Diary of a Madman--Letter from the Editor SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 2 Contents Phonological Ergativity: The Greatest Linguistic Discovery of the Century--Keith Slater

The Boustrophedon-Plummerfeld Hypothesis
and Futurological Linguistics

Recently I found myself "fortunate enough to find such occasion" (Pyles & Algeo, P.46) as to weasel the word boustrophedon into a conversation. After having expounded on the many joyous properties of this word, I entreated my fellow conversational participant to remember the word, and attempt to become one of those few and proud who have used it casually in non-academia. In a subsequent discourse with my native English speaking informant, I asked her to recall the illustrious word. Her response was plummerfeld.

After a brief laugh at her misrecollection, we considered its cause. This issue has taken up much of my thought and time, and I have decided that what we have is something akin to the notion of underlying ancestral forms. In this theory, it is upheld that the underlying forms of words are some distant phonetic ancestors of the present forms, and that these are transformed by phonological rules into the 'present' forms. My complementary theory, which seems just as intuitively plausible, is that indeed we hold within us not only the past phonetic forms of lexical items, but their future forms as well!

We can see the direction that English phonology will take by looking at the [ˈbustɹəˌfidn̩] to [ˈplʊmɹ̩ˌfɛld] transformation. First, we see a metathesis of the liquid and schwa, which is common enough in modern English, giving [ˈbustəɹˌfidn̩]. We also have a loss of the final syllabic nasal and the recently metathesized schwa, and a devoicing of the initial stop, all of which are not unevidenced in present times. The result: [ˈpustɹ̩ˌfid]. There is a general lowering of the vowels, not surprising in American English, spoken by such lazy folk as it is. The resultant form is further modified by /s/ > /h/ > ø, and the now intervocalic /t/ is summarily voiced, sending [ˈpʊstɹ̩ˌfɛd] to [ˈpʊdɹ̩ˌfɛd].

Now, in a narrower transcription, we would have noticed that the vowels were indeed slightly nasalized due to contact with that nasty Chicago dialect, and as a result, the nasality spreads to the coda of the primarily stressed syllable, transforming /d/ > /n/. Of course, an immediate hypercorrective vowel denasalization follows and the attempt to normalize the new /n/ results in its assimilation in place to the /p/, and we have [ˈpʊmɹ̩ˌfɛd]. The last change, as of yet unseen in English, is a radical epenthetic liquid dissimilation, causing the middle syllable, containing /ɹ̩/, to be flanked by syllables containing /l/, as far as possible from the precipitating /ɹ̩/, giving [ˈplʊmɹ̩ˌfɛld]. Notice that, remarkably, the stress pattern is unchanged, showing, undoubtedly, that English stress patterns have fulfilled their manifest destiny, and are therefore to be considered immutable.

Now that we have considered the future of phonology, let us turn our attention to syntax. Consider the following sentence from Davis:

(1) Instinct is the null response to an entropic environment.
Consider also the following related sentences:
(2) Environment is the null response to an entropic instinct.
(3) Response is the null environment to an entropic instinct.
(4) Instinct is the null environment to an entropic response.
(5) Environment is the null instinct to an entropic response.
(6) Response is the null instinct to an entropic environment.
They all mean the exact same thing! And native speakers of English, even non-naive linguistics graduate students (and probably the naive ones, too) produce all six of these in free variation. From this we conclude that English is well on its way to becoming a language with almost totally free word order.

The evidence is clear and unmistakable. We have just witnessed the birth of a new subfield of Linguistics: Futurological Linguistics. It is expected that there will be a messy bit of afterbirth, in the form of dissent from the unenlightened and closed-minded. But that will be easily wiped away by the strong among my followers. There is also the matter of the umbilical which must be cut as quickly as possible. Indeed, there is no need for an opening of lengthy obeisance to my great genius in every paper, article or book in the field. Such silly things have been seen to happen in the past. Indeed, only a line or two will do quite nicely. Now, if only they will just let me out of this room.

Thanks to Ms. Joey Whitford, unwitting but willing subject; and Mr. Tim "Roš" Pulju, Evil Linguist Extraordinaire; and NASA, which provided the space tadpoles.

Jay Trones, Futurological Linguistics Association

Rice University

Diary of a Madman--Letter from the Editor
Phonological Ergativity: The Greatest Linguistic Discovery of the Century--Keith Slater
SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 2 Contents