Monday, July 9, 2012

Linguists in quest of the elusive “Wiggs Particle”


Amateurs imagine that the toughest words in a language are the long ones:  things like postlapsarian, callipygian, or sesquipedalian.  For small children, there is some truth to this, but purely for articulatory reasons -- they understand the word spaghetti perfectly well, even if they pronounce it busketti.   For an adult, the only problem in long words is that, if borrowed from other languages, they may be etymologically opaque; but for anyone versed in Greek and Latin, the words cited above are transparent.
More seasoned observers are aware that the hardest words are the shortest, since the most polysemous.   Thus:  pen ‘writing implement; corral; prison; female swan’.  But those at least you can readily define, even if (such words being homophones) the meanings are unrelated.

Much harder to define -- and more important in the language as a whole -- are what are called particles -- a wastebasket category, really, for little wordlets or wordkins that are neither noun, nor verb, nor adjective, nor preposition, nor any other major part of speech:  their semantics are unfathomable, their syntactic privileges of occurrence  sui generis.   As:  so (“I told you so”/”So what?”/”So-so”/”Thus and so”/”Even so”/”So very tall”/”Not so bad as all that”/”Ah so!”/”As Paris goes, so goes the world”/”Not so!”/ “It started raining, so John left”/”you old so&so”/”so-called”/”this must be done just so”/ etc.).  Or:  French ne, que; German doch; MSA mâ.

The more a sentence is composed of nothing but mini-words, the more idiomatic it is -- you cannot reach its meaning by summing those of it parts; it must be seized as a whole.  As:
            English:  “That’s as may be.”
            French:  “Ne t’en fais pas.”
And my favorite, from Yemeni Arabic:
            la-gad-u -- wa-gad-u -- fa-gad-u  heek.
Roughly:  “If ‘twere done -- as’t must be done -- ‘twere well it were done thus.”

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Well!  So much by way of propædeutic prolegomena (to use some long, but basically easy words).  And now to the nub.

For some years now, an elite coterie of ninja linguists have been engaged (deep underground, at an undisclosed and indeed possibly purely imaginary location) in the search for the Particle to End All Particles:  a particle which, if ever discovered, will exlain the whole of Universal Grammar.   Its existence was first hypothesized, back in the drought years of ought-eight, by one Willard “Willie” Wiggs, of Waddleburg, Wisconsin.  While not specifying any of the actual properties of said particle, Mr. Wiggs thought it might be nice to have his name immortalized, for the sake of his lovely grandchildren;  and thus it was done.
Preliminary calculations suggest that the Particle, if it exists,  can consist of at most one consonant, and around half a vowel.

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Let us emphasize:  This particle, if it exists, is the key to everything.  That is why we like to call it the “Yahweh Particle” (a.k.a. the “Allah Particle” or the “Jehovah Particle”, according to taste).   With this particle, you can fashion comprehensible and attractive sentences, thus ensuring success in romantic and business ventures. Without this particle -- you’re in Suckyville, dude. 
(And as for the so-called “Higgs Particle”, the linguist sniffs:  “A mere epiphenomenon.”)

Which is why we need a national nay international nay intercontinental/extragalactic effort  to find this thing.
But (you ask) how much will this gigantic effort cost?
Dr J:   “Billions.”  Level gaze.  “Biyyuns and biyyuns and biyyuns …”
John Q. Public:  “How -- how can we help?”
J:  “Send all your money to this site, in small, non-consecutive bills.”

(Please, no second-party checks;  but as collateral, we will accept your first-born.)

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