Phonemic Color--Tong Shunming SpecGram Vol CL, No 1 Contents Linguistic Deskwork--Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press

A Preliminary Field Guide to Linguists, Part One

Athanasious Schadenpoodle
University of Nueva Escranton


While naturalists have long observed the behaviors of some of the better-known families within the Order Academica, producing for the lay person such fascinating and useful volumes as Jane's Guide to Physicists and The Sierra Club Picture Guide to Psychologists, the Family Linguistica has so far not been shown a great deal of attention. This is, in part, justifiable--the small numbers of linguists, and their comparatively drab plumage, draws fewer amateur naturalists. Still, there is a need for at least one major publication on the subject. While the current article does not fill that role, it is hoped that it is a step in the right direction. In this installment, I shall attempt a cursory description of two of the major genera, Neoplatonicus and Functionalisticus.

General Notes

Like other members of the Order Academica, linguists have both primary and secondary feeding behaviors. Primary food sources for linguists include succulent derivational morphology, widely-occurring tactic patterns, and dry but nourishing anaphoric pronouns, among other items. The secondary feeding pattern shared by all members of Academica involves a kind of coprophagic activity--the waste products of members' digestive processes (e.g., academic papers) are consumed by other members of the Order, both within-species and intra-species.

Within the Linguistica family, the secondary feeding pattern appears to have grown in importance over time. Paleontologists speculate that in the dim past (such as the early 20th century), the natural abundance of primary food sources present in such areas as Amerindian communities in North America could support vast herds of linguists, the sound of their typewriters echoing like thunder across the plains. These resources were overexploited, sadly, and fell victim to a series of catastrophic depredations, leaving members of Linguistica to adapt to changing circumstances. It was in this situation, paleobiologists speculate, that linguists further developed their secondary feeding behaviors to compensate. Like other members of Academica, linguists are able to use their secondary feeding pattern to create new biomass (as the reader no doubt knows, the exact method by which Academics are able to accomplish this violation of basic physical laws remains one of the pressing questions of the day). The degree to which the secondary feeding strategy has been developed varies among the genera within Linguistica, but it is nevertheless vitally important in all of them.

Major Genera

Genus Neoplatonicus
Species: Americoformalisticus, Fodorus

Where Found:

As with other members of Linguistica, frequently inhabit university ecosystems; not commonly found in smaller stands of community colleges. Quite common in North America and the Netherlands; less common elsewhere but still widely distributed.


There are four distinctive features of this genus. The first is an adaptation of the primary feeding behavior to the absence of nutrients, a practice known as nulliphagic refluction. For example, although many members of Neoplatonicus subsist extensively on determiners, they can nevertheless adapt to areas without any naturally occurring determiners by consuming the ones they insist are there anyway. Naturalists have observed whole groups of Neoplatonicus behaving as if specific nonexistent food sources are present at very defined locations. The second feature is a characteristic of their droppings--they are covered in a very dense, impenetrable coating of faux-mathematical jargon. There is a range of theories about why this is the case among naturalists; one school claims that it is to disguise the droppings as those of actual scientists, to decrease predation, while another argues that the coating confines consumption to other members of Neoplatonicus, thus conferring an evolutionary benefit. Their third identifying characteristic is a sociobehavioral one--when mixed with other members of Linguistica, specimens of Neoplatonicus will act as if the others do not exist (although a number of cases have been observed in which the droppings of non-Neoplatonicus are consumed without significant acknowledgement; cf. Whiltakers' paper "Deep Case to Thematic Role Transmutation in Neoplatonicus Metabolism"). In fact, members of Neoplatonicus are rather territorial, often refusing to cohabit with other genera. The last feature of the genus is its members' construction of separate small structures, or modules, known as "syntaxes" and "lexicons" to store foodstuffs in.


By far the most numerous of the Neoplatonicus family are the Americoformalisticus. Paleobiologists speculate that waves of mutation spread through the species at periodic intervals, pushing older species into side niches with each successive wave. Variation typically involves differential use of the food-storage structures: var. lexicoformalisticus builds very large, elaborate lexicons, while var. hewlettpakardius makes little use of lexicons at all. A recently-discovered variety, optimalicus, appears to build rather Byzantine arrays of storage structures--and, much the way squirrels will become confused about their many caches, members of optimalicus can be seen scurrying hither and yon, unable to determine the appropriate storage spot. Species fodorus is the focus of a good bit of debate among naturalists: while it seems excessively rare, it is nevertheless quite vocal at times, leading observers to think that the overhead canopy is full of specimens that nevertheless cannot be glimpsed. One major theory about this effect is that fodorus has developed nulliphagic refluction to the point that it itself has become an abstract category, able to subsist in absentia, on absentia.

Interaction notes:

If one encounters a Neoplatonicus in the wild, one should never interrupt its nulliphagic refluction; they can become rather aggressive when disturbed, and sometimes hurl detritus. And one should never, ever attempt to separate a Neoplatonicus from a generalization that it is feeding on--not only will the attempt fail, it apparently generates harmful psychological stress for the poor creature. Otherwise, they are tolerant of most observers, frequently not seeming to notice them at all.

Genus Functionalisticus
Species: Systemicus, Cognitivus, Givonicus, Stratificarus (rare), others.

Where Found:

Widely distributed, although in small numbers. Systemicus found locally in concentrations in Britain and Australia; clusters of Cognitivus observed in California. Last known sighting of Stratificarus was in Texas, although rumors of outliers in Michigan persist.


Genetic variation among Functionalisticus is much greater than that among Neoplatonicus, so much so that some biologists (e.g. Uberstrudel and Twink) have argued strongly that entirely separate genera are involved. All members, however, appear to share a preference for primary over secondary food sources, frequently passing over a field of existent droppings if a stand of juicy allomorphs is within visual range. They also all appear to be rather gregarious and interact with other mammals, although rather oddly not often with members of Neoplatonicus. Most biologists believe that this is the result of competition with Neoplatonicus for resources, particularly niches in university ecosystems. In addition, Prof. Hieronymous Smott has pointed out that there are separate and consistent lines of development between Neoplatonicus and Functionalisticus from their common ancestor, Structuralisticus saussurii. The internal physiognomy of Neoplatonicus is quite similar to that of the ancestor species, although their outward appearance is dramatically different; Functionalisticus retains many of the outward appearances of saussurii but has a dramatically altered metabolism. Droppings cannot be used to distinguish Functionalisticus as a genus, as there is dramatic variation among the species. When threatened, most species in the genus can generate an obscuring cloud of caveats, permitting escape undetected.


Systemicus can be identified by both feeding pattern and droppings: members will usually approach a primary food item from three different angles before consuming it, and will alertly scan the surrounding context while eating. Biologists are not sure of the origin of this behavior, but many consider it a defensive mechanism in case the food source turns out to be dangerous (although some have argued that the behavior is simple curiosity, as this is known to be a rather mischievous species, often ransacking campers' food supplies). The droppings of systemicus, like those of americoformalisticus, have distinctive coating, although in the case of systemicus it consists of a hazy cocoon-like structure rather than a hard shell. The cocoon appears to contain elements common elsewhere, but used in radically different ways, making consumption by other species difficult. There is some evidence that the breeding population in Australia is undergoing speciation, as limited instances of exclusionary behaviors toward other populations have been observed. Cognitivus is distinguished by heavy reliance on a peculiarly well-developed visual system; members tend to have large, lemur-like eyes, and research has indicated that the visual cortex in cognitivus has expanded relative to other domains, and has unusually dense connections to right-hemisphere regions known to subserve metaphorical reasoning. Biologists speculate that cognitivus primarily evolved as nocturnal feeders in very noisy environments, making acute vision much more useful than hearing or smell. The species is primarily adapted to redwood forests, but one can only speculate that there may have been very noisy redwood forests at some point. Givonicus is primarily solitary, although its droppings are very widely consumed by other members of Functionalisticus. Stratificarus is, or was, distinguished by building enormously intricate nests of web-like structures, but these were, alas, prized in some Asian cultures as an anti-aphrodesiac. Nests could sometimes sell for hundreds of dollars, especially to women married to Larry King, and depredations of nests for sale on the black market may have forced the species to the brink of extinction.

Interaction notes:

Members of Functionalisticus are rarely hostile but often curious, and may attempt to follow the observer about, paying close and unsettling attention to everything s/he says and does. They can frequently be distracted with single-malt scotch, however.

Do not attempt to remove a Functionalisticus from its context; they appear to find separation traumatic, and will refuse food.

[Professor Schadenpoodle’s guide continues next issue. —Eds.]

Phonemic Color--Tong Shunming
Linguistic Deskwork--Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press
SpecGram Vol CL, No 1 Contents