Large Language Musings—A Letter from the Editor-in-Chief SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 2 Contents Bʀoᴋɛɴ Nɛws Nɛᴛwoʀᴋ

Letters to the Editor

Dear Eds,

In your hurry to discuss the serial comma, I feel that you have missed out on its most important uses. The serial comma was mostly famously used in long-running episodic TV shows wherein one of the “actors” would be involved in a “serious” “accident” leaving them unconscious for just long enough for other characters to reveal important inner emotional states, fall in love, declare their undying love for the comma-ee, fight over the person’s bed, try to kill the unconscious person with nought but a thrice-boiled hospital carrot and fork food into their mouths while enjoying hospital TV.

Whether this device was ever an aid to communication was never made clear but it did reduce costs due to non-speaking roles attracting less in terms of fees.

Dan Watching né Burrs

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Dear Danny Boy,

That is an old, tired trope to be sure. Of course we’ve seen it time and again on the soapier Word-TV shows like As the Word Turns. But even blockbuster sitcoms like False Friends, The Big X-Bar Theory, and Brooklyn Noine-Noine sometimes couldn’t help but fall back onto such clichés.

Theoretically speaking, is the prevalence of this trope more likely to be an areal feature of the genre, or indicative of a genetic relationship between shows?


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Dear Sirs,

You announced in the CXCII.3 issue that “In addition, the following puzzlers have achieved the everlasting glory that comes with an honorable mention.” Yeesh, if I’d known it was just for the honor of the thing, I wouldn’t have bothered.

—[Several Honorable Mention Recipients]

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Dear Losers Non-Winners,

Don’t mention it.

In fact,      ,                          ”,                     .    ,  !

—The SpecGram Puzzle Elves™

[As astute readers may have noticed, there were no promises of puzzle prizes in the last issue. Due to the stress administering the program placed on The SpecGram Puzzle Elves™, The SpecGram Puzzle Prize Program™ has been placed on indefinite hiatus. —Eds]

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As popular writers of equally popular self-help phonology books (e.g., Suprasegmentals and Your Mental Health, Getting More from your Mora), we write to express concern with your ever-popular cartoon in issue CLIII.1. We have several tiers (tears?) of concern but will address only 2:

Tier 1 concern: in both pictics, the leftmore individual (labelled L) appears to be uttering the string represented in the twin speech bubble ovalettes (SBOs). We deduce this on two grounds: L must be saying the string in the upper SBO for it to have a phonetic reality, and therefore, by dint of the similarity in shape/size of the upper SBO to the lower one, L is inferred also to be saying the string in lower SBO. Secondly, as the string has an addressee-oriented illocutionary force, it is likely to be spoken in any case. On the basis of these two observations, we are concerned that the cartoon inaccurately suggests that phonology is a property of speech. Au contraire, phonology is a mental/cognitive property and does not necessarily have to be spoken. What the cartoon actually appears to depict is the differences in narrow and broad transcription of a string of sounds.

Tier 2: The cartoon oversimplifies the phonetics-phonology differences. Defined as the mental representation of sound systems, the latter involves a great deal more than simply the phonemic representation of a segmental level (feet, intonational phrases, etc.). Phonologists would be hard put to say anything meaningful about stress shift for example purely on the basis of a phoneme string.

We therefore respectfully ask you to withdraw this inexplicably popular, inaccurate and misleading cartoon and will resist the temptation to charge at you in plate armour with a lance.

Sue and Pier Seckmen-Tahl
Popular Phonologists

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Dear Soupy,

This sounded to us like phph­phph­phph­phph­phph­phph­phph­phph­phph. Are you related to Hannibal Lecter (but without an Oscar nomination)? In one fell swoop, you’ve simultaneously taken the phun out of phonetics, put the No into phonology, and, by a process of orthographic vowel lengthening, have transformed popular into poop-ulair.

Take that, you scoundrels!

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Yo, Dudes,

Working as an editor, I might have something valuable to contribute to the discussion of the Oxford comma. Recently I had gone to bed after a full day of editing and dreamed I was editing, and suddenly I realized I had to add a comma after my nose, and woke up from scratching that part of my face. So, on the one hand, yes, we should have fewer commas but better, but on the other, it really depends which part you’re scratching.

S. Cratchit

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Dear S Cratch’n’S Niff,

Perhaps, it’s a, kind of, inverse semantic satiation, where, repeating a word, makes it lose its meaning, but, talking, about, scratching, things, makes, us, itchy. Ke,ep yo,ur ,w,eir,d dr,e,a,ms, to, yo,urse,lf!,,,,,


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Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

Large Language MusingsA Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
Bʀoᴋɛɴ Nɛws Nɛᴛwoʀᴋ
SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 2 Contents