The BS Default Node: A Reply to Luvver--I.M. Shirley Wright SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 1 Contents Gavagai--Ansel Adams

Grammatical Speculation

The Black Market in Ill-Gotten Morphemes
Alan (Sum) Greenspanner

(As told to A. Katz)

It all started in the days of my reckless youth, when I, driven by existential angst and the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, made the acquaintance of a Russian emigrée smoking a silver tipped cheroot.

"Relax, Alan, darling," she told me, "you really do exist."

I audibly exhaled. "Shoot, that's a relief," I said. Then we began to discuss market theory. I was a Keynsian through and through, but she had some good points.

"A is A," she intoned ominously.

"I'll buy that," I replied. "But what about B?"

After we had gone through the entire alphabet, she convinced me that free trade was a good thing. And yet, she insisted that linguistic relativism was the scourge of humanity. "If the word 'I' were removed from the English language and replaced by 'we'," she told me, "it would lead to the collapse of Western civilization."

"Well, what about the fact that the second person singular and plural pronouns have already merged?" I queried.

"Have they really?" she asked. "I hadn't noticed. But maybe that accounts for the welfare state. You're a very clever fellow to have thought of that."

We spent the rest of the evening discussing paradigm shift.

It was only after I became the keeper of the currency of a great and lazy nation and had back slid to my original paternalistic position that I began to see that there was in fact a contradiction between linguistic absolutism and the free market.

About that time I discovered the writings of Paul Hopper. I came across them quite by accident. In the trunk of a car I inherited from a deceased colleague in the executive branch, I found a five volume leather bound set of the works of Paul Hopper. It was one of those Red Letter editions, where the really important parts are marked for you, so you can skip the rest. Being plagued by insomnia and stomach ulcers, I immediately began devouring the material. (Figuratively speaking, that is.)

After reading Hopper's works cover to cover (including the handscrawled dedication, 'to Vince with love, Hillary'), I realized that grammar is never in existence, but always in the process of emergence. More importantly I learned that speakers negotiate the meanings of words and the functions of grammatical patterns every time they speak. "Isn't that nice," I thought, comforted by the notion of linguistic commerce. About then I dozed off.

I woke in the night in a cold sweat, to the sound of my own screams.

It was then that it hit me: market fluctuations could have a devastating effect on grammatical integrity. Grammar is far too important a national resource to leave in the hands of hapless speakers and greedy speculators. It must be regulated for the greater good of society.

We have already seen what speculation in morphemes by foreigners has done to the Chinese language, leaving it impoverished of most forms of inflection, while foreign investors have run off with the bulk of its grammatical morphology. Equally ludicrous is the situation of Finnish, where frugal speakers hoarded up their case markings to prevent just such an eventuality, only to find that the overabundance of grammatical morphemes caused a glut on the market and depressed their price so as to render them nearly valueless.

Here on the home front, we can see that unemployment and a host of social ills can be laid at the feet of a grammatically impoverished underclass, who bartered away their last precious morphemes in a vain attempt to obtain linguistic independence. Little did they realize that instead they were dooming their children to a life of crime, violence and exploitation -- and all for the lack of a copula.

The solution is simple; the market must be manipulated. Those who hoard their morphemes should be discouraged from doing so. Judicious periodic flooding of the market with generous doses of Federally owned grammar will ensure that the morpheme will be seen as an unwise and unpredictable investment. (Example: Use whom indiscriminately on tax forms, whether the syntax calls for the objective case or not. Wealthy taxpayers will get confused and scuttle all their holdings in that case ending.) Spending by those who are grammatically well off will in turn benefit the linguistic middle class, who will then pass on some of the extra morphemes to the underclass who so sorely require them. Grammatical integrity can be maintained by encouraging a stable exchange rate. Only thus can the negotiations of lay speakers continue to result in a strong and stable morphology.

I appeal to all linguists reading this publication to join me in support of this new program. Whatever you do, do not speculate. The results could be disastrous. I hope that Mr. Pulju will be persuaded to rename this journal so that it will no longer foster linguistic speculation. Instead of The Grammatical Speculator, I suggest that it be retitled Linguistic Equity.

There's just one other thing that keeps nagging at me. If She could be wrong about something as important as the free market, might she not have erred about other matters. Oh, MY GOD, what if I don't exist, after all!?!

The BS Default Node: A Reply to Luvver--I.M. Shirley Wright
Gavagai--Ansel Adams
SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 1 Contents