Tagmemics of Stratificationalism—R.W. Jackson Babel Vol I, No 2 Contents Greek Particles—R.S. Sriyatha

A Warning for Linguists

We in linguistics are well-accustomed, by now, to the fact that other disciplines—notably the “hard” sciences—regularly upstage us and grab all the glory in the public eye. Normally, this doesn’t, and shouldn’t, bother us in the least, because aside from the fact that the other guys get most of the NSF grants (to say nothing of the SDI grants) the consequences of this are minimal. They do their thing; we do ours. Everybody gets tenure. Now, however, a movement is underway, particularly among astrophysicists, of which we cannot afford to not sit up and take notice.

This threat is called, in the perpetrators’ own argot, the “unified theory.” The goal of this theory is to account for forces of gravitation and quantum mechanics in one statement.

In his A Brief History of Time (1988), Stephen Hawking makes no attempt to hide the noxious implications of the unified theory. It will not only account for the above-mentioned forces, but “also presumably determine our actions” (p. 13). This, of course, would have the horrific consequence of transferring linguistic research completely into the realm of number-crunching, and worse yet, that of transferring virtually all linguists into the realm of unemployment (except for those clever sociolinguists). Astrophysicists would begin publishing articles about the linguistic implications of the Big Bang; linguists would have to enroll in M.B.A. programs in order to gain some societally-approved skill.

As of this moment, no one has invented a unified theory—so far, they’ve only got the idea that one should exist. And we, having abandoned mathematical models years ago, know that the task is unmanageable. But the astrophysicists don’t know that. And, worse yet, neither does the general public. Experience teaches us that as soon as a proposal for the theory is made, it will instantly appear in all school children’s textbooks, and the ensuing generation (our children) will grow up considering it a fact. All will be lost.

The time to act is now, before this insanity gets any further ingrained into the scientific establishment. If you are a linguist, it is your duty to help. Tomorrow, drop by the physics department for lunch. Grit your teeth, and make friends.

The rest is easy. Discovering that you are a linguist, your new friends will quickly invite you up to the lab to look over the grammar in the papers they are about to send out. Accept cheerfully, red pen in hand. The moment is near.

Every time you encounter references to the abominable unified theory, mutter something about “participial infinitives,” “hortatory subjunctives,” or the like, and delete or fatally alter the offensive sentence. Be creative—have fun. If questioned, refer cryptically to Socrates’ Second Treatise on Rhetorica Scientifica, or simply to Shakespeare. These are equally safe.

If all linguists will (quickly) band together and adopt this fool-proof strategy, the threat to our very livelihood may be diffused in time. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you in the business department.

Keith Slater Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

Tagmemics of StratificationalismR.W. Jackson
Greek ParticlesR.S. Sriyatha
Babel Vol I, No 2 Contents