The Alphabet Conspiracy

This amuses me to no end:

Judy: “We’re going to do away with the alphabet.”

Mad Hatter: “We’re going to murder the language!”

A scene from one of William Safire’s nightmares? No, it’s some dialogue from the 1959 feature The Alphabet Conspiracy (50 min.), which I just stumbled across over at the Internet Archives website. Probably old news, I’m sure, but I’ve never seen it before. It’s a bizarre combination of live action and animation in which the Mad Hatter tries to enlist innocent little Judy to help him destroy language – at least until Dr. Linguistics comes to the rescue!

Sure, it contains the usual claptrap about 12 words for snow in Eskimo languages and 6000 words for camel in Arabic, but at least it introduced linguistics to a larger audience. I like that it emphasizes that linguistics is a science (and the role that experimental evidence plays as a result) and that it shows how dialects are merely variants, not degraded forms of pure languages. Plus, what’s not to love about a kids’ show with isoglosses and an animated sound wave that gets outraged when it’s called ‘just a routine matter of technology’?

Some parts are quite dated, of course. I winced when Dr. Linguistics (the show’s host, Dr. Frank Baxter) talks about how “even the most primitive people” can more or less manage to express their thoughts in any language. He does say that linguists believe there’s no such thing as a primitive language, but still manages to be about as insulting as possible when talking about a large chunk of the planet’s population.

Still, Dr. Linguistics? Sounds like the makings of a good Halloween costume to me.


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