SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 1 Contents Letters to the Editor

The High Point of Linguistics

by Academic Altitude Editor, I M High
(with the lofty assistance of Hugh Pointe)

Everyday life is rich with examples of some things being higher than others. Glossing over the technical difficulties implicated in what ‘being high’ may mean (remember Van der Plopp’s rebuttal of Von Schniezenhoffler’s verticality axis!), it is incontestably empirical that some tall people bang their heads on low beams, sky divers descend towards the earth, Juliet looks down ’pon Romeo in her balcony scene and, perhaps most strikingly, stairs exist.

Artemis Alexiadou, Hagit Borer, Florian Schäfer (eds.), 2014, The Syntax of Roots and the Roots of Syntax, Oxford University Press.

Chiasmus of the Month
June 2022

However, the richness and variety of phenomena exemplifying differential altitude in the domain of the physical is more than outweighed by height-related dynamics in academic disciplinesof which linguistics, for the sake of argument, is one. Consider the sentence.1 The discovery of the tree structural property of syntax was an early example of altitude-related thinking in the discipline; it demonstrated that sentences are literally higher than the lexemes and morphemes of which they are constituted (which does not entail, contra Heifenfluffer (1963) that sentences must be uttered either standing on a chair or in high heels (or both), whereas lexemes may be uttered at ground level) with, in certain theories, features percolating up the tree and domain defining constructs like C-Command operating down on a certain portion of the structure.

But up-ness and down-ness doesn’t stop there in linguistics: tone languages have rising and falling tones; languages have acro-, meso- and basilects;2 children’s vocabulary grows rapidly from age one; and idioms such as down to earth and on cloud nine make ready use of altitude-related phenomena. With all this upping and downing in linguistics, it’s hard to believe the discipline has remained so level-headed for so long.

All this leads us inevitably to this question: What is the high point of linguistics? Which itself begs many other questions: Whatever the actual high point is determined to be, is there a further, aspirational one which is even higher? Does one need climbing gear and an oxygen mask to get there? How can we measure any high points we identify and do we need a different scale in, say, morphophonology and pragmatics? Can it be seen from space?

Aware that there’s little our small3 but loyal readership doesn’t know about linguistics, we thought we might pose the above question (and its corollaries) to you. So, please write in with your suggestions as to the high point of linguistics. As ever, well argued, empirically grounded suggestions are as welcome as those which are neither, and speculative and downright left-field responses are positively encouraged. Send your suggestion(s!) on a parchment or papyrus via carrier pigeon, raven or ostrich to:

What’s the High Point of Linguistics?
High Point
Point High
Unit 710,341

In the meantime, we’re pretty sure that the quarterly arrival of SpecGram is a relatively high point in our readership’s life. So, without further ado, clamber aboard the airship SpecGram (bagging a window seat, of course, to enjoy the view) and let’s jet off horizonwards towards Destination Chuckleberry passing through the Guffaw-clouds and over the LOL-tops of the snow-capped Mountains of Amusement. Chocks away!4

1 Not that sentence per se; the phenomenon of the sentence.

2 Not to be confused with the mythical basilisk, or with a culinary approach to breakfast in which eggs are added to basil.

3 In the sense of quantity, not height. Not everything’s about altitude!

4 Not to be confused with the Weightgainers’ motivation slogan Chocs! A way!

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 1 Contents