Scientific Linguistics--Coffey and Matney SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 1 Contents Advertisement--American Anthropophagist

The Tribesman

Based on Jirel of Joiry by Leslie Fish

Once a fieldworker hiked into unknown terrain,
   Seeking someone to question, he came.
When he asked of the natives what language they spoke
   There was one who was glad to explain.
Behind lay a linguist, as well as a saint,
   Who would translate the Bible for them.
Would decipher the code of their language so quaint,
   And secure for himself lasting fame.


      "Our tongue," said the tribesman,"'s a marvelous, grand thing.
      "As I'm sure, when you've heard, you'll agree.
      "We haven't a word that means 'misunderstanding',
      "For our speech is, in fact, context free."

"Our nasals will randomly vary with stops,
   "All sibilants freely exchange.
"We have seventeen vowels--yes, I know, that's a lot--
   "But the thing is, they all sound the same.
"All our verbs pass for nouns, as I'm sure you have found,
   "But no noun can be used as a verb,
"Yet our adjectives serve as both verb and noun,
   "A feature you may have observed."


"The genders we use, they must not be confused,
   "We mark living, unborn and deceased.
"But a stone is considered both living and born,
   "While a boy might as well rest in peace.
"We have tenses galore, for our verb system's vast,
   But the trick is to keep them all straight.
"And we haven't a sense for the present or past,
   "But each tense gives the hour and date."


"Our word order's fixed, it's at base OVS,
   "But the surface form's more OSV,
"And at times, when we please, we may also possess
   "SVO, VOS, SOV.
"Our semantics is quite isomorphic with form,
   "What we say we invariably mean,
"And we mean just the thing that we say, nothing more,
   "Nothing less, nor a jot in between."


Feeling very content the young fieldworker went,
   Of his savage informant took leave,
And to his employer the data he sent,
   While the tribesman laughed into his sleeve.
The linguist then thought: "These data are strange
   "That we got from a tribesman unknown,
"But lest all my colleagues should think me deranged,
   "I had best leave this language alone."

Aya Katz

Scientific Linguistics--Coffey and Matney
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SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 1 Contents