Roll the Random-o-tron of Linguistics Questions!—Ron “The Diceman” McPokertron SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 3 Contents How to (Not?) Cause Offence with Linguistics—Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press

Retro­futurological Linguistics, Part I
The Future of Linguistics as Seen from the Past

Curated by M’Thoozela Oldman and Azhi Dahāka
SpecGram Senior Junior Editors Emeriti, Ret.

Inspired by the Internet tradition of gathering and gawping at oddly odd and occasionally prescient predictions of would-be futurists, we sent our interns into the archives to dig out some of the most interesting predictions of the future of linguistics that were made in the past. Take a look!

Computers will never be able to make much of a contribution to as difficult a field as linguistics.

—Bill Mihouriy, University of Trans-Cripshon

That Chomsky fellow writes interesting stuff but needs to be more sure of himself.

—Anonymous conference attendee, 1955

I think that, thanks to Aristotle, this linguistic logical relations thing is pretty much figured out. I mean, once you know that All men are mortal and that Socrates is a man, and that therefore, Socrates is mortal, it’s hard to see what else might be usefully achieved by any further consideration of linguistic and conceptual logical relations.

—Beothius, c.500

As we reflect on the sharp if not meteoric rise in attendees from the first Universala Kongreso, where a mere 688 individuals participated, to the circa 1,800 present in Antwerp this year, it seems foolhardy to believe anything other than that our beloved Iniciatinto’s Universala Lingvo is set to achieve its aims of becoming the dominant mode of expression throughout the world within a few short years, and certainly before 1920.

—Lingva Komitato, Antwerp, Belgium, 1911

After my darling Sir William’s extraordinary lecture yesterday, the esteemed members of the Asiatic Society, are, to a man, in profound and total agreement that, within a few short years, every language currently spoken on God’s earth will have been connected to those others to which it is related, and most likely to Sanskrit itself, in a manner most certain, sure and scientific. Oh my darling Willie; a husband without comparison.

—Extract from the diary of Anna Maria Jones (nee Shipley), 3rd February 1986

I think that if we construct the first level with a radius of 1,000 cubits, we should be able to reach Heaven within 20 levels.

—Chief architect of the Tower of Babel, Shinar, c.2200 BCE

Within the next few years Comrade Marr’s work will surely displace bourgeois Western theories of linguistics.

—Soviet Academy of Sciences, 1920

Not only will we destroy this treacherous king and take both his kingdom and his throne, but the Anglo-Saxon tongue itself will disappear from history in the face of all-conquering Norman French! Raaaaaaagh!

—Rallying cry of William, Duke of Normandy, Early morning, 14th October 1066

Within 20 years, all of English shall be written in this new, more enlightened script.

—G. B. Shaw (transliterated), 1950

I can see no reason why anyone would prefer Esperanto over Volapük.

—Fr. Johann Martin Schleyer, 1887

I can’t believe how this mind-body so-called dichotomy has caught on. I mean, it was clearly meant sarcastically in the treatise. Worryingly, given how seriously people are taking it, one might even conjecture that some day in the future, some philosopher of language (ha! crazy term!) might even choose to use it as a basis for claiming some kind of universality that cuts across the manifestly widely divergent forms that actual language takes. Bizarre.

—Note in Réne Descartes’ private notebook, Pensées pour moi
Found after his death and translated by Jappes Onze (Duc de Suit)

I am certain that little if any further research is needed on child language acquisition or the origins of human language, and in any case current experimental methodology is unlikely to be superseded.

—Psammeticus, 7th century BCE

I can see no reason why anyone would or should continue to speak French, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian given the existence of Interlingua.

—Morris Swadesh, 1951

It is Canada that shall fill the 20th century, and it is Canadian orthography that shall arrest the spread of British and American spellings, much as the curb down at the Harbour Centre stops the tire of the horseless carriage.

—Wilfrid Laurier, 1904

I acknowledge that I was overconfident about the longevity of transformational grammar. But government and binding theory, it is clear now, is here to stay!

—Minnie M. Alist, 1985

Ughgh ga-gog babagh ghaa-gha. Ug gug-gha babagha. Khan tagh bab nagha nagh.
So we’ve got flint knives and fire, bury our dead and hunt in groups. Communicatively, not only have we got art going, but linguistically we can do imperatives, we can describe in literal terms the visual landscape before us, and we have first person statements of attitude and emotion. As well as of course instinct-driven mono-lexical cries/shouts that can function as warning symbols. With this incredible range of expressive power, the view is generally taken among the elders that it seems that this “language” thing we’ve been evolving has gone about as far as it is likely to go and we should now invest more time in group chanting activities and looking fearfully at the sky.

—Tugh the homo erectus, East Java, c.1MYA
Extract from annual report of the scientific committee of elders on the future of symbol making
Translated from bone markings by Richard Lee Key

Ido, Ido, Ido! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

—Louis de Beaufront, 1907

With the continued application of advanced statistical techniques, the communicative constraints shaping language should be completely understood within a decade.

—George Kingsley Zipf, 1935

We’ll have machine translation producing better work than humans within 10 years.

—The Secret and Honourable Society of Computational Linguists, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2020...

OK, Hengist, I get it. I know you keep getting these vivid recurring dreams about our Saxon language one day covering the whole globe. I’m not challenging that. I’m just saying if that is what you feel is the motivation for tribes of our people to leave our homeland, why head to Britannia of all places? It’s the edge of the world, man! No language, culture or people is ever going spread anywhere from there. There’s Hiberniaand that’s it! Sea! Yes, I know Vortigern wants your support. But please, consider doing what the Vandals did, Hengist, and head south. Rome surely is where the action is at, not those grey, rainy, shabby islands of Britannia.

—Osrick the Stout, Strategic Adviser to Hengist and Horsa, 449 CE

These young people are destroying our language with their silly new vowel sounds. At least we have the comfort of knowing that it’s just a phase and won’t last.

—William English, 1400

With these tiny changes to bokmål and nynorskchanges so insignificant that hardly anyone could complainwe shall be only a few years away from finally rallying as a nation around a single, unified language.

—Internal Arbeiderpartiet memo (translated), 1938

These changes represent the last, absolutely the last, iteration of the reforms to Dutch orthography.

—Nederlandse Taalunie, 19th June 1996

Well, we won! That means, as per the bet, that the names of the days of the week will be named after Athena, Aphrodite, Loki, the stars and comets, Balder and Poseidon and not after you bunch of losers, the Sun, the Moon, Tiw and Mars, Woden and Mercury, Thor and Jove, Frigg and Saturn. Looooosers!

—Athena, captain of the “winning” team of the inter-pantheon Olympics, just before head referees the Titans disqualified Loki for trickstering and insisted on a re-run of the final ... which Thor, et al. went on to win.

Part II will be in the next issue.

Roll the Random-o-tron of Linguistics Questions!Ron “The Diceman” McPokertron
How to (Not?) Cause Offence with LinguisticsBook Announcement from Psammeticus Press
SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 3 Contents