The Great Yale Autodescriptives List—Michael A. Covington Son of Lingua Pranca Contents My Fair Linguist, or Male-Pygion—Tom Ernst and Evan Smith

As the Word Turns1

Tom Ernst and Evan Smith

ANNOUNCER:  (Organ music in bkgrd): And now, the continuing story of John and Mary, and their turbulent life of breathy voice, crossover constraints, and illicit embedding.

(John’s apt.)

(Mary paces, waiting nervously for her date with John, rearranges flowers, etc. Doorbell rings)

Mary: Come it! (John enters, walks sexily toward her) Such well-formedness conditions! Won’t you sit down?

John: Thank you. (Sits, looks around room) My, those lace curtains are awfully hard to keep clean, aren’t they?

M: Yes, and I try so hard. Oh, would you like some coffee? I’ve got some Sanka, and ... Maxim.

J: Oh, Maxim, pleaseit’s of good quality, and used in quantity...

M: But that’s not relevant!

J: (Mildly reproving) Mind your manners! Just think of the implications.

M: Sorry. I’m just not conversant with these matters. Is that an epistle in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? (Gets coffee, sits with J. on couch)

[J: (Aside) Should I let her see it?] It’s a letter to Stampe.

M: What have you been working on lately?

J: Mostly intonation ...

M: (Eyeing J.) ... contours ...

J: (Looking elsewhere) ... and surface structures ...

M: And the relationship between them, right?

J: Yes, more or less. I find surface structures so fascinating... (Goes off on long monologue with linguistic terms, looking into space, as M. stares rapturously at him)

M: (Breaking in) Yes, but couldn’t we, uh, sort of, get down to underlying form?

J: (Taken aback) Huh? Could you disambiguate?

M: Well, maybe I could couch that in different terms ...

J: What are you deriving at!!?

M: (Moves closer) Well, John, we’ve known each other for a long time, and (puts arm around him; he squirms) sometimes I get tired of being so free and unadjoined (moves again, John disengages and jumps up) ...

J: Oh no you don’t! Your just tired of sitting here alone, and you just want me to fill out a little empty corner of your life! You say you’ll treat me like a prime in your theory, but your whole scheme is only ... ad hoc!

M: (Still trying to embrace him) John!

J: No! Don’t touch me!

M: Just some phatic communication!

J: No! I don’t ever want to hear your utterances again! (Goes to door, exits, slams door)

(Organ up)

(Mary’s apt.)

(As lights go up, Esmeralda gets up from couch)

E: Mary, you’re a fool to be in this mess! Things were so good with John before, you had a good time together, did analyses together, read Linguistic Inquiry together ... what more is there to life? And now this.

M: I know, Esmeralda. I thought the time was right, but I guess my native intuition just wasn’t good enough.

E: Well, sometimes you’ve got to look at the hard facts. (pause) Ahh, all this confusion in the midst of ordered social rules! Labialization when a husband’s back is turned, star-crossed lovers having their sentences blocked ... junctures in the middle of the night, illicit embedding ...

M: But what can I do?!

E: You think you’ve got troubles? Maybe you should be more aware of his side of the story. He’s been very upset these last few weeks. (pause) His brother Max is in the hospital with terminal devoicing.

M: Oh, no! How awful!

E: And that’s not all. His cousin Sheilayou remember Sheila?she was trying to hide a valuable jewel that she’d inherited from her mother. She knew that Seymourthat’s her husbandwas too absent-minded to take care of it, so she kept it in the kitchen, and one day she accidentally baked it into a bagel.

M: Oh, no—

E: Yes. Seymour ate the bagel. And Sheila was so fed up with him that she ran off with the Postal man ...

M: Oh, life is just a series of empty nodes!! (pause)

E: What are you going to do?

M: I don’t know. I’m just so tense!

E: Well, let’s look at a different aspect. You may have momentarily offended John, but I think he loves you anyway. If you show understanding for his position, try to see how he feels, show him that you care about his deep structure as well as his surface structure, he may come over to you.

M: But ... sometimes I don’t know. What if I get him angry again, and he decides to leave town, or go somewhere far away, where I won’t see him ...

E: Mary, you can’t put a global constraint on him. If he goes, he goes. But I don’t think he would. He knows that flying planes can be dangerous.

M: You’re right. I’ll go see him, I’ll pretend I need data from his idiolect.

ANNOUNCER:  (Organ up) Will Mary be successful in her fieldwork? Will she be able to establish a meaningful thematic relationship? We’ll be back after this important message.


(John’s apt.)

ANNOUNCER:  (Organ up) And, now, we return you to “As the Word Turns”.

John: (Pacing, nervous, sad) Oh, Mary! Why did this have to happen? Why was I so context-sensitive? Now I may never see you again. (pause) We were so well-adjoined at one point!
 (knock on door) (sotto voce) Mary!
 (Runs to door, stops, afraid to open it, hesitates, then throws it open.)

Sheila: (Enters, slowly, with a sly grin) Hello, my dear John.

J: Sheila!

S: You’re acting strangely. Aren’t you glad to see me, your cousin-in-law?

J: Why yes ... it’s just that you’ve never spoken to me before in your life!

S: Ah, that’s nothing. I’ve been rather busy.

J: Yes, but living next door for 10 years ...

S: Oh, what does it matter? I’ve just come back from the X-bar convention, and I wanted to talk to someone, like ... you!

J: (Backing away) Sheilathis isn’t like you!

S: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. (Backs her to the wall) I was never like this before. I never dared to talk to someone like you before. Just your stupid cousin Seymour.

J: Sheila, your voice has become so active! It used to be grave and diffuse, yet now it’s so strident and continuant!

S: Yes, and I used to be passive right? Well, I’ve undergone a transformation! And I’ve got a whole new theme to my life!

J: (Breaking away) But what could be the source of this change? And what is your goal?

S: Just be patient. (Rubs hands together maniacally)

J: But why? What do you have in mind? (Getting more afraid)

S: I want to do something different!

J: I - I - I don’t understand ...

S: Something quite interesting ... in Chomsky’s sense. A whole new set of of constraints ...

J: You don’t mean ...

S: Yes ... push-chains and drag-chains! (Advances. Short chase)

J: No! (Turning on him, getting angry) It can’t be! I won’t stand for such perversity and such constrained grammars! How could you have learned such fragmentary and degenerate data!?

S: But these would be universal constraints ...

J: No, No, and No! ...

S: ... a recursive device ...

J: Out, damned Sheila! (Chases her out, kicking, etc.)

(Organ up. John collapses on couch.)
(Knock on door)

J: Who is it?

M: I - I - it’s me. Mary. (John starts, controls himself)

J: You mean, “It’s I”.

M: But you’re being prescriptive. I just want to describe your dialect. I need some data.
 (John slowly goes to door, opens it. Mary comes in)

J,M: Hello.

M: (On couch, with notebook) Can you say, “I’m sorry what it happened”?

J: No, I’d have to star that.

M: How about, “I’m sorry that it happened”?

J: (softly) That would be O.K..

M: And, “I didn’t mean it”?

J: Yes.

M: Could you say, “I hate you”?

J: I don’t get that in my dialect.

M: You don’t?

J: No.

M: Can you say, “I’m a-lovin’ you”?

J: Not quite like that ...

M: (Businesslike) A question mark, then. (John nods, Mary writes it down)

J: But if you rephrased it ...

M: How about, “I love you”?

J: Mary!

M: John!

J: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously!

M: The sonata I hope to compose some day!

(They embrace. Organ up)

1 This play was performed at the Indiana University Linguistics Department Christmas Party in December 1978. Feel free to perform it at your own parties.

The Great Yale Autodescriptives List—Michael A. Covington
My Fair Linguist, or Male-Pygion—Tom Ernst and Evan Smith
Son of Lingua Pranca Contents