On Homeopathic Linguistics—Trent Slater SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 4 Contents Stymie Stylometry!—Advertisement

Retro­futurological Linguistics, Part II
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!

(Take a look at Part I, too!)

Nobody will miss the ⟨u⟩ from colour and honour. Finally there will be a single standard orthography for the whole English-speaking world.

—Noah Webster

Well, the end approaches, the light dims etc, etc. But death brings clarity. I see now that those linguistics courses I’ve been giving in Geneva are rather poorly thought through. Far too many dichotomies and far too inattentive to the cognitive and social. Well, thank goodness I never compiled them into book form. And I can’t think that anyone’s going to bother collecting them after I’ve gone. Uuuuuuuuurgh.

—F. de Saussure on his deathbed, 22nd Feb 1913

Hey, Tim, let’s have another go at that linguistics satire thing they did at Indiana in the 70s. With modern typewriting techniques and some scissors and glue I reckon we bring out one a week at least for years and years to come. What’s more, I reckon we’ll have tens of contributors and hundreds of readers.

—Keith Slater, Summer 1988

I think the influence of the Prague School’s work in linguistics cannot but continue to make itself felt. Through the development of methods that situates language studies alongside poetics, literature, music and film and visual arts, there can now be no return to either conceptualizing or teaching linguistics as discrete, structuralist and a-contextual.

—Roman Jakobson, 1970s

This spesmilo thing is gonna change international finance forever!

—Rene de Saussure, 1907

Sorry, son, I burnt that manuscript of yours. Silly idea, it seemed to me. Anyway, you’ll forget all about it. Just focus on your medical studies.

—Mordechai Zamenhof, 1881

Bird, bird, big eye, snake. Utter nonsense! Stop picking up every stone with old pictures on them, you idiot! Nobody’s ever going to be able to read them.

—Napoléon Bonaparte (translated), 14 July 1799

To solve the problem of automatic speech recognition, we must hire all the linguists we can find.

—Frederick Jelinek, 1976

Okay, I’ll get involved with your kooky satirical journal. It’s not going to take much time.

—Trey Jones, 1993

The komunumo is gripped with an almost overwhelming sense of excitement as the 130th anniversary of the publikigo of Esperanto approaches. What a variety of internet and other hi-tech avenues into Esperanto are now available, and various informative and amusing Facebook pagesas well as songs, interviews, films and lectures on YouTube and huge online repositories of originalaj and tradukadaj tekstaroj! Now, as the sacred year 2017 approaches, Esperanto is both a Google Translate language and a Duolingo course! This plenitude of online resources will certe result in an explosion of interest in Zamenhof’s amazing creation. Expect your lokaj kunvenoj to double, triple, even quadruple in size over the coming few years.

—Many Esperantists, c.2015

With his fourth book, Noam Chomsky introduces into linguistic parlance yet another phraseCartesian linguisticsthat is set to have even greater influence on the field as transformational grammar, deep and surface structures and of course “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

—A (very) early reviewer of Chomsky’s (1966) Cartesian Linguistics

The approachability and readability of The Minimalist Program, not to mention the elegance and simplicity of its core concepts, mean that it will quickly supplant P&P/GB, etc., in undergraduate linguistics teaching in the Anglo-American tradition.

—A (very) early reviewer of Chomsky’s (1995) The Minimalist Program

Right, that’s done then. Shame we’re out of a job now, eh?

—Paul Passy at the International Phonetics Association, upon publication of the first IPA alphabet in 1888

A syllable is a syllable is a syllable.

—Edward Sapir, before heading out to do fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest, early 20th C.

My insightful observations on the development of Indo-European stop consonants will surely result in the ideas being named after me!

—Rasmus Rask, 1818

Game of Thrones has opened the floodgates! We’ll all be rich!

—Conlangers, 2011

I should send an article to these people. It’ll be a fun little project and then I can get on with the rest of my life.

—Jonathan Downie, late 2009

Forget Angoroj. This is the film that is going to make Esperanto into a worldwide phenomenon! But, oof, the lead is terrible. He has no future in acting!

—Leslie Stevens, director of Incubus, 1966

I think Selinker’s seminal formulation of the concept of interlanguage could well place second language studies at the forefront of linguistics, perhaps even dethroning syntax and phonology.

—Pit Corder, 1972

If we can just tighten up this written work correction code a touch more, I’m fairly certain that the learners’ grammatical competence will soar.

—Many second language teachers over many decades

Defining the mora as “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one” is a sufficiently clean definition for the concept to enter readily into linguistic parlance and for it have practical and relatively uncontroversial application cross-linguistically.

—James D. McCawley, 1968

OK, now let’s kill all of the prisoners who can pronounce those obnoxious throaty sounds.

—Neolithic tribal leader, after subduing the rival Proto Indo-European tribe to steal horses

One day there will be a paper shortage and we’ll need all our grammars to be as dense as possible.

—Pāṇini, 357 BC

I’ll write this grammar using the most complex terminology and most abstract wording I can find. Future language learners will love me.

—Every writer of every grammar book

Nobody will ever notice that we’re just making it up about split infinitives.

—19th century prescriptivists

I am certain that, in centuries to come, none shall violate the precepts we have set, concerning Prepositions and the Infinitive.

—Robert Lowth, late 18th C.

In the beginning was the Word. And that was it. An invariant and syntactically blind mono-lexeme. Apparently God spoke creation into being with it and communicated with the first human beings so perhaps it was polysemous or something but there was only one. If it’s that good enough for God, it’s good enough for meand it should be good enough for you, too!

—First draft of the opening Logos Hymn of the Gospel of John,
Ioannes Uios Zebedee (attrib.), 92 AD

On Homeopathic LinguisticsTrent Slater
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SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 4 Contents