. You got them from published grammars, one of which doesn’t mention whether they are bi- or quadrupedal, and the other of which doesn’t mention whether they are herbivorous or carnivorous. You generalize anyway.
- Creole Studies: You have a lion and a yak, and somehow you end up with a cow.
- Field Linguistics: You have two cows. Can I use them as informants?
- Linguistic Gloss:
“The cow is eating the grass.”
- Computational Linguistics: You have two cows. That is not enough for statistically significant results so you run off to find a field full of thousands of p-hacked bovines.
- Machine Learning for Natural Language Processing: You have two cows... or possibly a giraffe, a sheep, or an empty field.
- Binary Numerals: You have 10 cows.
- Language Acquisition Research: You have a cow. Now you have another one. There are two of them. You have two...
- Second Language Learning: You have a cow and sheep. The cow says “moo,” the sheep says “baa.” With just the right balance of input, task, activity, and supportive pedagogical tech, the sheep will eventually say “maa” and the cow will say “boo.”
- Young Learners Second Language Learning: See above, but with things to color in.
- Child Language Acquisition: “Dada, look [ku:]. Look, look.” (Child throws toy.) “Dada give [ku:] me.”
- Psammeticus: You have two calves. You raise them in isolation to see if they start mooing in Phrygian.
- Documentary Linguistics: You have two cows. Employing advanced imaging technology, you convince the world that you have 47 cows.
- Translation: You have two cows. Here, have a fuzzy match discount.
- Conference Interpreting: You have two cows, which means you have enough for a conference interpreting team in the English to Bovine booth. Please ensure the booth is up to ISO standards and that adequate refreshments are available. Please also indicate if the session is to be recorded and whether relay will be used at any point.
- Altaic Hypothesis: You have a sheep, a pig, a horse and a camel. You call them all yaks.
- Nostratic Hypothesis: You have two completely different cows, from which you infer the existence of an aurochs.
- Arabic Linguistics: Two cws-DUAL with-you. They walk across the field from rght to lft.
- Basque Linguistics: You have two cetaceans.
- English Linguistics: You borrowed a cow from German, one from French and robbed a few from various places you invaded. Now it’s time to assert that there’s really just one cow and everyone should see it as the standard.
- Historical English Linguistics:
- 1500: hast thou two cows?
- 1800: have you two cows?
- 2000: do you have two cows?
- 2020: u gt 2 cowz?
- Southern American English Linguistics: You have two cows. They’re in the pin.
- Franglais: ’Ave y[y] deux vaches?
- Spanglish: You [x]ave dos cow[s]?
- Esperantology: You have many cows grazing together in a field in the Russian empire. Some say mooo, others, mmooooo, some say mhuuuh and a few mmmmhuuuuhuh. The resulting mutual unintelligibility leaves the field in tatters. Then, Moowig Cowmenhof comes up with Moo-o and invites hangers-on. A few Moo-istoj join in but mooo, mmooooo, mhuuuh and mmmmhuuuuhuh continue pretty much unabated. Ironically, the Moo-a part of the field is the least harmonious.
- German in Translation: You hate two cows.
- Hixkaryana Linguistics: Two cows have you.
- Japanese Linguistics: You two large-animate-with-head of cow have.
- Malay Linguistics: You have one cow. You form the plural by reduplication: cow-cow.
- Phoenician Linguistics: You have two cows. After a while, they turn into an aleph and an alpha.
- Pirahã Linguistics: You have many cows.
- Rajasthani Linguistics: You have two vegetarian dishes.
- Romance Linguistics: You have a lot of cows because once you’ve acquired one, it’s fairly easy to pick up others. How many do you have? It’s hard to say, because some of them are so difficult to tell apart.
- Proto-World: You have two cows, a jellyfish, and a rosebush. You try to reconstruct their common ancestor.
- Endangered Languages: You have around 6,000 cows, many hundreds of which are sickly. Professors of cow-istics moan about how worrisome this is in their large offices and occasionally write short papers. Once in a while, The Guardian runs a piece on it. The cows die anyway.
- Language Isolates: You have around 6,000 cows in a field, some of which appear not to be related to other cows in the field. You become incredibly excited about this until you realize: a) some of them may be related to other cows but we just don’t know; b) all of them were by definition related to others at some point but cow families go back a long way and we just can’t see when a certain mummy cow and a certain daddy cow produced their baby cows.
- Center-Embedding (and Semantic Satiation): Two Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo you have buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
- Cleft: It is cows you have and it is two of them that you have?
- Ellipsis: Bill has two cows and Sally does, too.
- Garden Path: The cows walked through the field mooed.
- Imperative Mood: You have to, cows.
- Passive Voice: Two cows are had by you.
- Upspeak: You have two cows?
- Americanist Tradition: You have two bison. You transcribe their mooing in non-standard notation.
- Conlanging: You have no cows. You need to create some more livestock-related vocabulary.
- Imperial Linguistics: You have some cows and some geese in a field. The cows say “moo” and the geese say “honk.” The cows are bigger and there are more of them so they walk towards the geese until they fly off. Now everyone in the field says “moo.”
- Mythological Linguistics: You have two primordial cows. They begin talking to each other, just because. Then the First Man and First Woman arise out of the earth (or a whale’s tooth, or descend from heaven, it doesn’t really matter) and they learn language from the two primordial cows. And that, children, is the origin of speech!
- Ph.D. Supervision Meeting: You go in with what you think might be two cows if the data is viewed from a certain perspective. You come out cowed.
- Postmodernism: You have a load of old bull.
- Soviet Linguistics: Two cows have you!
- Behavioral Economists Doing “Linguistics”: You have two cows and these other people don’t because your language is better than theirs.
- Physicists Doing “Historical Linguistics”: If we inspect your two cows, and my two cows, and their two cows, we can deduce many “interesting” “facts” about Proto-Bovidae.
- Cartesian Linguistics: You have two cows. You are so enthralled with one that you never notice the other one.
- Ockhamian Philosophy of Language: You have cows. Each goes “moo.” You need only one cow—and one moo.
- Radical Ockhamian Philosophy of Language: You have cows. Each goes “moo.” You need only one moo. Sell both cows and go “moo” yourself.
- William of Occowm: Cows must not be mooltiplied beyond necessity. [Too late! —Eds.]
- SpecGram Editor: You have two wild cows. You follow them around their mountain pastureland, collecting their excrement for distribution to your journal’s subscribers.
- SpecGram Editor-in-Chief: You have too many cow jokes. This is all getting a bit much. We’re not Speculative Agrarian, you know.