Ted (merovingian) wrote,

I saw a Peeping Tom last night, spying on the couple next door through a window. He had a tape recorder and a parabolic mike and was trying to go unseen.

I chased him, and he ran into an experimental electric car and sped off. I hailed the next taxicab and offered an extra $20 if the driver could follow the car unnoticed.

"Distinctive car like that?" the cabbie said with relish, "No problem."

Turns out she's been a German intelligence agent up until a year ago, and she was excited about being able to use her spy skills again. What luck! She had no trouble following the guy, all the way to the linguistics department of Stanford campus. When we couldn't get any closer, she pulled some equipment from the trunk, and we listened to the guy's conversation with his boss, by bouncing a laser against a nearby window and measuring its vibrations. It was super-cool.

"Can I borrow this?" I asked the cabbie.

"Not a damned chance," she replied amiably.

In any case, here's what I found out from the conversation: the Peeping Tom wasn't doing it for kicks. He was collecting data on the languages couples use, on the tiny linguistic structures and innovations created at such a level of intimacy. He was trying to collect the information in as natural a setting as possible, since he feared that those in a lap might alter their patterns.

Okay, so it was an unethical social-sciences experiment. Stanford's had those before.

But why?

I snuck in the next day, disguised as a morpheme, and rifled through the Peeping Tom's notes.

Here's a paraphrase of an excerpt from the abstract of the executive summary. You should be able to get the idea from this:

"Language shifts and changes for a reason. The shift of language is not a blind elemental force, so much as a proliferation of an innovation. The way an individual uses a sound, a word, or a phrase does not change simply for the sake of change. People adopt these new language traits because they are somehow superior: they may be easier to pronounce, or they may be more able to express an idea than previous phrases, or they may carry a connotation which is more psychologically compelling. In any case, however, the new language techniques are somehow superior to what was done before; if the change were not superior, it could not overcome the barriers to proliferation: the learning curve, the difficulty of broad transmission, and so forth. When a new language evolves from an existing language, it does so because it is, in the minds of the speakers of the language, somehow better. Thus, Spanish is better than Latin, and modern Spanish superior to Renaissance Spanish.

"We presume that, as with other forms of innovation, linguistic innovation occurs in individual talents. Some of these talents may have linguistic innovation as a vocation; they may be poets, or orators, or teachers. In other cases, a linguistic innnovation occurs with a rare (or not-so-rare) spark of genius, or an extreme need to coin a new usage to more accurate describe an idea.

"If, indeed, these improvements occur from individual moments of linguistic excellence, a great deal of language improvement could be brought about, up to the threshold of our ability to change language, by seeking out isolated pockets where linguistic innovation occurs.

"One such source is the 'pet-languages' of romantically attached couples..."

This sort of experiment must not occur. This scientist goes to far.

Tonight, I'm putting together a torch-wielding mob to storm this scientist's lab and burn it down, destroying all his notes!

Who's with me?

I'm in!

If so, why? If not, why not?


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