Linguistics: The Ultimate Field of Study?--I.M. Shirley Wright SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 4 Contents Minimal Forests: The Threat of Linguistic Devastation as a Result of Deforestation--Kray Z. Greenan & E. Monn Hopp

Grammaticalization in an Inflationary System of Signs
(Or: Excerpts from The Swollen Tongue)

Frederic de Saucisson

[Frederic de Saucission is best known as the Gulf Coast Functionalist who removed that school of thought from the realm of the esoteric to mainstream linguistics. Less often is he remembered as the Polish composer who emigrated to Louisiana and gained a modicum of fame from such noted Cajun operas as Il Pleut Plus and Permis de Pêcher. But, in fact, de Saucission's career in linguistics was a late development, and he spent the first forty years of his life as a composer and lyricist. Unfortunately, though his musical works were remarkable, de Saucisson had great difficulty eking out a living. Only when he was on the brink of bankruptcy did he turn to the lucrative field of linguistics. And fortunate we are that he did. His great talent in this new field was immediately evident to all. Soon he was an assistant professor at the famed Harris County Community Colleges. It was there that he gave his famous Inflated series of Grammaticalization lectures to Introductory Linguistics students. Though Saucisson died before writing a single linguistics article, his students arranged to posthumously publish the notes they meticulously kept. That volume, entitled Theorie de la Langue Gonfleé has forever changed the history of linguistics. But that work was heavily edited and revised by his students. The following is a transcript of one of de Saucisson's lectures, without benefit of editing or alteration. We can thus profit from the exact words of this remarkable linguist.]

F de S: As is well known to all, the history of mankind has always revolved around one issue: the struggle between the masses and the aristocracy. This struggle is reflected in every aspect of civilization, and most especially so in language. Language originally belonged to people with de or von in front of their names and all others used it only by their sufferance. Later, with changing systems of political power, the linguistic system itself was likewise transformed. As the masses took over industry and politics, so they expropriated language from its former owners and converted it to their own use. The result was disastrous. Homophony, synonymy, double negatives, double entendres were only a few of the many ways in which the tongue was debased, defiled, dragged in the mud and eventually inflated to a form grotesque beyond recognition.

Student #1: Is this part going to be on the test, man?

F de S: Pardon?

Student #1: Like all this stuff about the tongue, are we responsible for that? 'Cause like, it's not in the book, you know.

F de S: Tak, tak. That is so. Indeed... Eh, bien... now, where was I? Ah yes. La langue gonfleé. This is best seen in terms of the grammaticalization cycle, which is unidirectional and remorseless in its rapacity. [He draws Figure 1 on the board.] A form begins as an unsophisticated independent linguistic unit, much as all men begin as peasants. So, while every aristocrat can trace his roots back to a peasant forebear, none of the rabble have any aristocratic ancestors. As a form continues along the path of grammaticalization it becomes reduced, dependent and eventually, if the process of grammaticalization continues -- the form will entirely disappear, reduced to utter nothingness. So, likewise, an aristocratic line becomes weak, degenerate and eventually dies out. Yet that is only the half of it...

 Scum  Peasantry  Bourgeoisie  Aristocracy  Zero 

Figure 1
Grammaticalization Cycle

Student #2: But you just said that language started out belonging only to the aristocracy. And now you say that all aristocrats came from peasants. How can that be?

F de S: Ah. That is the fallacy of assuming that all people have undergone the same degree of grammaticalization. I never said that. Different individuals find themselves in different stages of the process. But never during the history of mankind was there a time when the aristocracy did not exist. To quote the great Russian author Alexei Tolstoy...

Student #3: You mean Leo Tolstoy?

F de S: No, I mean Alexei Tolstoy, who wrote in Prince Serebryaniy: "не расти двум колосьям в уровень, не сравнять крутых гор со пригорками, не бывать на земле безбоярщины!" Does that answer your question?

Student #2: No. I don't understand. How did it start? Who were the original aristocrats? And if all aristocrats come from peasants, how could there have ever been an original aristocrat?

F de S: I never said there was.

Student #2: So, you are saying mankind has been around forever?

F de S: That is extremely simplistic. Mademoiselle is very young, hein? So innocente. When mademoiselle is somewhat more mature and has had many lovers, she will doubtless understand the intricacies of degeneracy. [Clears his throat.] Eh, bien. So, the actual grammaticalization is the cause of a much more interesting effect. And that is the monstrous inflation of the tongue. It is the struggle between the Haves and the Have Nots all over again. Those who have not covet and what they cannot have they will not suffer others to have.

Take monetary inflation as an example... It all begins when some individuals have accumulated value, whereas others have not. There are many ways in which the inequality can be leveled: Theft, plunder, looting, rape... All of which have been tried with great success. But the most ingenious form of them all is to inflate the currency, and thus despoil the wealthy without laying a finger on them or their money. So also it is with language...

As has often been observed, a very small percentage of language is ever at the disposal of the rabble. Take the example of English: The subjunctive, the pluperfect, verb agreement, and the difference between object and subject in pronouns, together with 90% of the words in the dictionary are completely outside the grasp of the common man, as well they should be. So what do the rabble do? Sensing the need to express ideas for which they haven't the proper linguistic tools, they cull their meagre horde and spread all our resources thin by newly coined...

Student #1: Can I say something?

F de S: Obviously you can't. Perfect example.

[loudly declaiming]

No one taught him 'may' instead of 'can'; he's such a common little man! And if you haven't got the word for 'may', my answer is: You cannot say.


Why can't the rabble teach their children not to squawk:
Who cannot say it right, should not attempt to talk.
For no idea on earth should ever be expressed
Except by means of words that fit the matter best.

If 'can' can serve as 'may' the system's power is strained
I tell you that I can't, you think that I mayn't.
And since each day the masses count for more and more,
The words mean what they mean, not what they meant before.

Then should I wish to say that 'truly I cannot'
I'm forced to use more words than anybody ought.
Grammaticalization makes inflated tongues,
Avec la langue gonfleé, c'est presque pas une langue.

The value of each word is weakened and then drained,
A sort of trickle down in the linguistic chain.
There's but one way to stop this shameful verbal leak:
To rule that none but me should be allowed to speak.

Ah, I see that our hour is up. For next time, write a definition of the morpheme, taking into account the class system inherent in Western civilization.

[Many of de Saucisson's compositions were heavily influenced by Lerner & Lowe. De Saucisson died without issue, thus having attained the ultimate level of grammaticalization.]

Transcribed by Aya Katz from class notes of Students One and Two.

Linguistics: The Ultimate Field of Study?--I.M. Shirley Wright
Minimal Forests: The Threat of Linguistic Devastation as a Result of Deforestation--Kray Z. Greenan & E. Monn Hopp
SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 4 Contents