QWERTYUIOP or Our Typewriter Territory
A Whorfian Picture Parable for Adults, entirely devoted to QWERT, the creatures who live in QWERTYUIOP and speak the Qwert language. Their entire lives are limited to those words and concepts that can be spelled with the top row of letters on the keyboard.
It's fairly obvious that such creatures would be handicapped in a number of ways, as you can see from the six pages included here, especially the map of QWERTYUIOP. But they none-theless manage to cope quite well with their environment despite its limitations, as the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf predicted they would. Qwert culture is not without crime and social inequality, and yetas the rest of the book clearly shows its inhabitants enjoy a rich and rewarding existence and a robust sex life. They even leave the typewriter age behind and invent a computer of sorts (QWERT TOTER-UPPERPRETTY TRIPPY!), travel to Peru and Poitou, and manage to outwit the QWERTY, their culture's ritual monster who requires an annual human sacrifice.
At the end of the book, three prominent linguists debate the meaning and implications of Qwert culture: a Whorfian, a Chomskian, and a representative of the school of linguistics which has been most active in converting primeval societies to western religion and customs.
The illustrations are by Ilene Astrahan Gross.
Representing the Theories
of Benjamin Lee Whorf,
Whorfian: Well, gentlemen, I hope we can all reach some sort of agreement on this topic.
Chomskian: I'm sure we can. The deep structure of the Qwert language couldn't possibly be more obvious.
Pikean: I've seen many such examples in the field. But it really is shocking how far from God they are.
Chomskian: Now don't start on that! How many cultures have you already destroyed with your methods?
Pikean: We haven't destroyed anyone! We've brought them to Christ!
Whorfian: Now gentlemen, gentlemen, please. Let's forget ideology and simply examine the Qwert vocabulary.
Chomskian: Yes, gladly. It proves once and for all the existence of universal grammar.
Whorfian: Hold on, I wouldn't go so far as to say that. In fact, I think it proves my thesis beyond any doubt, that all societies and cultures are deeply influenced by the language they speak.
Pikean: Nonsense! It's easy to change these Qwert! It's easy to change any language, any society, any culture. All you have to do is convert them to Christianity!
Chomskian: You filthy imperialist! You stooge of the capitalists! All you want to do is convert them to the market economy!
Whorfian: Please, gentlemen...
Pikean: No! I fully intend to convert them to God!
Chomskian: That's utterly ridiculous!
Pikean: It couldn't be easier! All I have to do is translate the Bible into Qwert!
Chomskian: That's totally ludicrous!
Whorfian: It's totally impossible!
Pikean: No, it isn't! I've translated the Bible into a lot of languages that are harder than Qwert! Now in Brazil...
Whorfian: But why do you want to do this?
Pikean: That's perfectly obvious! Tell me, did you see any sign that those creatures have even heard of Christ? Much less heard his message?
Chomskian: All the better for them! These people speak a truly pure and primal language, and what we need to do is to study it, not wipe it out!
Whorfian: I disagree that it is in any way primal. It is simply the way they happen to speak. It can change, it probably has changed...
Pikean: Well, that's a bit closer to my position. You see, you have to distinguish between the "emic" and the "etic." The emic is the way they see things and can differ from ours, the etic is the way we see them. That's true tagmemics.
Chomskian: Your vocabulary is utterly stupid! What we have here is a perfect example of transformational innateness, poverty of stimulus, prestructural competence, it's as though they had all been raised by wolves...
Whorfian: Excuse me, there are no "wolves" in Qwert culture. It is a concept totally outside their understanding, even their spelling ability...
Chomskian: True, they have no wolves, but they have the Qwerty...
Pikean: Ah, the Qwerty! Yes, the Qwerty! Absolute proof that they live in a pre-Christian domain. Human sacrifice! Abraham and Isaac...!
Whorfian: You can't jump to conclusions like that! And you can't compare cultures that easily! Every culture is different! And so is every language!
Chomskian: Nonsense! Every language is connected by universal grammar!
Pikean: Ridiculous! All languages are unified in Christ!
Whorfian: Gentlemen, I think we'd better take a break... Shall we start over again tomorrow?
Pikean: Tomorrow! Why God created the universe in seven days!
Chomskian: Tomorrow is fine with me. I need to prepare some diagrams on Qwert deep structure.
Whorfian: Good. Then we're agreed.
Pikean: Not really...
Chomskian: Yes, tomorrow.
Pikean: Alright, tomorrow...
Whorfian: Thank you, gentlemen.
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