[Endangered-languages-l] Twas the Night Before Christmas (linguists' version)

Dave Sayers dave.sayers at cantab.net
Mon Dec 22 00:14:18 UTC 2014


Ho ho ho, one and all. I wrote a seasonal poem for the linguists of the world...

(Shared with Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence: 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/. Also online alongside the original 
poem here: https://www.academia.edu/9856733/.)

Twas the night before Christmas in the ivory tower,
Not a creature was stirring at the midnight hour,
Twas a problem for linguists who live to hear sounds,
Monophthongs, diphthongs, open or round.

We linguists were nestled all snug in our beds,
While visions of fricatives danced in our heads.
Snug in our gowns and our four-cornered caps,
We pondered enigmas like bilabial flaps.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter.
I sprang from the bed hoping for research matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Hoping my equipment would record and not crash.

The moon made a shape like a back-rounded vowel,
Which was also the sound that I heard from an owl.
When, what should my wondering eyes quickly see,
But a representative sample of society.

Old folks and their conservative pronunciations,
And fad-happy teens with their fresh innovations,
Networked globetrotters, laggards and lames,
Their dialect features I noted by name!

Now Nasal! Now Velar! Now Plosive, and Dental!
On Glottal! On Spirant! On Flap and Segmental!
To the top of the mouth! With the tip of the tongue!
Now palatalise! Labialise! Old, middle and young!

This I must record, and I must analyse,
But before I do that I can only surmise,
That this being Christmas and I being me,
There may be more surprises ready to see.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the kitchen,
A noise that soon set my microphone twitching,
As I drew my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He spoke in a language never before heard,
Not a sound ever known to man, beast or bird.
Impossible sounds he flung from his face,
He spoke like a machine, or a being from space.

Why hadn’t I learned this from tales as a child?
That his taps, clicks and trills were so phonetically wild?
It seemed that his mouth was drawn at an angle
That enabled these baffling articulatory tangles.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
Through which fell approximants past the IPA’s reach.
Pharyngeal nasals, glottal flaps quite deducible,
He sent forth such phonemes that were thought unproduceable.

I looked through the glass at his hovering sleigh,
And realised at last where his origins lay.
He’d come from the future, he can travel through time,
Hence climbing every chimney in one night, even mine.

This also explained his weird trills, taps and flaps.
In his time, humans have evolved to fill all such gaps.
He said his farewells and climbed back whence he’d bound,
But wait, how come I now understood all his sounds?

In his time Google Translate is far superior.
It transferred his message into my mind’s interior.
So I heard him exclaim in his space-age vernacular,
"Happy Christmas to all, may your peer reviews be spectacular!"


Seasonally yours,
Dave

--
Dr. Dave Sayers
Senior Lecturer, Dept Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
Honorary Research Fellow, Arts & Humanities, Swansea University, UK
dave.sayers at cantab.net | http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers


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