A student in an introductory linguistics class unintentionally reconstructed the rules of an ancient language on a midterm exam, according to an announcement released by the Linguistics department this week. The Vectripincen language had previously been poorly understood by historians, with most surviving texts found in remote, strange crypts, or bound in ancient texts rumored to carry curses. However, the new insights into its verb conjugations, hastily scribbled in the margins of an otherwise low-scoring exam packet, open new doors into understanding Vectripincen’s complex grammatical structure.
The exam sheet asked students to describe eight new verb conjugations to use in case time travel was invented. Students were required to build a grammatical structure for tenses including past-future, always-never-hypothetical, and present-paradoxical. One student’s answer to the fifth question, which involved constructing a sentence in which a speaker describes a plan to travel to the past and gives themselves answers to a linguistics exam, ended up being a nearly perfect replication of Vectripincen grammar. I went down to the Languages building to speak to this student, as well as the professor, about the implications of this remarkable discovery.
The Languages building is not one that I frequently visit, but I was surprised to find how empty it was upon arrival, and how big. I walked down halls for what seemed like miles but found myself completely unable to find the meeting room. I peeked into rooms that seemed, at least at a glance, impossible: a study space so large I couldn’t see the other end, a classroom with all the desks on the ceiling, and an affordable campus dining option. Twisting halls crossed each other until I felt truly hopeless, like the building itself was resisting me. Following the exit signs took me nowhere, so after what felt like hours of searching, I decided to go in the opposite direction they pointed, and finally found the right room.
“I was totally panicking during the exam because I had no idea what to do,” says junior Howard Craft, the student responsible for the discovery. “My mind was totally blank. Suddenly, I started hearing this voice speak to me, in a language that I somehow understood, and before I knew it, I was writing faster than I ever had before. At the time I thought I was just getting really good at bs’ing my way through exams, but it seems like I had a flash of brilliance and I didn’t even know it!”
“My exam-writing skills must have brought it out of you,” chimes in Professor Phillip Love, the instructor for the course. “Lately, I’ve been really inspired by the organic chemistry classes, so a big goal for me was to make this exam both extremely challenging and very different from what we did in class. The intent was to give students space to really get experimental, and test their improvisation skills just as much as their course knowledge. I had planned to curve the exam if all students did poorly, but even though many did, I don’t see any need after what Howard here managed to pull off!”
While Professor Love talked, I noticed Craft shuffling through some documents on the desk at an increasingly frantic pace. The stack of paper seemed to grow bigger as he sorted them, becoming a larger mess despite his best efforts to curb its spread. Finally, he pulled out what I immediately recognized as a photocopy of the exam.
“Found it! Alright, let me give you a sample of the Vectripincenian grammar. The first answer roughly translates to ‘it will have happened in the future, if something else happens in the past’. Ink have’ln occursled willvent travosen. Again, that’s ink have’ln occursled willvent travosen. Ink have’ln occursled willvent travosen. Ink have’ln…”
Craft repeats the sentence, dropping into a monotone. On the third repetition, a tremor shakes the ground of the meeting room. Terrified, I jump to my feet, but neither Craft nor Love seem to have noticed. Staring straight ahead, they rise from their chairs, and Professor Love joins in the chant as well. Their voices remain quiet, but the echoes around me begin to grow unbearably loud. The shaking is getting more intense. Sounds of distant thunder fill the room. I run.
The halls of the Languages building seem to fold into themselves as I sprint down the hall, harder than I ever have before. Each corridor seems to twist into itself, with every turn leading back into itself, into somewhere that looks just the same as every other place in this building. I look to door numbers, signs, anything, but they are in an alphabet I don’t recognize. Somehow, instinctively, I know it must be Vectripincen, and I feel like I could pronounce the words even without understanding, but I’m too afraid of what I might invoke. I keep running.
The shaking is getting stronger. The signs are whispering to me in something I barely understand. The corridors twist so much I can no longer tell which direction I came from, or which way I’m going. Monday Monday cannot die here. I have so many columns to write. So many exams to fail. So much tuition left to pay. I keep running.
I remember the exit signs. Before, when I was looking for the conference room, I had to go their opposite direction. I begin to follow the whispers and the shaking. The whispers begin to morph into screams. The carpet melts into ramps and stairs and corners until I can no longer tell which direction is up. I see one door that isn’t shaking. I fling myself towards it, and enter the room at the end of the hall.
The room may have once been a classroom, but it is now unrecognizable. Books and chairs melt into each other, creating new objects with geometries I cannot comprehend. The windows look out onto a warped version of the courtyard, filled with long-dead trees and grass, but the walls around me are spiraling away, revealing that most of my surroundings are an infinite void. In the center, unharmed, is what I recognize as the exam document. It floats in space, the writing glowing red. I leap towards it, grab it out of the air, and begin to rip it up. As each word is torn in two, they echo through my ears, unbearably loud, but I don’t stop. I can’t stop. I want it to stop. It won’t stop.
Suddenly, it’s over. I’m in an ordinary lecture hall on top of a desk. A professor stands at the front of the room, staring at me. The students around look up in shock as I loom over them, holding ripped shreds of a blank exam. I gather them quickly and run out of a back-to-normal Languages Building without acknowledging any of the faculty who ask me how I appeared in a lecture hall, or what language I’m screaming in as I sprint. Nobody can know what transpired here.
Monday Monday is a shapeless mass of incomprehensible horror.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.