Multiple Choice: The Ultimate Algorithm--Gotthilf Neuerblumenfeld SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 4 Contents The Original Language of Winnie-the-Pooh--Aureliano Buendía

Comestible Morphosyntax:
the effects of food intake on grammatical performance 1

H.D. Onesimus
Unified Commission for the Study of Behavior

Food intake is shown to correlate with morphosyntactic behavior.

1 Introduction
It has long been observed2 that ingestion of food and other nontoxic comestibles changes linguistic behavior. In order to satisfy the publication criterion for my continued employment, I decided to conduct a systematic investigation of this relationship.

2 Method
The ethnographic method commonly labeled participant observation was employed. Nightly analysis of preliminary field data (my notebooks are available on request) suggested that morphosyntactic behavior inter alia undergoes significant transformation immediately following the ingestion of significant (p < 0.01) quantities of food. After making this initial discovery, I formulated a hypothesis:

(1)       Morphosyntactic behavior inter alia undergoes significant transformation immediately following the ingestion of significant (p < 0.01) quantities of food.

In order to test (1) systematically, I wrote down in my notebooks everything that was said in my hearing during the course of eight consecutive days. I analyzed the speech of all non-linguistically sophisticated participants, noting especially morphosyntactic construction types, as well as major mealtimes. The latter usually numbered no less than three per participant per day.

3 Results
The most interesting results involve different morphosyntactic strategies for clause combining. My data revealed four major clause combining types: monoclausal, conjunction, chaining, and embedding. These are illustrated in (2)-(5):

(2) Monoclausal
      a       Yes, I'm awake.
      b       Go away.
      c       Eat your breakfast.

(3) Conjunction
      a       I'm gonna go and see about that.
      b       Get back to work or you won't get any lunch.
      c       And then Pat got mad, too, and then Lynn hauled off and threw a punch, and then the boss came and said something impolite and fired them both.

(4) Chaining (rare)
      a       Going in the house, looking into my kitchen, two thugs dressed as police officers were there, eating all the goldfish out of my aquarium.

(5) Embedding
      a       Flying planes can be dangerous.
      b       That's the kid who ate my candy.

The results were striking. It turns out that there is a significant correlation between ingestion of food and morphosyntactic clause combining behavior. This correlation is apparent from the data of Table 1.

Time Monoclausal Conjunction Chaining Embedding TOTALS
Before Breakfast 160 6 1 15 182
Breakfast-Lunch 101 107 2 0 210
Lunch-Supper 48 89 8 0 145
After Supper 65 38 4 103 210
TOTALS 374 240 15 118  

Table 1
Instances Of Each Combining Type With Relation To Meals

Table 1 suggests a progression of clause combining devices, with more complex constructions increasing in frequency in concert with the subjects' feeding schedule.

Detailed analysis of each individual speaker showed that one speaker, speaker J, contradicted this trend. If speaker J is removed from the group, we have the data of Table 2 remaining.

Time Monoclausal Conjunction Chaining Embedding TOTALS
Before Breakfast 156 0 0 0 156
Breakfast-Lunch 96 97 0 0 193
Lunch-Supper 40 83 8 0 131
After Supper 61 38 4 103 206
TOTALS 353 218 12 103  

Table 2
Same As Table 1, For All Speakers Except Speaker J

In Table 2, the trend is unmistakable. After each meal, speakers' grammatical performance jumps to the next level (or quantum, to use a trendy term) of syntactic complexity.

Subsequent, informal observation3 suggests that consumption of two cups of coffee (at any time) pushes a speaker up two levels on the scale from her/his current nutritionally-licensed position. Similarly, it appears that two servings of alcohol drop a speaker precipitously downwards on the scale, though precise measurement of this trend appears difficult.

I mentioned above that a single speaker, speaker J, exhibited different nutritiono-linguistic behavior. Clause combining performance of this speaker is given in Table 3:

Time Monoclausal Conjunction Chaining Embedding TOTALS
Before Breakfast 4 6 1 15 26
Breakfast-Lunch 5 10 2 0 17
Lunch-Supper 8 6 0 0 14
After Supper 4 0 0 0 4
TOTALS 21 22 3 15  

Table 3
Same As Table 1, But Only For Speaker J

Since Speaker J exhibits an inverse relationship between food intake and clause combining, we may hypothesize some physiological problem, such as hypoglycemia, diabetes, or weirdness. Further investigation is needed (see below).

4 Discussion
This study shows conclusively that food ingestion correlates predictably with linguistic behavior. A number of interesting questions pose themselves, upon reflection on this data.

First of all, if food ingestion has the observed effects, what about food digestion? Digestion probably has similar linguistic effects, though these are less open to observational study, at least through participant observation.

We might also note the significance of the fact that embedding normally occurs near the end of the day. This may be due solely to its being enabled by accumulated nutritional resources. However, this might also be an effect of morphosyntactic iconicity; linguistic embedding occurs with greatest frequency at just that point in the day when tired people are thinking of embedding themselves to rest.

My results have suggested at least two classes of people, with regard to nutritiono-linguistic behavior: normal people, whose language ability increases proportionally with their food intake, and abnormal people (if speaker J generalizes at all) who seem to lose linguistic ability as the day progresses.

However, it is possible that these are not the only two classes of people. Future research should ask a number of follow-up questions, including: Does age similarly affect linguistic behavior? What about intelligence?

Finally, future researchers need to explore the likely relationship between these results and cross-linguistic typological features. Monoclausal structures are most common for normal people, prior to any food intake, but normal speakers seem able to progress to embedding after a third hearty meal. What do these facts imply about languages with no syntactic embedding? Perhaps their speakers are not normal, or perhaps they aren't eating often enough. In accordance with the basic tenets of applied linguistics and human rights, ought we not get them some coffee, quickly?

1 Nearly identical versions of this paper are forthcoming in Language, Studies in Language, Cognitive Psychology and Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior.

2 By me

3 ibid.

Multiple Choice: The Ultimate Algorithm--Gotthilf Neuerblumenfeld
The Original Language of Winnie-the-Pooh--Aureliano Buendía
SpecGram Vol CXLVIII, No 4 Contents