In recent years, much attention has been focused on the biological basis of human language. In particular, the extremely organic nature of language has manifested itself clearly in such devices as trees, branches and roots, which have established themselves firmly on theoretical linguistic soil. However, few (if any) linguists have noticed the similarities between certain types of plant life and syntactic phenomena, and even fewer are aware of the strong theoretical claims that can be made by using these types as models. I am referring, of course, to fungi.
In this article, I will present a new model of grammar, based on the life cycle of the fungus. While it is feasible to present only a short outline here, it is to be hoped that it will stimulate interest, and soon mushroom into a full-
We will start with the Initial Spore, or Germ. It develops on its own growing into an organism which contains all the seeds of a full sentence, finally exploding and sending spores scattering around it. It does not do this in an arbitrary fashion, however; the Initial Spore bursts either (a) LINEARLY or (b) in a CIRCULAR configuration. Only in this way can we construct a grammar which will account for certain universal linguistic constraints. Type (a), linear arrangements of new-
It should be noted that, even if the Initial Spore busts linearly, other spores may do so circularly. At this point let us examine the several types of Major Spores3 that result from the Initial Spore. Only some of these will be recursive, i.e., they also develop, and then burst circularly.
Nominal Fungi (NF): corresponding to the NP in less organic theories. Fungtors (F): corresponding to the VP. Prepositional Fungi (PF): corresponding to the PP. Adfungtors (A): corresponding to the Adjectives and Adverbs.
These four types will display a recursive fungtion.
While other types may also develop and burst, they can only do so linearly and, in general are more limited in their generative power, with fewer spores flung a shorter distance. This is thus related to the dichotomy of recursive and non-
The notion of contagiousness is particularly valuable in a Spore Theory account of what I call “interdigital languages”. These languages can be shown to be very conducive to the rapid expansion of sentences (i.e., they feature highly contagious fungi) but also are subject to many interesting and powerful deletion processes, known as “Desenex transformations”.
Returning to the four Major Spores, let us examine two linguistic phenomena which have received much attention at various times in the history of our discipline. The first, case marking, can be handled quite simply within Spore Theory: each Major Spore has its own distinctive marking, whether spotted, mottled, striated, single-
The second phenomenon has attracted more attention recently, namely NF-“movement”. Let us note first of all that all Major Spores remain in place, usually fungtioning, once matured,5 as the head of the expression. However, in some cases fungi can whither away and die, as happens with cases of ellipsis, such as Fungtor-
While many details of Spore Theory remain to be worked out, one can already see several natural and interesting extensions of the core I have sketched here. One of the more promising is the development of “Saprophyte Grammars”, which, I am told (by William G. Mouldton) may be quite appropriate for describing dead languages such as Latin and Sanskrit.
A fuller treatment of Spore Theory will appear in my forthcoming book, Mycological Structures. I assume that as the theory develops
1 This article owes much to my two colleagues, Tom Ernst and David Stead, without whom Spore Theory would never have developed, or, indeed, ever been thought up.
2 Notably J. LeCarré in his “Réponse au champion des champignons”, Linguistique et Cuisine 16:2 (1978), and Iȗ.A. Kvadratnyj, “Ne idite za grybami”, Zaplesnevelaja Teorija 6:1 (1979).
3 Not to be confused with General Theory or Colonel Strings.
4 For example, contagiousness may have some validity in phonology. Din Dannsen (personal communication) informs me that it could well be used to account for the spread of mononuclear rules relating to the production of quadrilabial continuants.
5 It is probably during the maturation process that phonological phenomena take place. Cf. Athletesfoot (forthcoming), The Sound of Mushrooms.
6 Certain studies have already turned up valuable evidence in favor of this part of the theory. Cf. Vlad Negrul, Le Substrat daco-
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