Post-Modern Theories of Syntax. Edited by JOSHUA M. FARNSWORTH, III. Bamako and New Britain: John Benjamins, 1996. Pp xii, 388.
This book consists of a series of essays by various authors on different theories of syntax, all of which have unfortunately not had any wider currency yet, for various different reasons, ranging from sociopolitical to economical, religious and even psychological difficulties encountered by their original proponents. In the next paragraphs, I will review the most relevant ones.
Solipsistic Grammar (chap. 2, by J. A. STEINBERG). First initiated by the seminal article On Some Inadequacies of the Interpersonal Definition of Grammatical Relations (Steinberg & Bergstein 1989), this theory quickly generated a surprisingly high number of theoretical and descriptive articles (cf. especially. Bergstein & Steinberg 1990 a-b, Steinberg 1991a, c, f-t, Bergstein 1992 a-e, f-n, l-z, and Steinberg & Bergstein 1993 f-k). Solipsistic Grammar can be considered an outgrowth of Relational Grammar (in fact, Steinberg was a student of Perlmutter's for a few weeks before being expelled); however, it goes far beyond the RG framework in that it claims not only grammatical relations, but also the mind of the grammarian as theoretical primitives: "(...) The Primacy of the Idiolect: ask me not where Grammatical Relations come from, for I have only one answer: they come from Me" (Steinberg & Bergstein 1989:221). Despite its promising beginnings, Solipsistic Grammar brought more confusion than elucidation to its few followers, particularly because of internal conflicts on whose mind should be considered as the basic theoretical primitive, Steinberg's or Bergstein's. This issue was further complicated by the discovery that Steinberg and Bergstein were actually the same person, who suffered from Multiple-Personality Disorder (which did not prevent the two authors from pursuing, to this day, and rather vehemently, the discussion of whose mind was more theoretically primitive).
Ungrammaticalization Theory (chap. 3, by W. VAN RIEMSDIJK and O. J. SIMPSON). This theory is concerned with the description of the paths of evolution that are attested in the changes of grammaticality status experienced by sentence examples in contemporary Chomskyan linguistics. The main proposal, made in Oppenheimer & Von Braun 1991, is that these changes can be understood in terms of the following ungrammaticalization cycle:
grammatical > depends on the dialect > non-acceptable > ungrammatical ===>
===> ungrammatical > non-acceptable > depends on the dialect > grammatical
Or, to quote the authors' final remark, "yesterday's ungrammaticality will be tomorrow's ungrammaticality again, if we wait long enough". The main goals of the theory, according to its followers, fall into two categories: (a) the 'strong' goal, which is to understand and describe what kind of dialect of English is spoken by formal theoreticians, and (b) the 'weak' goal (to be attempted should the 'strong' goal be proven impossible), which is to understand what kind of mind/personality/psychology formal linguists have (by studying the contents of their examples).
All in all, this is a very interesting book, full of intriguing new pieces of information, useful both to those interested in radically different approaches to syntax and grammar as a means to map the entire space of all that has been proposed, no matter how silly, to account for language, and to specialists in linguistic historiography for its wealth of details on lesser known developments and outgrowths of more prestigious theories (with special regard to the effects of extreme linguistic theorizing on initially sane minds, a topic of obvious concern to students of applied psychology).
The Necroglotticon. By ABDUL AL-HAZRED (THE 'CRAZY ARAB'); translated and annotated by H. P. LOVECRAFT, JR from the XIVth-century Arabic original (in: Occult Linguistics, vol. 13). Arkham City: Miskatonic University Press.
This book contains various analyses, cast in the medieval Arabic tradition, of the grammatical features found in the languages spoken by preternatural and demoniac entities. Lovecraft's comments fully illustrate the consequences of these studies for modern linguistic thought (cf. e.g. his comments on the pronunciation of the name of Cthulhu, based on Pulju 1993, How to Spot Fabricated Date [SpecGram]). Many different incantations are given as examples of complicated grammatical forms, and some headway is made toward an eventual explanation of the high degree of convoluteness usually found in black magic spells (cf. the topicality counts made by Lovecraft in his Appendix E on The Call of R'lyeh and Invocation of Proto-Shoggoths, which clearly show an unusually low level of topic continuity, as well as repeated breaks in the information flow, to be almost defining characteristics of successful black magic). The translator informs us that this book should be handled with care: pronouncing the incantations aloud (which is made possible for the first time by the accurate and detailed phonetic transcription of the texts along with their original orthography) might have tremendously deleterious consequences for the future of Humankind.
A Comparative Phonology of Lost Languages. By E. VON DÄNIKEN and I. VELLIKOVSKY. Nukualofa and Bedrock: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Pp ix, 415.
This book is the first serious attempt at evaluating the available evidence on the languages spoken in the Lost Continents of Atlantis and Mu, which are claimed to be related. The authors convincingly argue, among other things, that Plato's Republic contains a number of cryptic allusions to the phonotactic structure of words in the various dialects of Atlantis, and that many of the apparently absurd etymologies presented in the Cratylus become intelligible if Socrates' 'primitive words' are understood as Proto-Mu roots (heavily influenced, as should be expected, by a Proto-Indo-European substratum). The inhabitants of Mu and Atlantis, during the period of Proto-Mu-Atlantis unity, would have constituted Plato's legislators, or 'name-givers' (cf. the derivation of Gr. νομος 'law, custom' from PMA
In sum, this is an interesting and quite challenging book, which can be recommended to any serious scholar interested in extraterrestrial linguistics.