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Lingua Flanka

David Armstrong is the author of two story collections, Going Anywhere and Reiterations, and a standalone novella, Missives from the Green Campaign, about soldiers in the future made to carry houseplants to teach them respect for the earth. His stories appear in such publications as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Narrative, and Iron Horse Literary Review, and have won the Mississippi Review Prize, Jabberwock Review's Prize for Fiction, and the Slippery Elm Fiction Contest, among other awards. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife and son. He can be found online at davidarmstrongwriter.com.

Neurologically speaking, the fretwork of synapses in the bovine frontal lobe resembles that of hominids. In the human brain, the dominant hemisphere, known as "Broca's area," harbors the language center from which speech originates. It is this region where the cow's brain most closely mirrors that of people. Some English farmers even claim that their cattle low in a dialect particular to the region. Alistair Thorne of Ottery St. Mary states of his South Devon beef cattle, "They'll moo at you all day in a West Country burr."
Only after Dr. Penelope Giese created a custom node array, using a combination of MRI, CT, and positron emission tomography, was she able to construct a comprehensive diffeomorphic map of the bovine brain. From there, it was only a hop, skip, and an AI-hard linguistic algorithm translating synapse-bursts into coded speech patterns to create a recognizable "bovine language."
Shortly thereafter, the neurologist everyone called the "cow lady" became the most famous scientific figure on the planet.
Fun Beef Fact #1: Superb flank steak hinges on dry aging and a battery of secret seasoning as unique to each chef as a greasy thumbprint. Chamberlain's Prime Chop House of Dallas proudly serves a grilled flank rubbed with rosemary. If you're ever traveling in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro-area, give it a try.
What did the cows say?
In the now famous video, a two-year-old Hereford named Marie is bedecked with a tangle of wires flowing so thickly from her skull it looks like a wig. Marie stomps and lows. A nearby monitor spits out a few lines of "dialogue."
The first recorded message from a cow is this: "Room grass no grass person pet person grass together."
Fun Beef Fact #2: The humble hamburger, according to celebrity chef Bobby Flay, should be cooked in a cast iron skillet with canola oil until done medium-rare. Simple. But for the red-meat connoisseur, there is no delicacy more delightful than an herbaceous terrine of headcheese made from the brains of a calf.
For the first televised conversation with Marie, Dr. Giese displays a Barnum-esque showmanship, employing text-to-speech software with a customized phonetic output so Marie speaks in a buttery French-Canadian lilt.
Cameras rolling, Dr. Giese asks, "Marie, how do you feel?"
"Troubled, dearest."
Giese grimaces as if in the throes of debilitating indigestion. "Why are you 'troubled'?"
"I fear death, dearest."
"Do you even understand what death is?"
"Death is darkness. Night by night, dearest. Death and darkness."
"You fear the dark, Marie. Not death."
A spluttery, bovine snort. "I fear death."
"Okay. Why do you fear death?"
Marie swings her ponderous head toward Giese. Her black eyes glisten under the laboratory lights.
"I want to stay... with you... dearest. I love you, dearest."
Fun Beef Fact #3: The dish known as "London broil" is not from London and is most often grilled.
Ruminants such as cattle are animals with four stomachs who regurgitate their own cud and chew again before digestion. To "ruminate" is to think deeply or "chew over" a topic. This etymology gave rise to a retroactive kind of thinking as to the anthropomorphic faculties of cows.
In her famous speech to congress, Dr. Giese publicly denounced this idea.
"Speech is too often mistaken for evidence of intelligence. Teenagers are proof of that."
A smattering of chuckles.
"I'm confident Marie and any cow like her will always be exhibiting a form of homoplasy, a convergent evolution in which the bovine mimics the emotional state of humans as a survival mechanism. It is not evidence of empathy or imagination. It is not, as some contend, evidence of a 'soul.'"
After countless allegations that she accepted money from the meat industry to give the speech, Giese disappeared from the spotlight. Despite cadging of her research, none could coax human words from another species--not whales or even dolphins.
Nor was the "empathetic cow" question fully answered.
A rash of vegetarianism did sweep the country. Legislation was shuttled forth on shaky legs to limit beef consumption--were cows citizens?--but lobbyists killed it in the cradle. Protestors called it cannibalism: consuming a fellow sentient being.
Then, flaunting logic, steakhouses experienced a boom. It seemed Americans, more than ever, liked the idea of eating their own.
Fun Beef Fact #4: The bistro, Ginza Koso, of Tokyo serves wagyu sashimi with foi gras and salmon roe. The brilliant red of the raw marbled beef resembles an artist's paint-stroke. The mixture of textures, the mint, the ginger, the soy, the wasabi, all sing on the tongue and slide down the gullet. Best chased with a dash of sake.
Most people are appalled to hear Giese eats beef. After her speech to congress, she gave only one interview. "I have no illusions," she says. "I go into Morton's Steakhouse knowing full well I'm consuming another living being."
When asked what became of Marie, she answers, "I really don't know. It wasn't like we were friends. She was a cow, a lab animal. She didn't receive a governor's pardon or anything."
"You don't care?" asks the interviewer.
"I'll say this. The way this country treats its humans, I think my work brings to light an important discussion. If a cow were to feel and speak, and we still ate it, why not people? If we can let each other die, if we can say, 'each man for himself,' then what's the next logical step? Not to stop eating beef. I'm being frank here. It's to start eating people. That's how they think. The rich will eat the poor. Mark my words. Cows are just the beginning."
Fun Beef Fact #5: Barney's Primehouse in Washington D.C. serves an off-menu dish known as filet des gens with Golden Osetra caviar. The waiter will tell you it means "Net of Men," as in "net worth of mankind;" an expensive filet worthy of man's greatest achievements (and deepest pocketbooks). But filet des gens might also be translated as the more populist-sounding "filet of the people."
More accurately, however, it means "filet of people."
I'm told it's becoming quite popular throughout the country.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Author Comments

In "Lingua Flanka," I wanted to capture the cognitive dissonance that comes from simultaneously loving animals as friends and meat. It's just one of our daily paradoxes (of which I'm in no way innocent or immune). All of it's faintly absurd. Jumping from hard science to haute cuisine captured that absurdity. I'd call the story "tongue-in-cheek," but even that phrase could be figurative or literal... depending on what's on the end of your fork.

- David M. Armstrong
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