Attenborough to Receive Second Knighthood—But Can Linguistics Cope With It?—The Lord Earl-Baron of Ovathatopp-Taytles SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents SpecGram Dictionary of the Linguistics of Mythological Beasts—Volume Minus 4: The Minotaur—May Doop-Storeys


Legend has it that Frank Quipley once sent his nephew Josh on a trip with expensive audio recording equipment to document “one of those Australian languages, it doesn’t matter which one.” Josh returned weeks later, tanned, rested, and reeking of lager.1 When Frank got around to listening to the tapes, he could barely hear anything. Suspecting faulty equipment, he asked Josh to give him a verbal description of the language he chose to investigate. Josh replied, “So, in Auslan...”

This month, Josh reports on a language he claims to have heard about via a friend in another department. Josh filled in some of the linguistic details, no doubt with his usual standards of scientific rigor.

The language, which Josh has humbly named “Quiplese”, is unusual in that it marks semantic roles rather than syntactic roles. This makes it especially effective at rendering certain complex ideas compactly.

1.
Tso!
Careful!
Trevelyan-da-da!
Trevelyan-A-A!

“Watch out! (Alec) Trevelyan is a double agent!”2

2.
ma-ma
ma-FORCE

Most languages reserve the word mama to refer to “mother”, but in Quiplese it is used as a concise way to phrase Newton’s second law of motion. Zipf’s Law allows us to infer that many Quiplese speakers must be physicists.3

Semantic roles can be negated.

3a.
Yu-da
PRO.1SG-A
rehaztar-dun
move (house)-PST
Liam-ra.
Liam-INST
3b.
Yu-da
PRO.1SG-A
rehaztar-dun
move (house)-PST
Liam-nu-ra.
Liam-NEG-INST

Without negation, sentence 3a suggests that I couldn’t have moved without Liam’s help. With negation, sentence 3b implies that Liam stood there like a sack of potatoes and watched while I moved all the heavy furniture, then brought in a box of pillows at the end and ate three-quarters of the pizza that I ordered. No bueno, dude! I got really hungry moving that piano all by myself! Speaking of music...

4a.
Classical Gas-ra.
Classical Gas-INST
4b.
Under Pressure-nu-ra.
Under Pressure-NEG-INST
4c.
Classical gas-pa
Classical gas-P
under pressure-ma
under pressure-FORCE
nufatar-ofa.
compresses-PRS.HAB.
4d.
Yu-hya
PRO.1SG-EXP
irmuztar-wuza
listen (to)-IMPF
ug-tha-fra-za.
heat-TIME-PLACE-THEME

The first two sentences state that Classical Gas is an instrumental piece and that Under Pressure is not. Sentence 4c is Boyle’s Law in a combination of English and Quiplese.4 But I didn’t listen to either of those two songs because I was busy enjoying “Theme from A Summer Place” (sentence 4d).

5a.
?
Sheffield-ga!
Sheffield-GOAL!
5b.
Richard Dunne-se-ga!
Richard Dunne-REFL-GOAL!

Though probably grammatical, sentence 5a is unattested, as is 5b without the reflexive particle.


We’re growing neg-P with all of Josh’s dubious linguistics discoveries. In our opinion, “Quiplese” is missing a /t/. This is a monster raving loony way of semantic marking! Then again, as Prof. Anna Dewey points out, there are real languages out there that use transitive alignment, which makes even less sense. We say Don’t Believe It... Or Do?



1 In other words, same as always.

2 GoldenEye spoiler alert.

3 The Quiplese word for “mama”, qajifluskebabagrangplozaqon, is clearly of onomatopoeic origin. For obvious reasons, this is normally shortened to simply qajifluskebagrangplozaqon, though this is technically only correct if your mother is a wombat. But the English word kid is technically correct only if your mother is a goat, so who are we to judge?

4 Native Quiplese speakers generally become fluent in English because it’s the language of their physics textbooks. There is also a native word for pressure, which derives from a reduplicated word meaning “length” combined with a suffix meaning INV and -ma.

Attenborough to Receive Second KnighthoodBut Can Linguistics Cope With It?The Lord Earl-Baron of Ovathatopp-Taytles
SpecGram Dictionary of the Linguistics of Mythological BeastsVolume Minus 4: The MinotaurMay Doop-Storeys
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents