This Week in Conspiracy (26 March 2012)

March 29, 2012

I’ve been flitting about the country in rental cars for the last couple of weeks, so I’ve amassed a rather largish backlog of entries for this week’s roundup. Enjoy…IF YOU DARE!

Conspiracy Theory of the Week

This week, I am so mad, so singularly and completely angry, that I am going to skip the foreplay and get right down to business. Mike Adams is a horrible, horrible person. The world is just that much worse for his having been born. This week, this shameless crank of obscene proportions penned an exploitative, factually bereft piece called: “A Hundred Trayvons a Day – Why the Real Murder of Blacks is Carried Out by Pharmaceutical Companies, Vaccines and Cancer Clinics.” In this piece he says that AIDS anti-retrovirals destroy the immune system (what if someone ever takes that seriously?), that the government is practicing eugenics, and that drug companies are illegally experimenting on black people. Mike, you are a broken human. Something is dramatically wrong with your mind, and I have finally come across a human for whom I can’t even muster pity. Pathetic.

And elsewhere…

“I realize that marriage scares many people, but Hebrews 13:4 teaches that God will judge adulterers and whoremongers.Walt Disney teaches teenagers to live loose, be immoral, dress immodestly, fornicate, score, and live together without being married; but such wickedness brings the judgment of God.”

“Sad to say, everything going on in America today with the feminist courts, unfair tax laws, State-controlled CPS, feminism, thug police, and other evils in the U.S. are discouraging young people from getting married anymore. Walt Disney and all of the major influences on America’s youth today teaches them to be rebellious, defy their parents, drink booze, fornicate, get pregnant, have an abortion, and do it again and again… party, party, party!”

“Feminism has turned women into monsters, to the point where they’re turning into lesbians instead of marrying a masculine man.”

“The whole court system in America is evil and rotten to the core!”

EXOPOLITICS is a book that was time traveled using advanced Tesla-based quantum access technology by the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) from the year 2005 (or later) to the year 1971 (or earlier).  The futuristic innovative policy recommendations that Alfred would write in EXOPOLITICS in 2000 about relations with extraterritorial civilizations, and in 2005 about the intelligent civilization on Mars made Alfred a “person of interest” to the CIA in 1971.  Because of the book EXOPOLITICS, Alfred has been subjected to intense political surveillance, harassment and torture by CIA and other alphabet agencies since 1971 to present. CIA has chosen to keep its relations with the Martian civilization, including U.S. President Barack H. Obama’s visits to Mars 1980-83 as part of a secret CIA Mars jump room program, a U.S. national security secret, instead of public knowledge as mandated by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

Twit of the week:

“Roseanne Barr ‏ @TheRealRoseanne Honestly, I am scared shitless/witless of wht is coming to this country. I pray to GOD that ppl will wake up to slavery and fascism NOW”

What is is about the name Rosie that makes people crazy, I wonder? #CorrelationDoesNotEqualCausation

So there! Tomorrow I’ll be hosting a member of a WWII bomber crew at Georgia Tech, so I must be off to prepare. I’m sure I will be posting the video on the website. Because I can.


comment on a pingback

March 29, 2012

Re: Language can form anything (the new “realm of possibility” or “kingdom of heaven”) / Language can form anything

This material was posted on Skeptical Humanities as a pingback to my own material there.  In general I do not expect to be able to engage in extensive discussion of this material, but this specific sample has been deliberately brought to my attention and therefore I would like to comment on it at some length on this occasion.

The following represents my considered opinion, but of course this is subject to change in response to evidence and argumentation.  I have to say that I find most of the novel aspects of this material difficult to interpret with any confidence.  Unless this material can be presented more clearly, and properly defended, I do not think that linguists and philosophers will feel obliged to take it seriously.  The onus is upon this source to justify the attention of linguists and philosophers (if this is wanted).  (It might also be better if a less ‘forthright’ style were adopted.)

Although the material was posted as a pingback to my specifically linguistic material, in its own discussion of language the source adopts a ‘tone’ and approach very different from what prevails in empirical linguistics.  In addition, the specific statements about language which it makes, where they are intelligible and accurate, are already familiar to linguists.  Any useful insights which the material may possess are more likely to be philosophical in character.  Unfortunately, even this is uncertain, chiefly because the discourse is often (in my view) obscure; it also seems to involve a radical general ontological stance which (here, at least) is only roughly sketched and not defended.

I may wish to comment on the philosophical aspects of this material at a later date.  At this present moment I prefer to address more specifically linguistic issues.

It is claimed here that language means nothing and never will mean anything.  Subject to the major issues regarding how the term nothing is being used here, this viewpoint is, of course, contrary to prevailing opinion both popular and academic (the latter including both linguists and philosophers), and thus needs to be justified at this point.  Indeed, it might be suggested that if language ‘means nothing’ it cannot itself be used to say anything useful.  And, while – as is proclaimed here (albeit in somewhat strange wording) – language can be seen as ‘a sequence of codes for the directing of attention’, it is generally taken as obvious that language has other functions and aspects in addition to this.

Within language, it is accepted here that different words and letters are distinct.  (The use of the term letters seems to betray a folk-linguistic starting-point; a writer with knowledge of linguistics would instead talk here primarily of phonemes.)  But these words and letters are all seen as variations on ‘nothing’ (this raises the above-mentioned issues regarding this term); and, while they do possess meaning (this apparently contradicts what is said earlier), this supposedly arises only ‘through perception’.  Concepts are identified as ‘linguistic formations’ arising ‘out of nothing’, which is ‘the capacity for linguistic formations to simply happen by themselves’.  Like individual words and ‘letters’, each specific language is distinct, being seen as ‘a specific set of distinct, isolated formations’ – and is ‘finite’, in contrast with ‘language itself’ which is ‘infinite’; it is not clear how the terms finite and especially infinite are to be understood here.  And boundaries between languages are, again, seen as different manifestations of ‘nothing’.  I find the conceptualising obscure at this point, and it is difficult to comment helpfully.

I add here brief comments on some specific points in later sections of the material.

‘One language evolves into another, with perhaps an entire family of languages being similar to each other’

While essentially ‘along the right lines’, this claim apparently mixes diachronic and synchronic points and needs to be clarified.  (The term evolve is also contentious here.)

‘Languages mix and influence each other.  Languages may be called distinct, but the boundaries between them shift’

Although the reference to shifting boundaries is obscurely expressed and perhaps mis-conceptualised, these general points are, of course, very familiar to linguists.

‘If the boundaries shift, then the boundaries are arbitrary. In fact, the alleged boundaries between various languages are alive, existing only through the declaration of language’

This appears obscure.  There may be a good (if familiar) point in the former of these two sentences, though it needs to be much more clearly expressed; but the second sentence, as expressed, is very strange (what do alive and declaration mean here?).

‘Is Creole [= a particular creole language? (MN)] a language? Clearly it is entirely composed of other languages.  [Not necessarily the case. (MN)]  However, it is also not a dialect of any particular language. What is it? It is whatever it is called!’

It is not clear that there is a genuine issue here regarding creoles as such.  There are relevant definitional-cum-philosophical issues at a more general level concerning the individuation of languages, the ‘language’-‘dialect’ distinction, etc.; but these are not rehearsed here.

‘Is there such a thing as “I” (“me”)? In many languages there is such a thing as “I” or similar concepts to the concept of “I.”  However, “I” is fundamentally a concept, a construct of language, merely a thing. “I” is not itself fundamental (which is the ancient teaching called anatma).’

There, of course, are words meaning ‘I’ in all languages.  But it is not clear how significant linguistic facts of this kind might be for philosophical issues regarding the reality or otherwise of persons; as I have argued elsewhere, it is probably dangerous in a philosophical context to focus too heavily upon the ways in which ideas are expressed in specific languages – although this approach is common enough in mainstream ‘analytical’ philosophy.

‘Language is more fundamental than “I,” and nothing is more fundamental than language.’

It is not clear what fundamental means here, or what this claim amounts to.

The same source presents  This material again deals with some linguistic issues, this time in the context of an essentially religious discussion involving claims regarding souls, sin, etc.  Linguistics, as an empirical discipline, cannot be grounded in specific theological viewpoints; and as an atheist I would prefer not to engage in this context in discussion which assumes a religious stance that I do not share.

However: it is undoubtedly true, as is claimed here, that it is a conceptual error to mistake a piece of language, such as a word, for the item in the non-linguistic world to which it refers.  Like the well-known picture of a pipe by Magritte, the word pipe is not itself a pipe.  Some such conceptual errors are potentially damaging.  But the further claim that ‘belief in words is the root of all malice or ill will’ is not adequately defended and appears vastly overstated.

I posted the above on the site in question, and JR, the controller of the site, responded as follows:

While this material contains many interesting individual points, I’m afraid I’m too much of a modernist to try to grapple further with material of this general character, presented in this seriously confusing style, in the time available to me.  Among many other issues, JR appears in places to be denying having said what he did say (e.g. ‘language means nothing’); and he also appears to contradict himself (at one point he agrees with me that things are not words, but at another he says that there being no such thing [as an atheist] and there being no such word are equivalent). And if anyone denies that words exist or indeed that atheists like me exist (and is not clearly intending to say something else in a subtle way), it is hard for me to see how I can have any useful dialogue with them.

Mark Newbrook


‘fringe’ historical linguistics 5

March 26, 2012

Hello again, everybody!

I said last time that there are solid general linguistic arguments showing why the words of a language cannot be predominantly monophonemic (composed of single phonemes).  It may be worthwhile here to expand slightly on this point.

All known languages – and indeed all invented languages – have a modest number of distinctive phonemes (speech-sounds considered as structural units): between ten and around 150.  Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of human language is its ‘double articulation’ into a) phonemes and b) meaningful morphemes/words (made up of these phonemes in combination), which enables it to express very many word-meanings with such a limited inventory of individual sounds.  If most or all morphemes were monophonemic, the result would be a great deal of homophony: different, unrelated morphemes/words with identical pronunciations, as in the case of short polyphonemic homophonous forms such as English roe (‘fish eggs’), row (‘line of items’) and row ‘propel boat with oars’.  Given an absolute maximum of around 150 monophonemic morpheme/word-shapes, a thoroughly monophonemic morphology would display altogether unmanageable amounts of homophony.  For instance, a language with monophonemic morphology and a system of fifteen consonants and five vowels (a typical small phoneme system) would have only a maximum of twenty possible morphemic shapes to cover the entire vocabulary (probably fewer, as consonants of many kinds cannot readily stand alone).

Even a thoroughly monosyllabic morphology must generate large amounts of homophony.   Subject to any specific further constraints, the imaginary language just introduced would have five possible syllables each consisting of a vowel alone, 15 x 5 = 75 possible syllables of another of the most basic syllable-types, Consonant-Vowel, etc., etc.  This would still yield large numbers of homophonous words; or else almost all word-meanings would have to be borne by polyphonemic compound (polymorphemic) words such as English black-bird.

There are in fact languages where morphemes are typically monosyllabic; Chinese is the best-known example.  The probability of homophony is thus high in Chinese – Mandarin, specifically, has only about 400 possible syllables as far as consonants and vowels are concerned (and still has only 1300 even when the ‘phonemic tones’ are taken into account) – and homophony at the level of individual morphemes thus occurs frequently.  This problem is resolved in part by other features of (spoken and written) Chinese.  However, these features would not be adequate in a language with many monophonemic morphemes; the question of how such putative languages would avoid or manage very widespread homophony remains unresolved.  (We saw last time that languages can have a few monophonemic morphemes.)

I also said last time that I would mention a particularly sensationalistic claim involving very short morphemes.  This is the case of ‘Mantong’, an alleged ancient language/script reconstructed from the English names of the letters of the Roman alphabet and various short English words associated with these.  In this case, the original language/script was regarded as coming from a very mysterious source.

The Mantong case was originated by the amateur writer Richard Shaver; it was initially presented in the form of (alleged) surviving fragments of the language/script.  Shaver had happened upon an article in Science World (1936) by one Albert Yeager, claiming that six letters of the Roman alphabet represented concepts as well as ‘sounds’ (phonemes).  He later claimed that he himself had discovered (by telepathy and then through actual contact with a non-human entity; see below) concepts represented by all the letters of the Roman alphabet in addition to their phonological function (not his words).  In 1943 Shaver offered this material to the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories to be ‘saved’ for posterity and studied by any suitable more highly qualified people with an interest in the matter.  The magazine editor Ray Palmer was intrigued by the material, and large amounts of quasi-fictional material on Mantong and associated matters were published in Amazing Stories in the 1940s, and later in Palmer’s ‘Hidden Worlds’ series (with an increasing focus upon alleged mysterious ‘rock art’ supporting Shaver’s stories).

The case involves alleged subterranean humanoid but non-human beings known as the ‘dero’ (degenerate and wicked) and the ‘tero’ (good), the products of a disaster which occurred 20,000 years BP (involving a seriously non-standard account of the history of the Sun) and its effects on the Earth.  These two groups continued to compete for control and influence over humans, who represent an offshoot group who re-colonized the surface of the Earth after the disaster.

The Mantong script is bound to the English version of the Roman alphabet (which is itself highly suspicious).  Five letters (B, C, I, U, Y) are morphemes with the meanings of English words expressing core concepts and homophonous with the contemporary English letter-names (be, see, I, you, why).  The letter X represents conflict, as its form might suggest, and R refers to horror. Sixteen letters refer to other core concepts expressed in English by words commencing with the letter in question; thus, M has the sense ‘man’ (man), W ‘will’ (will), etc. The last three letters are especially important: D refers to detrimental forces, T to ‘integration’ and growth, and Z to a state where these two forces neutralize each other (and thus sum numerically to zero).

Shaver’s analyses of individual words allegedly made up of these elements are not always consistent. For instance, he analyzes the word trocadero as t– (‘good’) + –ro– (‘one’, that is, ‘person’) + –c– (‘see’) + –a– (‘a’, the indefinite article) + –d(e)- (‘bad’) + –ro (‘one’), overall ‘good one see a bad one’; he relates this to the (derived) use of the word as a name for theatres, though why spectators might be deemed good and actors bad is not made clear.  This analysis involves: a) an unexplained morpheme ro (‘one’), not apparently made up of r and o and having a meaning unrelated to their meanings; b) a interpreted as ‘a’, the indefinite article, not as ‘animal’ as provided in Shaver’s list; c) d replaced in spelling by de, with the presence of e unexplained.  In a further bizarre ‘twist’, the word dero, already explained as ‘bad one’ as in trocadero, is then re-explained as derived from abandondero, an obviously English-based word meaning ‘the abandoned ones’.

In addition to these inconsistencies, Shaver appears naive in his linking of supposedly ancient forms with the English alphabet as now read off and with contemporary English words, and also in treating letters (and their names) rather than words as primary; indeed, he seems unaware of the important distinction between language and script.  Furthermore, the largely monophonemic nature of the morphemes which he establishes generates the various problems discussed above.  Shaver also ignores known or well-established etymologies, simply proclaiming his own.  Even if the non-linguistic aspects of this case did not appear outrageous, the linguistic aspects would appear very dubious indeed.

As well as positing very short morphemes, Shaver and Palmer also believed in conspiracy aimed at concealing the truth surrounding Mantong.  In this case, this had allegedly been conducted not by any human agency but by the dero themselves.

There are other such cases of this kind; but it may be better at this point to turn to some other special groups of historical linguistic claims which are not so dramatic in character either linguistically or by way of background ideas but which illustrate particular types of historical and other non-linguistic background thinking/motivation.  These involve religions, nationalistic ideas, Afrocentrism, catastrophism, etc.  I will talk about some of these claims next time.


Anonymous 2: This Time It’s Anonymous

March 22, 2012

As many of you are probably aware, I have been terribly harsh to Shakespeare deniers, er, I mean independent Shak-spear scholars. The very first post on this blog dealt with the Shakespeare authorship controversey. In particular, I have been quite mean and snarky about Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, as well as the propaganda educational materials released in association with the film. I have even been known to suggest that the title is a silly misnomer: if Edward de Vere produced plays under the name William Shakespeare, then those plays were by definition pseudonymous rather than anonymous.

I now realize that my support of the hidebound traditional theory was based on trivial reasons, such as the mountain of evidence that suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were written primarily by William Shakespeare, actor and son of a Stratford glover, and the paucity of evidence that anyone else was the main author. I can now admit how closed minded I have been (or “close minded” as the more open minded often say). I have been a pawn of Big Shakespeare; I just wish I had been one of its better paid shills.

Yes, that’s right–the conspiracy theory is true. All Is True. But it goes so much deeper than anyone realizes. Shakespeare deniers skeptics often ask how Shakespeare could have had the knowledge to write all those nifty plays and poems. But, my golly gosh, how could any mere mortal? And how was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, able to continue to write plays after he died?

Is it possible that the Earl of Oxford was a time-traveling alien? Could he have written not just the works of Shakespeare, but many other literary classics as well? Why the hell not?

I have a “theory:”* as a member of the nobility, Oxford was, of course, a reptilian alien. I believe that’s actually requirement. “Blue blood” isn’t meant figuratively, you know. Unlike many of his little alien friends, he wasn’t really into piling up big rocks into pyramids or putting them in circles. He liked words–not alien words, which tend to involve a lot of z’s and k’s. No, bless him, he liked English in all its forms, so he traveled through time, scattering classics around like the others scattered big rocks.

What, you want evidence? Fine, here’s some evidence: the Ellesmere Manuscript is one of the most important copies of The Canterbury Tales (along with the Hengwrt Manuscript by the same scribe).

Who was one of the early owners of the Ellesmere MS? John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, (not quite direct) ancestor of our friend the 17th Earl. Coincidence? I think not.

Clearly Oxford lived in the 14th and 15th centuries disguised as his predecessor. He wrote great poetry and used the flunky Geoffrey Chaucer as a front.  I mean, how could Chaucer, the son of a vintner, have known Latin, French and Italian? How could he have had knowledge of the astrolabe? Hell, the guy couldn’t even spell his own name–he spelled “Geoffrey” “Galfridum”!

But wait, there’s more! The 17th earl was briefly a pupil of Lawrence Nowell. And who the hell was Lawrence Nowell, you ask? Well, there were actually two cousins, both named Lawrence Nowell. One was a churchman, and the other was an antiquarian who at one time owned and added his name to the Nowell Codex.

The Nowell Codex is the Beowulf Manuscript proper (at some point it was bound together with a later MS, the Southwick Codex; the combined text is called British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv). How did the Beowulf MS get into Nowell’s possession? Oh, I don’t know, maybe he had a time-traveling alien pupil who gave it to him. Hmmmm? I mean, how could Anonymous, the son of a ??, have written Beowulf? Not only could he not spell his name, he didn’t even have a name! How could he have written the poem when we don’t even know if he could write?

It’s all making sense now, isn’t it? Well it would, if you’d just open your mind. I find that a chainsaw helps.

*”Theory”: Wild speculation or insane declaration, proclaimed loudly and drunkenly. Not to be confused with anything known to scientists or scholars as a theory.

corpus-based analysis of linguistic trends

March 22, 2012

I’ve been invited to comment on the following article and the work which it summarises:

Studies of this kind are by no means ‘alien’ to linguists, who are concerned with empirical aspects of language studies and thus are perhaps (understandably) more interested in the ‘scientific’ approach than many scholars in more traditional humanities subjects (indeed, at times we’ve arguably been overly concerned with the goal of behaving like scholars in the ‘harder’ sciences, and with the associated philosophical issues).  The view of a language as a system rather than a set of unordered phenomena (‘atoms and molecules’) – while not to be pressed too far (especially where vocabulary and/or ongoing change are at issue) – goes back at least a hundred years.  And there is much discussion of ‘cultural evolution’ in the linguistic literature.  More specifically, much modern linguistics is ‘corpus’-based; and, while this has led at times to absurd claims (e.g. some linguists deny that phenomena with extensive anecdotal exemplification are genuine, on the ground that for some reason they do not occur in the relevant corpora), this development has in general been highly beneficial, especially by way of putting hitherto-unknown figures to observed trends (both synchronic and diachronic) and thus assisting in their explanation in linguistic and extra-linguistic terms.  But new input from new sources, of the kind instantiated here, is wholly welcome.  And some of the points made here – for example the role of spell-checkers in promoting some variant forms at the expense of others, and the role of technology more generally in contributing to language change – are, if not wholly novel, striking, and warrant closer examination.

On the other hand, the search for universal principles and ‘laws’ in this domain is fraught with difficulties.  Strong claims on such fronts would require stronger evidence than is usually forthcoming.  A truly fairly compiled database, even for one language (particularly one as rich and varied as English), would be enormous and highly complex and would involve a plethora of factors, some of them yet to be fully understood.  Some such factors would involve pre-existing dialectological diversity and the varied and dynamically changing statuses of different varieties of the language.  For instance, the increasing worldwide preference for snuck over sneaked involves (doubtless among other things) the fact that the former form has long been dominant in American usage specifically; in this particular case, this factor has been strong enough to outweigh the greater simplicity and learnability (with no apparent counter-balancing ‘cost’) of regular past tense forms in –ed such as sneaked.

Incidentally, this example points up the possibility that grammatical changes may operate differently from those involving vocabulary per se.  The former (which are more clearly parts of linguistic systems) are certainly fewer (inevitably; there are far more common words than there are grammatical constructions) and slower-moving than the latter, as is shown by e.g. contemporary teenage British and Australian usage, heavily ‘Americanised’ at the lexical level but less so in respect of grammar – and still less for phonology (pronunciation), where English continues to diversify in some respects internationally and even within each country (this has been explained to a degree).

Linguists will look forward eagerly to further work of this kind.



‘fringe’ historical linguistics 4

March 20, 2012

Hi again, everybody!

Re the sweet-potato: thanks a lot for all your points, Pacal!  First: no, I have not been influenced by Thor Heyerdahl!  I was noting that in a few instances, including this one, where the words are of intermediate length and where there is some non-linguistic evidence, there might be a respectable (not certain) case for a diffusionist account of shared word-forms.  But yes, I should probably have said ‘Mesoamerican’ rather than ‘South American’ in respect of the origin of the sweet-potato (although opinions still seem to vary and I am not myself expert in such matters).  And I grant fully that most Central/South American words for the vegetable do not resemble Polynesian (k)umara (I never intended to be read as suggesting otherwise).  Re the word-forms which do appear partly shared: if this is not a coincidence (and I did and do not rule out this possibility; I said only that the hypothesis of an actual link was not implausible), it is conceivable that the plant itself diffused westwards from the Americas while the word-form later diffused eastwards from Polynesia (though other things being equal this is obviously a more complicated hypothesis than that of a single diffusion of word-and-thing).  But if this really is one of the ‘best’ cases for the hyper-diffusionists, their overall position is not promising – as Pacal and I would obviously agree.

I take on board Kenneth G’s point that in many cases it is not clear that anybody actually gets hurt by a strange belief about language.  But I would argue, with Pacal, that there are cases where harm of various kinds can arise from such beliefs (reinforcement of racism, religious fundamentalism or extreme nationalism; reliance upon ineffective therapies; etc.).  And of course I would hold, as a ‘modernist’, that (other things being equal) it is better to adhere to (probably) true ideas than to false ones.

The comment about amateur attempts to find ‘cognates’ at the phoneme level which I mentioned last time was made by Ken, not by Kenneth G (sorry for the mix-up!).

To return to my theme:

There are several especially interesting sub-sets of ‘fringe’ historical linguistic claims of the type I’ve been discussing.  The first of these sub-sets involves the alleged mutual intelligibility of languages generally believed to have had no common ancestor in historic times and no significant pre-modern contact.  For example, Cyclone Covey and Ethel Stewart have claimed that Uighur (Turkestan) and Navajo and the Na-Dene languages generally (USA) are (or recently were) mutually intelligible, explaining this in terms of some Asian groups having migrated to the Americas much more recently than is normally supposed.  Other such claims involve Basque or Gaelic being mutually intelligible with languages of the Americas, Crimean Tatar being mutually intelligible with Latvian, etc., etc.  In a broadly similar vein, Gavin Menzies claims that Chinese is widely spoken or at least understood in unexpected places such as Peru, because of the alleged circumnavigation and exploration of the globe by 15th-Century Chinese fleets.  But in no such case is there adequate evidence of genuine mutual intelligibility.

A related sub-set of cases is illustrated by Bruria Bergman’s claim that a temple chant used in Japan (with a trite and irrelevant meaning in Japanese, as is typical of such chants) is in fact in distorted Hebrew; in fact, it is much more easily, by way of a spoof, interpreted as, for instance, late Latin introduced by ‘Dark-Age’ Christian missionaries who are known to have been active in neighbouring parts of China (I myself was able to invent such a reading in twenty minutes).

There are two further special, overlapping groups of claims about: a) the deliberate or semi-deliberate conspiratorial concoction of languages or language data out of other known languages or reconstructed (or invented) languages (often by churches and other bodies with an alleged interest in deceiving humanity); and b) ancestor languages of a specific type involving very short words.  For cases of sub-type a), the relevant statistical considerations are much more difficult, since these considerations assume normal unplanned change.  These particular theories, although they are typically both implausible and indemonstrable, are thus almost immune to effective disproof along these lines.  However unsystematic and/or otherwise implausible a set of changes might be, it could occur if it was deliberately planned as part of a project of language concoction.

Examples of this type of claim include those of Polat Kaya (almost all words of almost all languages are really Turkish, deliberately corrupted and in this case often ‘anagrammatized’ so as to conceal their origin), Ior Bock (the source language is Finnish Swedish), Isaac Mozeson and others (Hebrew), Edo Nyland (Basque), P.N. Oak and his followers (Sanskrit), Michal Tsarion (Irish Gaelic, seen as a ‘secondary Ursprache’ arising after the fall of Atlantis), etc.  As before, the language identified as source is usually one favoured by the author, typically his own language or its ancestor.

By way of an additional feature (b), some cases of this special type, and a few of the otherwise ‘normal’ type as discussed above, involve the re-analysis of known linguistic forms (especially of the alleged ancestral forms) into sequences of monophonemic (single-phoneme), monosyllabic or other very short morphemes (meaningful word-parts) or words.   For example, some of those who assert that Hebrew is close to the Ursprache, and that the ultimate origins of Hebrew and Hebrew-derived words have been concealed, also propose monophonemic or other very short morphemes for early Hebrew.

Another such claim is that of John J. White, who uses the usual amateur philological and etymological methods to trace all languages back to an Ursprache called ‘Earth Mother Sacred Language’ (EMSL).  This alleged language had only very short morphemes.  White proposes fifteen basic morphemes; two of these are monophonemic (the vowels a and u), nine are monosyllabic (eight of these have the form Consonant-Vowel, the ninth is en) and the remaining four are disyllabic (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Vowel).

Each of EMSL’s very short morphemes has variant phonological forms (allomorphs).  One morpheme, de (basic sense ‘the’) has as many as nine variant initial consonants and various variant vowels.  The total number of ‘morphophonemic’ forms (word-shapes) is thus substantial; but all forms are allomorphs of the basic fifteen morphemes and derive their meanings from these.  For instance, za is a variant of de and therefore retains its sense (‘the’).  The supposed existence of so many very short and often widely differing forms with shared meanings obviously increases the freedom of the inventor enormously.  In particular, the acceptance of many variant vowels in each morpheme generates a theory in which the vowels, as White acknowledges, are often irrelevant.

In addition, in EMSL the ordering of these short morphemes is itself said not to be significant; a given sequence of morphemes will normally have the same meaning regardless of their linear order as spoken.  Thus both ty-re and ra-za – the same two morphemes, in opposite orders and also in variant forms – mean ‘the earth’.  This stipulation obviously increases the freedom of the inventor even further.

Some of the EMSL morphemes are transparently similar to short words with the same meaning in known languages; for example, ge (‘earth’) is very similar to the equivalent Ancient Greek form.  Others, such as ni (‘people’), are less obviously linked with known forms from familiar later languages and are more clearly the result of White’s very loose application of the comparative method.

White’s use of cross-linguistic data is typically naive.  For example, he deduces from the use of suffixed definite articles (the equivalents of ‘the’) in Albanian that this pattern may be of long standing in European languages generally (it is not), and he therefore frequently interprets final –de and its equivalents, in various languages, as a definite article; this includes the endings of English earth and the closely related German equivalent Erde.  He also interprets initial d(e)- in a similar way, for example treating de– in Latin deus (‘god’) and dea (‘goddess’) as an article – even though Latin has no definite article, meaning that these words, at least in their Latin guises, contain no material with that meaning.  In all such cases, White is of course implicitly rejecting known or very likely etymologies for the words in question.

More generally: it is possible for a few morphemes in a language to be very short, and indeed some may consist of only one phoneme.  These are usually grammatical morphemes/words rather than ‘lexical’ morphemes (normal dictionary words and word-roots); grammatical morphemes more generally are often especially short.  Most monophonemic morphemes involve vowel phonemes, as in English /ə/ = a (the indefinite article, as in a book), but this may also arise with certain types of consonantal phoneme, as in the case of Russian v, meaning ‘in’ or ‘to’.  (When speaking, linguists refer to the phone [ə] or the English phoneme /ə/ as schwa, from a Hebrew word.)

However, this pattern can apply to only a very few morphemes of any given language; and these monophonemic morphemes are still morphemes in precisely the same way as are other morphemes which consist of two or more phonemes.  Thus, English a contrasts grammatically and semantically with the diphonemic (two-phoneme) English definite article the, and is identified as a morpheme by the same methods of grammatical analysis.  (It itself also has a second, diphonemic allomorph: an before an initial vowel, as in an apple.)  Such morphemes are simply morphemes which happen to be monophonemic.  Where the phoneme /ə/ occurs in English words other than the indefinite article, for instance as the initial a– in around, it does not represent the indefinite article or its meaning.

And there are solid general linguistic reasons why the morphemes of a language cannot be predominantly monophonemic.  For instance, if most or all morphemes were monophonemic, the result would be a truly vast amount of homophony: different, unrelated morphemes/words with identical pronunciations.  Such a language would be unusable.  Even White’s system yields huge numbers of homophones.  (And even languages with predominantly monosyllabic morphemes and limited inventories of possible syllables – such as Chinese of various types – have had to develop special systems in order to have vocabularies of adequate sizes.)

Claims of this kind, like claims regarding the ‘concoction’ of languages, are highly implausible but very difficult to refute.  Very many longer words of known languages will contain each given sound, and it is not difficult to concoct accounts deriving the meanings of these words from those allegedly associated with each sound making up the longer, known word (especially where their order is said not to be significant, as in EMSL).  Where the etymologies do lend themselves to serious examination, the derivations are typically far-fetched and naturally in conflict with those generally accepted.

More next time on a particularly sensationalistic claim of this last type; then more special types of ‘fringe’ claim in this area.




This Week in Conspiracy (19 March 2012)

March 19, 2012

Well, it’s me, and I have been very busy for the last few weeks. I did manage to strike the UFO post off of my list, but I have about 4 rather largish projects going simultaneously.

Anyway, I have another piping hot collection of fresh conspiracy theories that will rock your socks off. These span the last two weeks. I apologize because I can’t be more comprehensive this week, but I will get to the rest of it soon.

South Pasadena Farmers’ Market vendor Sharon Palmer is being held on $2 million bail after being arrested by Ventura County sheriffs on 39 counts, including money-laundering and grand theft.

She’s apparently a convicted felon who did not disclose her criminal history while soliciting funds. Oh, and they sell a dangerous product, raw milk. Mike sure seems scared by this prosecution. Wonder why?

  • Speaking of charlatans getting what’s coming to them, I saw Contagion this week, and while it is satisfying to see Jude Law end up in prison, it is even better when he plays an online health “expert” profiting from fear. Vigilant Citizen saw it too, and makes some basic mistakes when while analyzing the movie. Gymnasiums commandeered to provide beds for the sick (and which are clearly evoking images of the public wards during the Spanish influenza), in VC’s diseased mind, become “FEMA camps,” with all the attendant semantic baggage:

FEMA aid station in Contagion

Army camp during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak

VC also captions a picture of Law being arrested: “Krumwiede is arrested due to the contents of his blog. Contagion sends out a powerful message against ‘alternative’ information sources: Diverging from ‘official sources’ is dangerous and against the law,” and this is simply flat wrong. The prosecutor (I presume) tells the Adams stand-in that he wishes he could take away Krumwiede’s computer, but he can’t. Freedom to be a completely irresponsible idiot rings! Huzzah! Also, as far as I can tell, VC takes issue with the idea that someone can catch a disease from contact with their mom. I think this means he is rejecting germ theory.

Twit of the week:

  • Angelina Joli & George Clooney are white empire evil actions promoters. Don’t believe it? Both are members of the CFR. Believe it know ? — FederalJack (@FederalJack)

No conspiracy theory of the week this week, folks.

I’ve got an interview in St. Louis this week for a pretty nifty looking job in Wisconsin, and I’m volunteering at the CCCC conference. It’s all very exciting. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to grade until my eyes bleed.