Natural Phonological Processes in Adult and Child Speech—David Ingram Lingua Pranca Contents The Ten Commandments: Linguistic Universals—Evan Smith

An Iñupik Linguistic Fragment
(or, the Last Grammarian)


The following fragment was found in a shoe box at Indiana University. It was translated by Metalleus with the help of a Phi Beta Kappa key. The author is unknown.

...thus was born the generation of linguists. The race multiplied and replenished the groves of Academe, and great and noble members arose. Thousands of years passed, and prophets rose up among the generation of linguists, prophesying the coming of a golden age of linguistics to be ushered in by a Great and Exalted One to atone for Panini’s fall. St. Descartes, the prophet Leibnitz, the wise men of the Royal Port, and St. Humboldt spoke of his coming, and of the golden age. “He will be born across the great sea, in Philadelphia of Pennsylvania,” they said. “He will free the linguists from the sins of prescription and the shackles of taxonomy.” “A professor, conceiving of transformations, shall bring forth a graduate student,” others prophesied.

And in those days there arose a great prophet, St. Roman of Jakobsongrad, preaching across the Volga in the dreary wastes of Russia. His disciples approached him and asked, “Art thou he who the prophets said should come to free the linguists of their uninsightful ways, or shall we await another?” St. Roman answered, “Verily, I am great but am merely preparing the way for a greater one who cometh, the laces of whose hush puppies I am unworthy to loose.” And his disciples followed him across the waters, to the land of the great prophet’s birth.

And soon it was the prophecies were fulfilled. To Zellig of Harris was registered at Philadelphia of Pennsylvania a graduate student named Noam, who the prophets had said should come to preach the transformation and the cycle. Noam grew in wisdom and stature, following the trade of his father.

But to prepare for his ministry among linguists, he left his home and went into the vacuous wilderness beyond the Charles to be tempted. The great devil Gleason appeared to him, saying, “Change these morphemes to taxemes, and you shall have abundant riches in National Health grants.” Noam replied, “Nay, for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not camouflage a conceptually empty system with surface objectivity.’ ” Then they were swept to the highest pinnacle of the green building, and the devil said to Noam, “If thou hast at thy command an innate transformational grammar, generate an infinitely long sentence while leaping onto Building 20 below.” Noam replied, “Nay, for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not judge the competence of a speaker from the superficial manifestation of his performance.’ ” And finally, the Adversary said, “All the tape recorders and sound spectrographs of the world are thine if thou wilt bow down and worship at the altar of the taxonomists.” Noam replied, “Nay, for it is written, ‘Transformations may not be perfect, but they far exceed whatever is in second place.’ ” Frustrated, the devil departed to forge plots among his co-conspirators.

And so Noam embarked upon his professorship, preaching and teaching in the seminars of the institute. One day he came upon some fishermen, casting their matrices into the murky waters of the Charles, fishing for features. Until he approached them their catch had been grave and diffuse; when he spoke to them, the catch became continuant and strident with a sudden onset. “Come, Morris,” he said, “follow me”. And Morris followed him. And Noam said, “Morris, thou art my rock upon which I shall build my generative phonology, and the phonons of Lamb and the syntagms of Saussure shall not prevail against it.” And more linguists joined Noam and Morris in preaching the good newsEd, Hugh, Paul, George, and Haj, who betrayed him.

One day Noam surveyed a sea of faces in Room 4-236 and, mounting the platform in front of them, opened his mouth and spake, saying:

“Blessed are the generative phonologists, for they shall inherit the distinctive features;

“Blessed are the generative syntacticians, for theirs is the deep structure;

“Blessed are the generative semanticists, for they shall help combat the ogre of anti-mentalism. Otherwise I have little to say about them;

“Blessed are my graduate students, for they shall utter linguistically significant generalizations;

“Blessed are ye, when taxonomists and stratificationalists shall revile you and persecute you unjustly, for so suffered the Cartesians who went before;

“Blessed is the National Science Foundations, for it has made this program possible.

“Ye have heard it said that immediate constituents exhaustively characterize the set of grammatical sentences, but I say unto you, the linguists of old did not speak thus. Ye have heard it said, a phoneme for a phoneme and a morpheme for a morpheme, but I say unto you, biuniqueness is an unmotivated constraint. Ye have heard it said that language is learned by a stimulus-response mechanism, but I say unto you, such doctrine is evil, denying man the infinite creative and generative power spoken of by our father Humboldt. Ye have heard it said that all languages are infinitely varied and cannot be compared, but I say unto you that all languages are brothers generated from a universal base.

“Think not that I have come to destroy the rules or the grammarians; I am not come to destroy but merely to fulfill them. Verily, not one diacritic shall pass from the insights of the traditional grammarians.

“Beware of false linguists, coming to you in Lamb’s clothing, concealing adhocity within. Ye shall know them by the emic and onic levels. Behold, a good Stammbaum will not bear bitter nodes.

“Whosoever perceiveth my cycle and applieth it I will liken unto a finite automaton based on the deep structure of linguistic competence. The winds of mathematical logic came and could not blow it away. But he that heareth my cycle and perceiveth it not, neither applieth it, will I liken unto a fragile pushdown store of surface word order, dissipating at the first gust of contradictory evidence...”

And it came to pass that when Noam had finished, the linguists were astonished, saying, “He speaketh as one having insight, and not as the structuralists and the taxonomists.”

...Noam and his disciples went from city to city, lecturing in the seminar rooms and auditoriums of the holy cities of Berkeley, Austin, and Chicago. Great multitudes of linguists followed, asking them naive and foolish questions.

Before the multitudes he denounced the taxonomists and stratificationalists, who diligently sought his endowed professorial chair. “Woe unto you, taxonomists, stratificationalists, hypocrites!” he said. “From without ye are gleaming white cubbyholes with seductive labels, but within ye fester with pointless proceduralism. Ye oppress the suffering graduate students with immediate constituent diagrams and flow charts but do not redeem them by relating deep to surface structure. Woe unto you, taxonomists and stratificationalists, for ye invoke the names of our linguistic ancestors while distorting their sayings. Repent, and embrace the transformational cycle!”

One day Noam and his disciples met in the upper chamber of Building 20 while sojourning in the city of Cambridge. After a wretched meal of vending machine food, Noam opened his mouth and spake, saying, “Before I have returned from Berkeley, one of you will have betrayed me.” All were exceeding sorrowful and asked, “Is it I?” “Behold,” replied Noam, “he who drinketh the Fresca and not the Coca-Cola will betray me.” Haj put down his Fresca bottle and escaped into the night, weeping bitterly, for in his pocket was a National Health grant. Incoherently mumbling “Floyd broke the glass, Seymour ate the bagel...” he fled across the Central Square toward the citadel of Harvard, where his co-conspirator George lurked darkly outside the Holyoke Temple...

Natural Phonological Processes in Adult and Child Speech—David Ingram
The Ten Commandments: Linguistic Universals—Evan Smith
Lingua Pranca Contents