The Linguistic Cult of David-Wynn: Miller
Written by Emily de Boer
In our time as budding linguists, it seems that all of us have had at least one encounter with someone who is phenomenally wrong about the way language works. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning relative just trying to understand what your degree actually entails, sometimes it’s a Redditor claiming with unearned confidence that every language ever is actually descended from Esperanto, and sometimes it’s a cult leader trying to find the cheat codes to the law through his "conlanged" version of English. Today I will be telling you the story of the final boss of bad linguistics: the tale of David-Wynn: Miller.
David-Wynn: Miller (pronounced with the punctuation marks) was an American pseudo-legal theorist, as well as a self-proclaimed judge and the self-proclaimed King of Hawaii. Miller was a sovereign citizen, part of a movement of conspiracy theorists that believe that only their very peculiar interpretation of the law is correct and that any government proceedings (such as paying taxes) shouldn’t apply to them unless they consent to it. Miller had to appear in court frequently as part of divorce proceedings and child custody hearings, acting as his own lawyer and losing every time. This caused Miller to become disillusioned with the legal system, and it also sparked his belief that the legal system is rigged, and that the English language had been modified by the government to subjugate the people. His solution was to create his own form of legalese, which he called CORRECT-SENTENCE-STRUCTURE-COMMUNICATION-PARSE- SYNTAX-GRAMMAR (or SYNTAX for short). SYNTAX was intended to be a very mathematical form of English, with no ambiguity, which totally always works well in language. Below you can see a short fragment of PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR:
For the NOUN=(NO-NO) of an [IN]FORMATION(IN=NO, FORM=STRUCTURE, AT=LOCATION, ION=CONTRACT) with the FICTION-WORD-PARSING ARE with an AILING-(CORRUPTION FROM AN ORIGIN-MEANING) of the FICTIONAL, SIMULATION, [IL]LUSION, [PRE]SUMPTION, [AS]SUMPTION, WRONG, [ER]ROR, LIES, [PRE]TENDING, GUESSING, PERJURY & with the LYING-VOLITION of the FACTS.
As you can see, this is–to put it mildly–nonsense. There are several layers to this madness: the syntax, morphology, and semantics of the language, as well as the unique punctuation, show that Miller is (in the words of conlanger David J. Peterson) “confused about the nature of language in general, and of the English language specifically.”
Legal sentences in SYNTAX must contain at least 13 words, as well as use more nouns than verbs. Additionally, every clause must start with a prepositional phrase (for the, with the, etc.), or else it is a lie. Sentences should also not contain any other tense than the present, as "anything that is not now-time is illegal, because we are always living in now-time and the future does not yet exist". Every sentence must follow these rules, as according to Miller’s theory, every sentence is a court hearing unto itself.
On the word level, Miller claims that only nouns have a legal meaning because independently of context, the meanings of nouns are static and absolute. Naturally, he determines the meanings for all the nouns and has to do some rather big reaches to get words to mean what he wants them to. This ties into the fact that Miller believes that all judges in the world operate under a secret, unwritten rule: that no fact or law shall be tried in court. Because nouns are equal to facts in SYNTAX, Miller claims that one cannot be tried in court if one uses nouns correctly.
Nouns are just about the only word class that Miller approves of though, as he has stated that all legal and historical documents are written in "adverb verb" structure, and the omission of nouns means all these documents are a lie. SYNTAX also rejects the use of adjectives, as "modifying a fact changes the fact, and therefore it becomes a lie", as well as pronouns, which he believes are words by themselves, not in a sentence. Miller also doesn’t believe in deriving other word classes from nouns, also because they modify the fact. This disdain for derivational morphology is especially curious given that he claims that he is the King of Hawaii because he turned Hawaii into a verb.
SYNTAX is also very particular about the lexicon it uses. According to Miller, there are only 720 words in SYNTAX, and on average you would only need 50 words to win a court case. Additionally, Miller says that any word starting with a vowel followed by two consonants secretly means "no contract", so whenever it is used in a court document, the document is void.
SYNTAX also has some unusual style choices for a language based on English, especially its capitalization and punctuation. As you can see, in SYNTAX, everything is capitalized, except for the heads of prepositional phrases. You can also see that in several words, the prefixes are marked by brackets, and it is unclear why. Names in SYNTAX are also punctuated, with a hyphen between the first and middle names, and a colon between the middle and last name. The purpose of this is to turn a name from two adjectives and a pronoun to a prepositional phrase, the prepositional phrase indicating that a person is "a fact existing in the now-time dimension". If a person’s name is not punctuated on their birth certificate, the government turns them into a taxable corporation, whereas if you use the punctuation you are not beholden to paying taxes, because almost everything about this language comes back to not wanting to pay taxes.
Now at this point, you might be thinking that though SYNTAX sounds very strange, it’s not a cult just because Miller calls himself the King of Hawaii and doesn’t understand how language works. Unfortunately, there are some legitimate reasons to believe that Miller was operating a cult, or at the very least a scam. Miller went around the US, and later also Canada, New Zealand, and Australia to teach SYNTAX, asking as much as 1500 USD for training in a method that has never successfully won a court case. Miller very much paints himself as the messiah who has all the answers, and the people relying on him for help winning their court cases were generally in desperate situations. Meanwhile, Miller took their money, as well as any semblance of hope for that long-awaited victory in court.
If you would like to learn more about SYNTAX, check out this article and this article I used for reference! They go into a little more depth on the legal and societal aspects of SYNTAX, rather than the linguistic features that I tried to focus on.
Are there any other fun/weird language stories you know of that you’d like us to write about? Let us know in the comments!
Cover image source: 'Messiah-like figure' is doing own harvesting (2011) The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/world/messiahlike-figure-is-doing-own-harvesting-20110114-19r9v.html (Accessed: November 29, 2022).