- (entangledbank) wrote,

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with Cate Blanchett as Chomsky

Someone on E2 trotted out that ridiculous slur of no-one calling for linguists in an aeroplane. Of course we lead valuable and exciting lives. Why, just at the moment I'm negotiating with some top networks for rights to the pilots of a few surefire winners I've been working on.

There's Phonetics Lab, the bittersweet tale of the trials and tribulations of idealistic young phonologist Kate Harmon as she strives with Chief Phonetician Jock Galloway. He scorns her optimality rankings as namby-pamby bureaucracy, and jabs his tobacco-stained fingers at his spectrograms. 'Formants! Transitions! These I can believe in,' he says.

Drama is one thing, but we want them to be educational too. In Semantic Street the host, Flightless Bird, talks to a group of neighbourhood children. 'What kind of thing is a BIRD?' he asks them.
'It's an ANIMAL,' says one.
'No it's not,' lisps another.
'It's something that can FLY,' a third offers.
'Do aaall BIRDs FLY?' asks Flightless Bird.
'Bats FLY too,' another youngster pipes up amid the shaking of heads.

The traditional soap opera market is catered for with Implicit Communication, the everyday story of real life conversations. John Jones and Mary Smith are an ordinary young couple. Into their life one day comes Bill, who tells John and Mary he's having a wild party that night. Mary thinks Bill intends to ask them to it, but John assumes a different meaning of wild. At the party Bill asks Mary if she likes going to the cinema. John wonders if Bill meant to ask Mary to come to the cinema with him, and tells her, 'It's getting late.' Mary tells John he left his coat in the hall. John walks away without saying a word, so Mary assumed he meant her to be able to continue talking with Bill. 'Someone's a bit miffed,' she comments.

Proto She Reconstructed is perhaps the first series to be set in the unglamorous back rooms where dead languages are painstakingly examined.

But the one that has me really excited is the action-packed adventures of the team from Command Headquarters for Overt Movement of Syntax. The working title for this series is Move Alpha.

Scene. The operations room at CHOMS. Interior. Evening.

The back wall is covered by a giant screen showing a syntactic tree. Lexical heads are picked out in green, maximal projections in blue, functional categories in yellow, features in red. In the room are Baker, Radford, and Grimshaw. Baker is the man in charge: older, cynical, crumpled. Radford is younger, sharper, and aggressive. Grimshaw is a power-suited woman under headphones. She is making notes.

GRIMSHAW: Subject's approaching the drop.

BAKER: Can we make out who it is yet?

GRIMSHAW: It's John.

Radford's brow creases.
RADFORD: I thought it would be Bill.

GRIMSHAW: Bill's in the matrix clause. He's c-commanding John. We're getting a fix on the object.

Baker stretches his finger out, waiting for the moment to arrive.

GRIMSHAW: Indirect object, we've got a... no, it's a goal. It's a party.

RADFORD: Christ, I don't fancy being a pragmatist now. He laughs, but Baker cuts him short. They wait in silence, tension-filled seconds.

GRIMSHAW: Lexical insertion complete.

Baker drops his finger sharply.

RADFORD: Move alpha!

GRIMSHAW: Embedded clause 2, move alpha. Go. Go. Go.

They track the lights moving on the giant screen.

RADFORD: Object into Spec,AgrO.


RADFORD: Is the verb there yet?

GRIMSHAW: Not yet.

RADFORD: Damn, what's going wrong?

BAKER: Patience.

RADFORD: They've PROCRASTINATEd too long, I don't like this.

BAKER: That verb's carrying a strong feature, it'll get there.

RADFORD: It's a trap. It'll be minus Interpr--

GRIMSHAW: Verb in AgrO. Checking features.

Baker allows himself a tight, grim smile. Radford rubs the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief.

GRIMSHAW: Verb in AgrS. Waiting for the subject. No subject.

BAKER (after a pause): Did you check the landing sites?

RADFORD: Course I checked the damned landing sites.

BAKER (placidly): Check them again.

RADFORD (exploding): Baker!

GRIMSHAW: No subject. Still waiting for subject. Object requests permission to front to Spec,CP.

RADFORD: We've got +WH features there, there, and there, nothing can go wrong. Don't tell me about landing sites. What's holding that damned subject?

BAKER: So you noticed that makes a WH-island on the CP boundary?

RADFORD: Course we... he tails off, his face stricken with doubt

GRIMSHAW: Subject in Spec,AgrS, case checked, verb checked. IP proceeding to SpellOut.

RADFORD: It's a trap! It's an embedded question! It'll crash the derivation!

BAKER: He's a professional, Radford. Watch.

RADFORD: My god, he's going for long-distance movement. He'll never make it!

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