A Stratificational Approach to Making Macaroni and Cheese—Tim Pulju Ps. Q. Vol XVI, No 1 Contents Call for Papers—International Dolphin Linguistics Society

Review Article

William D. Pinkerton-Umlaut: Back to Basics: The Real Truth About Language. Adelaide, Australia: Zyx Press, 1988. cccxvii, 547 pp.

  reviewed by
     Dave Kathman
     Michigan State University

In this volume, which its author claims is the result of “twenty years of backbreaking research”, William D. Pinkerton-Umlaut makes a number of startling claims which, if true, would shake the field of linguistics to its very foundations and force scholars in virtually every field of scientific inquiry to rethink their basic assumptions. On the other hand, he could be an addle-brained, blathering lunatic with a tenuous hold on reality and a psychotically twisted view of the entire field of linguistic scholarship. I am inclined to the latter view, for reasons which will become obvious in the following paragraphs.

As the central tenet of his theory, P makes the remarkable claim that every sentence in every human language actually has the same underlying structure, and that this structure corresponds in English to the surface sentence “Yes, I would like another jelly doughnut, please.” P claims to have discovered this “fact” after exhaustively analyzing data from dozens of languages, as well as the linguistic intuitions of his wife, his mailman, his brother-in-law, and the man who comes to read the meter once a month. He provides hundreds of pages of evidence, supplemented by a truly astonishing number of footnotes, to bolster his conclusion, but this reviewer must confess to an inability to follow much of the argument. P seems to believe that the apparent diversity of the sentences uttered by speakers is almost entirely due to performance errors, and that the structure observed by other linguists is a hallucination produced by too much caffeine intake.

This brings up another unusual feature of P’s book, namely his vicious attacks on nearly every prominent linguist, past and present. Of course, linguists have been known to attack one another in the literature before, but seldom in such a savage, ad hominem manner as P does. For example, he asserts that Leonard Bloomfield’s Language is “the sorriest absurdity in the 500-year history of the printing press” and that Bloomfield himself “was so astonishingly inept that it is difficult to understand how he was able to tie his shoes each morning without written instructions.” He calls Noam Chomsky a “drooling psychopath” who is “poisoning the universities of America with the noxious bile he spews forth from the cesspool known as MIT”, and of Lectures on Government and Binding, P writes that “a mentally deranged chimpanzee banging away at a typewriter could have produced a far more coherent manuscript than this worthless piece of drivel.” He also spends nearly an entire chapter (31 pages) attempting to prove that Sydney Lamb is actually the Antichrist. Curiously, the only linguist praised by P is Paul Postal, whom he calls “a kind, gentle soul.”

Needless to say, the above comments do not leave much to recommend about this book. However, I can happily report that it makes an excellent doorstop, though perhaps its $59.95 cover price makes it somewhat expensive for that purpose. The publication of this volume should encourage prospective authors everywhere, for now it appears that anything is printable.

A Stratificational Approach to Making Macaroni and CheeseTim Pulju
Call for PapersInternational Dolphin Linguistics Society
Ps. Q. Vol XVI, No 1 Contents