Grammaticality Brown Strikes Back SpecGram Vol CXC, No 4 Contents Suspended Jail Sentence for World-Renowned Conversation Analyst Phil O’Torque—The Editors of The Journal of Forbidden Experiments


This week’s departmental seminar was given by Josh Quipley, who has recently returned from an extensive period conducting “linguistic research” in Europe.

Josh spoke about his search for the elusive “South Germans”, speakers of the lost fourth branch of the Germanic language family. He said that his research was inspired by a weathervane.1

Josh’s presentation included picture after picture of his stylish journey southward from Germany: Klosters, St. Moritz, Kitzbühel, Zurs, Verbier, Cortina d’Ampezzo, and so on. There were a surprisingly large number of pictures of après-ski for someone who doesn’t ski.

He claimed that he was retracing the migration of the alpine sport–loving South Germans. Noticeably absent were any examples of historical artifacts or supporting materials.2 Josh explained that the South Germans’ roamin’ was lost to history, which was more focused on the collapse of that big empire to their south. Eventually, a few hardy souls ventured down below in search of hearty red wines, taking their language with them. Later migrations ate into their Sprachraum, but a small island of a South Germanic language survives today, as demonstrated by Josh’s only slide with actual linguistic data on it:

West
Ger­manic
North
Ger­manic
East
Ger­manic
South
Ger­manic
fatherfaderfadarpater
fowlfågelfuglspullus
brotherbroderbroþarfrāter
hornhornhaurncornū
hundredhundrahundcentum
kneeknäkniugenu
toothtanstunþusdēns
threetreþreistrēs
guestgästgastshostis
coldkallkaldsgelū

Josh proposed a name for the daughter language: Vatican, based on where he discovered it. He says that the words may not appear related to our untrained eyes, but the data can easily be explained by cyclical shifts, which he calls “Quipley’s Law”.

b > f > p > b
g > h > k > g
d > θ > t > d

Not all of the changes are equally well attested across the four branches of the Germanic family. Some shifts are less obvious due to other changes. For instance, slippery (W. Ger.) is cognate with lūbricus (S. Ger.), but the word was so slippery that the s fell off.

Some words appear not to follow Quipley’s Law, Josh admits.3 Some of his friends acquaintances from his ski vacation tried to help him work through the exceptions, but Josh is not good with remembering names.4 He remembers sharing a delicious ginger beverage with a Michigander, who suggested what he calls Vernor’s Law. We don’t understand what “Cowgirl’s Law” is or who came up with it, but we speculate that he met a woman from Texas, and, knowing Josh (and how he snickers every time he says lūbricus), we’d really rather not think about it more than that.

Josh concluded with a theory about how the Vatican language was kept alive by a shadowy group called the Priority of Science, who wanted to hide the fact that St. Peter’s Basilica was accidentally built on a feather instead of a rock. We tuned out at this point because it sounded like the plot of a bad Dan Brown novel.5


We’re positive that Josh has heard of Latin, if only because he originally wanted to do his thesis on the porcine version of it. His prospects for future employment in linguistics are pretty grim if he keeps chasing after his fairy-tale language theories.

That said, it is true that southward-migrating Germans vandalized had a great deal of influence on the late Western Roman Empire and Vulgar Latin. Come to think of it, most of the population of Switzerland speaks German, and the pope is protected by the Swiss Guard! Wait a minute... the last pope was German, so does that mean... no, don’t believe it!... or do?



1 Supporting our theory that one day he will grow up to be a politician.

2 On second thought, perhaps he’ll be a linguist after all.

3 But he won’t be a theoretical linguist.

4 Or anything from his Linguistics 101 textbook, apparently.

5 Is there any other kind?

Grammaticality Brown Strikes Back
Suspended Jail Sentence for World-Renowned Conversation Analyst Phil O’TorqueThe Editors of The Journal of Forbidden Experiments
SpecGram Vol CXC, No 4 Contents