May 18, 2004

Submit a manuscript, go to jail

I know, I'm perverse; but after reading Bill Poser's revelation that coauthorship with a citizen of an embargoed country is a Federal crime, I have suddenly developed a yearning, a positive lust, to collaborate on a little scientific paper of some kind with a citizen of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria, just to be at the center of the wave of ridicule against the U.S. government when it brings the first criminal prosecution for writing about linguistics with a member of an evildoer nation.

San José, California, Thursday — Renowned grammarian Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of California, Santa Cruz (seen at right, hooded and handcuffed to Federal marshals) was arraigned this morning on charges of coauthoring a paper with an Iranian citizen. Pullum and his Tehran-based collaborator Faroukh Khosmud argue in their paper that previous analyses of relative clauses in Farsi have missed a subtle distinction between integrated and supplementary relatives. The paper was under review for the Squibs and Discussion section of the journal Linguistic Inquiry until the MIT Press realized that they were violating Federal law by even considering it. Charges against two anonymous referees are under consideration. Said burly editor-in-chief Jay Keyser, Pullum nearly got us in a whole bunch of trouble; but we dropped his squib like a hot rock when we realized he was collaborating with an agent of a hostile power. It's no great loss: the paper didn't look sufficiently minimalist in its orientation anyway. US Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a statement saying, This typescript of nearly eight pages on a language spoken by terrorists represents a real and present danger to the security of the United States. While the threat posed by theoretical work on the structure of relative clauses may seem modest at present, it is a short step from there to more sensitive areas of Farsi syntax, and ultimately to work of significant material benefit to world terror.

I know, it's wicked to mock the fine people at the Office of Foreign Asset Control, who doubtless suffer enough from the gibes of their friends and neighbours (Hey, Bob: caught anyone smuggling offprints today? Tee-hee-hee). But I just can't resist this vision of being the test case for their interpretation of the law, having the entire paper read out in court as part of my defense — and seeing Ashcroft use his powers under the US Patriot Act to discover who those anonymous Linguistic Inquiry referees were.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 18, 2004 01:15 PM