Linguistics Goes Hollywood!

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – While the recent rise of popular fantasy series like Game of Thrones has Hollywood all abuzz about conlanging, linguists of all stripes have long been involved in cinema.

With the recent announcement of production on 4 *#!&’s Sake, It’s Another Look Who’s Talking, the latest installment in the noted documentary series, leading pioneer and noted linguist Professor Schmaltz is once again the darling of Tinsel Town. LINGUIST List reporters caught up with Schmaltz on set for an exclusive.

“I believe it was in the early eighties when I first noticed something strange about my then infant’s speech,” he explained, contemplating the table of cronuts craft services laid out. “I was having a particularly heated argument with my then wife. Our son, [redacted] Jr., looked up at us screaming at each other and said æbəbæbə. I was shocked.”

Schmaltz, shocked, ran to his typewriter and, in a blaze of phonology and flying frying pans, determined the now famous derivation:

The famous derivation (Schmaltz 1981).

The famous derivation (Schmaltz 1981).

Schmaltz knew at once that his discovery had profound consequences for linguistic theory.

“There it was: a bona fide counter-anti-cyclical-unbled-prereordered-feeding relation fabled to occur only in the speech of children acquiring exotic languages like those Tocharian creoles spoken in the Amazon,” he paused to take a bite of cronut. “Or French.”

Schmaltz typed feverishly through the night, submitting his magnum opus to the journal That’s Some Science! Quarterly the next morning.

“I lost half of everything in the divorce, so I could only legally publish it as a squib,” Schmaltz explained. “Squib. What an odd word. Squib…squib…squibby…”

æbəbæbə became a cultural sensation overnight. Not since Chomsky and Halle’s classic blues album The Sound Pattern of Anguish had a theoretical linguist so captured the public imagination. T-shirts were printed, the Swedish rock group Abba was forced to disband after successful copyright litigation, and Schmaltz changed his first name to Professor.

“As [redacted] Jr. – I changed his name as well – started to grow up, I noticed his phonology changing,” Schmaltz recalled, wiping powdered sugar from his puce turtleneck. “When he was an infant, Jr. was satisfied saying things like fləəə, dramatically reducing complicated underlying phrases like irreconcilable differences, but as he matured these strange epenthetic words starting creeping in…What happened to the craft services guy?”

As the theory goes, babies are born with fully formed grammars and are equipped to articulate perfectly, but they choose not to. In an infant’s eyes, adults are all-knowing superbeings who can correctly interpret even the most phonetically reduced speech.

“Some people might call this theory of mind, but what’s that? Babies don’t have theory of mind. If they did, they wouldn’t cry in movie theatres. They’re rude people, babies.”

Schmaltz’s aptly named Conservation of Rudeness model of language acquisition sees babies as inherently trusting but inherently lazy speakers. They maximize their rudeness quotient by reducing otherwise coherent speech to strings of repeated monosyllables, expecting the adult to make up for it.

Fig. 1: A baby rudely using their dinner as a hat.

Rude: A baby using dinner as a hat.

“You can tell they’re doing it on purpose, I mean, look at consonant harmony. That’s not even a real thing. Anyways, as babies get older, they watch adults make mistakes and do stupid things. And, you know, not necessarily their own parents, cause some parents are models of self-control and humani,” Schmaltz paused noticing the now empty cronut platter. “-ity. Hmm…”

As a child’s opinion of adults in general falls, the child no longer assumes their parents will correctly interpret babbling. They slowly trade the rudeness of lazy phonetic reduction with the rudeness of condescendingly using codas and enunciating. This peaks when the child reaches their teenage years and begins incorporating phonemic contrasts not present in their ambient language.

Before our reporters could ask how Schmaltz planned to incorporate his Conservation of Rudeness theory in his latest production, he excused himself from the interview to “check out the spread on the set of ET 2: Brute.”

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