LINGUIST List 6.438

Sun 26 Mar 1995

FYI: Fun: How to make linguistic theory, Pre-Proto-World

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  1. "Suzanne Fleischman", fun
  2. Jacques Guy, Pre-Proto-World Unveiled (fun, need I say?)

Message 1: fun

Date: Wed, 22 Mar 1995 20:20:49 fun
From: "Suzanne Fleischman" <>
Subject: fun

This came to me from an engineering colleague with a strong interest in
matters linguistic. I thought I'd share it with the list.


 Assemble a judicious amount of grammar, preferably English grammar
since you're aiming at readers of English. (If you feel there might be a
market for linguistic theories written in Cebuano, by all means, give it
your best shot.) Be sure to include passive constructions,
accusative-with-infinitive constructions, and constructions with
front-shifting. Leave everything else to future research (don't worry,
you'll never have to actually do it).

 Set up two levels of linguistic representation; call them Level 1 and
Level 2, or even better, Level Alpha and Level Beta. This is to divide
your explicanda into two conceptual domains so you can let one explain the
other. Leave these levels and all constructs supporting them undefined;
these will be your Theoretical Primes. Define everything else, however,
not only as rigorously as possible but using as many symbols from the
predicate calculus as you can understand.

 Be sure to leave undefined the notion "mu." Now make "mu" a unit at
both undefined levels. For each "mu" use ordinary English spelling, but in
upper case letters on one level, and in lower case letters on the other.
Use abbreviations with upper case; for example ERG, PRO, +ITAL for
"ergative," "pronominal," "borrowed from Italian."

 From this point on you need a graphics expert. Draw guitar strings
(don't call them that, of course) from units on one level to units on the
other level. Count and classify the various arrangements of strings you
need for the amount of grammar you began with; then pronounce all other
logically possible arrangements of strings forbidden by Universal
Constraints. Give each constraint a handy name, such as "The Adjustable
Bridge Constraint," "The Open-String Pull-Off Constraint." Always
capitalize and use "the" with constraints.

 At this point it will be proper, though not absolutely necessary, to
bung in a bit of data from other languages. Since ultimately theories like
yours can be constructed only by trained linguists who speak natively the
languages they are examining, frankly, the Second Coming will be upon us
well before you'll really have to think seriously about other languages.
Besides, you have this neat argument:

 Premiss 1: If my theory won't account for English,
 then it won't account for all languages.

 Premiss 2: My theory won't account for English.

 Conclusion: Bingo.

 With regard to marketing your theory, this is a cinch because of the
way the academic world works. Your theory won't work, even for English,
right? That's a foregone conclusion. But for twenty or thirty years,
other people will make such a good living patching it up that they'll
praise you as a genius even while they're bashing the daylights out of you,
since without you, where would they be?

 Make occasional references to Kuhn.

 - Metalleus
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Message 2: Pre-Proto-World Unveiled (fun, need I say?)

Date: Thu, 23 Mar 1995 08:17:01 Pre-Proto-World Unveiled (fun, need I say?)
From: Jacques Guy <j.guytrl.OZ.AU>
Subject: Pre-Proto-World Unveiled (fun, need I say?)

Those of you who read sci.lang on the Internet know that I am an ardent
defensor of the monogenesis theory and a frequent contributor of tidbits
towards the establishment of Proto-World, for instance:

French palais "palace"
Balinese balay "house"

Siouan tipi (need I translate this?)
Austronesian atep "roof"

English room (need I translate this?)
Indonesian rumah "house"

And my proudest discovery, the most _fundamental_ word of Proto-World:

Latin anus (need I translate this?)
Japanese ana "hole"
Tahitian ana "cave, grotto"

French and Japanese are particularly rich in Proto-World reflexes:

Japanese abura "oil, fat"
French beurre "butter"

Japanese aruk-u "to walk"
French (colloquial) arqu-er "to walk"

Japanese furo "hot bath"
French four "oven"

... and many more which I shall spare you.

For there is far more important. Last night my wife, her mother and I
were talking about, of all things, anthropophagy versus cannibalism (the
French, as you may know, are deeply interested in things gastronomical).
As I mentioned the famous Fijian expression "vuaka levu" and explained
that "vuaka" meant "pig" they both exclaimed in unison "Mais c'est
Pimprenelle!". Pimprenelle is a ten-year old silver tabby who, very
early, took to emitting a clear, loud sound which, to our human ears, is
very similar to [wako], whenever she was being fed or demanded to be
fed. And me, a linguist, horresco referens, I had never realized that
"wako" was Cattish for "food"!

Ladies and Gentleman, we have here a momentous discovery: as fundamental
a word as Proto-World "ana" (see above), in the most ancient language,
that spoken before primates and felines evolved into different species.
We are now in a position to apply the exact property of language
(Hattori 1962) discovered by Lees (1953) to date that common ancestor of
humans and cats. As soon as we have determined the size of its
vocabulary, that is. Nevertheless, preliminary calculations suggest that
it must have lived not so very long ago as some would have us believe.


Hattori, Shiroo 1962. On Lexicostatistics, Again. Mathematical Linguistics,
No.17 (1961) reported in IJAL 28/4:262-264.
 "First, the hypothesis that the retention rate of 81% exists
 after 1000 years is not a matter of probability". Hark!

Lees, Robert 1953. The Basis of Glottochronology. Language 29/2:113-127.


I am deeply indebted to Martine Boutes and Andree Caspar for their
pointing out to me the similarity between Bau Fijian "vuaka" (pig) and
Pimpernellese Cattish "wako" (food).
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