Above and Beyond
van Vansen &
Nathan du West
Syntacticians are set to take a step into the unknown next month with the scheduled launch of two satellites which, it is hoped, will attain the hitherto murky Edge of the Sentence (EotS), if not beyond. Modelled on the two Voyager craft of the 1970s, the twin hi-tech devices, named Supra-Sentence Satellite A and B, will take slightly different trajectories: SSSA is designed for low supra-sentence work; SSSB, by contrast, is intended to reach far beyond the sentence into uncharted territory.
According to Dr D. Scourse of the Supra-Sentence Satellite project, syntacticians have suspected for decades that there may be some matter or material above the sentence, but only now has the technology developed to actually explore this. Dr Scourse told us ‘There’re so many syntactic phenomena that strongly suggest that the linguaverse may not stop at the sentence. Think of topicalization, relative clauses, even wh- questions. We’re so familiar with the mechanics of these properties and understand a great deal about them. But what is most interesting is why they exist at all. The assumption has always been that there is something greater than the clause, even clause combinations, and we’re very excited to be finally able to at least attempt to observe it.’
Currently, there are a range of competing theories as to what the theorised EotS domain may consist of. The Textist theory (so-called as it originated at the University of Texas) suggests that any possible supra-sentence material is highly stable, largely inert, and that the familiar dynamics of sentences such as combinatoriality and constrained variation in linear ordering arise independently of the so-called text domain. The obvious difficulty here is how it comes to be that sentences possess properties not found in the wider domain. By contrast, D-scoursism (named after its founder, Dr D. Scourse, noted above) makes the bold claim that whatever material there is beyond the sentence itself has a dynamic character. This in turn raises the tantalising question as to whether there is a domain beyond even discourse. Certain radical syntacticians have tentatively labelled this QONTExST (Quasi-Ontological Network-Territory EXternal to the Syntax Top-level) but it remains an unpopular conjecture in mainstream syntax circles.
Indeed, as well as addressing fundamental questions in the science of syntax, this launch of SSSA and B represents a milestone in syntax-theology cooperation. Theological syntacticians have posited that some elements of sentences suggest that there may be a sentient will implicated in the existence of sentences. Bishop Justine ‘Just’ Zsynn-Tekx of the Church of the Supreme Syntactic Deity has spoken openly about her belief that sentences don’t, indeed cannot, simply arise out of nothing and that there must be some intelligent entity who, for some reason, wishes to produce them.
While detecting any ‘agency’ or ‘will’ involved in the production of sentences is highly unlikely on theoretical and other grounds, obtaining an understanding of the EotS domain is a clear aspiration for the scientists. SSSB carries a range of experimental data-gathering instruments, such as the Paragraphometer and the Cohesiontron, which may be able to detect movements or patterns of some kind beyond the simple grammaticisation of predicate-argument structures. ‘There’s so much we understand about the sentence,’ added Dr D. Scourse. ‘We know what it is, how it is made up, and its mechanics. What we’ve never yet understood is that big question, “Why?” It’s so exciting to be part of the generation that may discover part of the answer as to why sentences exist at all.’