The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 1 Contents Seeing Double—Chuck Lloyd & Julius Earle

How Linguistic Structures Affect the Outcomes of Civilizations

Annie Connie Myst & G. Stuart Dent


Charles Darwin thought that languages encapsulated everything a society knew, which is why none of our immigrant grandparents ever figured out how to set the clock on their VCR. If a society hasn’t progressed enough to have a word for eight, they’ll go to bed at 7:00, like Benjamin Franklin’s archetype of a hale, rich, and sage gentleman.1 Language thus also encodes the sum of the ignorance of all our forefathers, probably because they wouldn’t listen to our foremothers.

Some care must be taken before making expansive claims about language. In one well-known example, Benjamin Lee Whorf once asked a Hopi man to meet him at Window Rock at 2:15 pm on the third Friday of the following month. When the Hopi man failed to show up, Whorf concluded that the Hopi have no concept of time. Scholars later concluded that it was actually Whorf who missed the meeting, having failed to account for the fact that the Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time.

Grammatical neo-Whorfianism has put forth many possibilities that can be tested. Our research has uncovered a number of surprising connections. Societies with languages that divide nouns into masculine and feminine are statistically less likely to be into RuPaul’s Drag Race and more likely to be into drag racing,2 while for speakers of languages with three or more genders, anything goes! Cultures of clumsy people who drop their babies tend to speak pro-drop languages, poorly. Languages of cultures that do not eat enough fiber tend to be irregular.3 People who speak a language with a genitive case think about sex more often, or possibly about knees.4

Building on the recent discovery of the Mirapurã people in western Brazil, our newest paper, “Everything That’s Wrong with the Mirapurã Language, Part 1 of 9” demonstrated that the language that they speak doomed them to being left behind while Western Europeans conquered the Americas. Although the manuscript followed in the intellectual tradition of Victorian-era scholars like Col. O. Neil Liszt and Raymond Sist, strenuous objections were raised about the methodology and conclusions. Among those that did not lead to fisticuffs, P. Hackermann pointed out that our decision to use only one language in the control group could have led to spurious correlations.5


For our expanded control group, we use the following set of 24 languages: Calabro-Sicilian, Catalan, Central Italian, Corsican, Emilio-Romagnolo, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Gallo-Italic of Basilicata, Gallo-Italic of Sicily, Gallurese, Istriot, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Salentino, Sammarinese, Sardinian, Sassarese, Tuscan, and Venetian. Our research used the unabridged coffee-table version of the Big Atlas of Latinate Language Structures,6 not the abridged pocket-sized paperback7 and definitely not the even more abridged wall poster8 that has a picture of a really cute cat in the corner.

The common lore is that it is best to use R to solve for p and C to find r, so long as you mind your p’s and q’s. Hogwash!9 Instead, we use homebrew Excel scripts based on spreadsheets uncovered by forensic investigators after the collapse of Enron. Statistical linguistics is exactly like using controlled blackouts to extort a state to pay exorbitant energy rates, but with different variable names.10

Our critics contend that our methods and interpretation are regressive. Indeed, we use a probit regression because we have a hypothesis and we probably want to probe it. Our model is very fancy with lots of Greek letters, but we omit it because we don’t have a proper Greek font on this computer. Also, we intend for this manuscript to be read by linguists, and we hear that they are allergic to anything mathematical.

Rest assured that our model has lots of dummy variables, or at least that’s how we choose to interpret our critics’ comments about it (and us). Controlling for non-linguistic variables was easier in the control sample than in the experimental sample. In the control sample, we were able to identify robust European Union statistics for urbanization, socioeconomic status, and education. We used the closest proxies we could find for the experimental sample, respectively: density of “residences”,11 an admittedly unscientific interview in which we showed one of the Mirapurã speakers pictures of a bunch of other ones and asked him to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down,12 and phrenology.13


At very high statistical confidence, we find that the existence of inflected imperfect subjunctive forms is predictive of high religiosity, as measured by the metric of an almost fanatical devotion to the pope. We leave it to the reader to comment on the significance of this, but our Protestant editor noted that it is helpful to have an irrealis mood when attempting to contemplate the idea of papal infallibility.14

Also at very high statistical confidence, we find that having contracted forms that combine prepositions and definite articles is strongly correlated with one’s ability to cook pasta perfectly al dente. Mirapurã pasta is generally very squishy, which is unsurprising given that the wheat is omitted in favor of any one of a variety of unsavory items in the “long objects/animate” noun class. Lest our own, subjective-but-not-really biases be questioned, we sought confirmation from professional chefs holding as little as a single Michelin star, all of whom agreed with our assessments about palatability.15

Another finding is that the existence of both inflected preterite and imperfect verb forms is strongly correlated with basic historical knowledge, as measured through awareness of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World. One particularly egregious example arose when a Mirapurã speaker said something that translates as “You are Columbusing”; this simple sentence confuses the present and past tenses, incorrectly uses imperfective aspect instead of perfective, confuses a noun for a verb, demonstrates a misunderstanding of personal pronouns, and is historically off by more than half a millennium.

At the edge of statistical significance, the Mirapurã were slightly more likely than the control group to root for A.C. Milan over Inter Milan, with the caveat we forgot to randomize the order in which the options were presented. An anonymous reviewer suggested that the lack of a Mirapurã word meaning “soccer”, “football”, or indeed any ball game at all may also be relevant, although we fail to see how.


How can a grammatical concept such as combined preposition-article forms affect modern contemporary cuisine? We hypothesize that the former reflects an ancient collectivist attitude toward small things, and what is pasta but the delicious result of small things come together? Even the names of ingredients for pastaflour (or wheat), egg, salt, and waterare small words, both in English and in the set of control languages in our study. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, we hypothesize that fusional languages have helped inspire some of the greatest delicacies on the planet. The Bolognese ragú that might top that pasta is the product of all of its ingredients fused together, each sacrificing its distinctive individuality for the greater good of a sublimely savory sauce. The contrast with English, an analytic language, further demonstrates this pattern; the Italian restaurant on our street is always crowded, while a picture of the English restaurant next door was once used to illustrate the word “isolating”.

Finally, we note the difficulty in precisely controlling for educational effects. It has been established that education and climate are linked, with lower educational attainment in more tropical environments. This is evident from the locations of the great universities of the world, both globally16 and subnationally within the United States. Public funding of education may also be a linked variable. The Mirapurã people lack even the prerequisites therefor (a public to speak of, funding or the mathematical basis on which to create such a system, and educated people to serve as teachers), so we code this as zero, a concept they also lack.


According to our results, the sad plight of the Mirapurã people is entirely due to deficiencies in their language. In a previous paper, we humbly recommended teaching them a language more conducive to prospering in an advanced, technological society. While this recommendation was well-received among our Austrian School colleagues,17 the bins full of angry letters arriving daily from the linguistics community provided incontrovertible evidence that plaudits were not universal,18 especially not from our newly hunchbacked letter carrier, Susie.

Having learned our lesson, we now advocate for a softer approach. Rather than replacing their language wholesale, we recommend identifying all of its grammatical deficiencies and correcting them one by one. Although there is a tried-and-true method for achieving these results, we pity Susie enough not to call for outright creolization. Instead, there should be a coordinated international effort with a team of cultural envoys and specialists in the lesser sciences (especially linguistics) to work with tribal elders on gradually introducing economically favorable grammatical features into their language. In fact, there may be some urgency to such a project if the Myst–Akins Development Corporation’s bribe proposal to build the Cross-Amazon Expressway is accepted; after all, somebody will have to staff the nearby service plaza.19

1 Though they’ll probably be none of those things.

2 See our book, The Feminine Myst... Eek!

3 That hypothesis was first put forth by Darwin in his unpopular sequel On the Origin of “Genera”.

4 Interpretation is complicated by the fact that they have sexy knees.

5 Although he may just have been unhappy because that’s kind of his thing.

6 We’ve got “Big BALLS”.

7 “BALLS in your pocket”.

8 “BALLS to the wall”.

9 Coincidentally, that’s almost identical to the recipe for a Mirapurã “delicacy”. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves...

10 Thanks to Homie O’Morpheus for the suggestion.

11 Including mud huts, shanties, lean-tos, twigloos, holes in the ground, and hovels.

12 We’re not entirely certain which one is considered good in the Mirapurã culture. This method is nonetheless sufficient for our purposes to divide the population into two groups, at least if one is unconcerned about the sign of the correlation, as is typically the case for supply-siders.

13 Although our subjects objected to all of the head measuring, their objections would have been even greater had the institutional review board approved our proposed more accurate (though more invasive) methods.

14 The only people who are never wrong are economists.

15 Specifically, the noises of disgust they made when tasting Mirapurã “cuisine” were often palatalized.

16 As readers may guess from the preceding paragraph, one of the authors spent a lot of time at the Università di Bologna, the oldest continually operating university in existence. These readers will be pleased to know that the trespassing charges have since been dropped.

17 Perhaps a bit too well-received among the Austrian über alles crowd, if you catch our drift.

18 Even to us, and we’re experts at conveniently overlooking contrary evidence. Seriously though, haven’t you guys heard about email?

19 Though we’ll rely on foreign cooks for the restaurant.

The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective
Seeing DoubleChuck Lloyd & Julius Earle
SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 1 Contents