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The Fictional Linguistic Dilemma - The Mad Schemes of Dr. Tectonic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Beemer

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The Fictional Linguistic Dilemma [Jun. 15th, 2007|12:49 am]
Beemer
So, a question for y'all what read SF:

We have a (human) character from a fairly ordinary background who gets dragged off to strange and interesting places. Logically, the (also human) people in the strange and interesting places would not speak the same language. But these characters need to be able to communicate -- have conversations, even -- because otherwise it's all very boring.

Which of the following solutions to this problem do you find acceptable?

Ignore It: Just avoid the question entirely. Everyone speaks 'English' and language is simply never mentioned.
0(0.0%)
Gloss Over It: Acknowledge briefly how strange it is that everyone speaks 'English', but provide no explanation.
0(0.0%)
Translator Microbes: Describe a whatchamajigger that solves the problem, but don't explain how it works.
1(3.8%)
Babel Fish: The whatchamajigger is explained in a hand-wavy way, then we move on.
2(7.7%)
Universal Translator: Whatchamajigger with explanation; how it works is sometimes plot-relevant.
1(3.8%)
Fast Learning: Invoke technobabble to let characters absorb new languages very quickly.
1(3.8%)
The Low-Tech Way: Characters learn new languages through conveniently-available months of intensive study.
1(3.8%)
Other: some exciting and clever method I haven't thought of, which is described in a comment.
1(3.8%)
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: jofish22
2007-06-15 03:43 pm (UTC)
I'm impressed to see there seems to be consensus.

I'd say get over it, quickly, unless it's relevant to the plot.

And don't dick around and invent fifty new words that aren't translated because they're too unique to the culture, which usually mean 'family'. And/or 'honor', depending on the kinda book. I've now got a policy about putting down any book with more than ten invented words on the first page. You know the kind of thing:

"ShiggLe, it's kathba season. Let's go and have a picnic in the puth!op."

"But eJenGra, my tei-zen og'gLe is coming to visit and my quad-father will be angry if I'm not there to welcome her."

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[User Picture]From: helava
2007-06-15 05:14 pm (UTC)
LOL! Similar to jofish's, English with mixed up grammar is how foreigners speak not.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 06:08 pm (UTC)
Well, there are particular patterns of mistakes that non-fluent speakers will make, but I imagine it's hard to do consistently enough to feel realistic.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-06-15 06:35 pm (UTC)
I've always hated dialect in novels because I read it phonetically, which doesn't make people sound like they have accents, it just sounds dumb.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-06-15 06:37 pm (UTC)

Me want cookie!

Cookie monster being one of the few excellent exceptions.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2007-06-22 08:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Me want cookie!

Well, cookie monster speaks with a grammatical pattern of about a 24-36 month old native English speaker, as well as one used by some non-native speakers, so it's quite believable.
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2007-06-15 05:23 pm (UTC)
I like it when they make up a word that doesn't exist in English but I wish it did. Grok is a good one. Another one I like is melant'i from the Liaden Universe series, which expresses the concept that we all have different roles in society which involve different ways of responding, and I thought it was interesting having that recognized explicitly by the language.

But, yes, too much of it, and it's just annoying.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 06:30 pm (UTC)
That's cool.

But I have to protest the abuse of apostrophes in made-up words.
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2007-06-15 07:17 pm (UTC)
Maybe sci-fi authors should explore the accent mark possibilities of TeX instead. Vietnamese double-accents bewilder me every time.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2007-06-22 08:20 pm (UTC)
Apostrphes usually represents a glottal stop, as in Arabic, Hebrew, and Amharak transcription, and in Hawai'ian. Glottal stops as a consonant are not uncommon in human languages, and it's not unreasonable to presume that glottal stops would be common in extraterrestrial languages.

I might argue that they're not so much abused as ill-defined in most contexts, particularly for people lacking some degree of a linguistic background.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-22 08:38 pm (UTC)
I'm all down with apostrophes that represent glottal stops

But I would argue that they are used unfortunately often not to indicate a glottal stop, but just to make words and names look exotic. A glottal stop right after another stop? That seems unlikely.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 06:29 pm (UTC)
I'm with ya. Though I do wonder about how much the names of animals, plants, and foods should be changed to indicate that they are not quite the same thing as one normally thinks of...
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2007-06-15 07:20 pm (UTC)
Is this Earth 2? And is "water" H3O, but still wet, drinkable, and a universal solvent? Or am I thinking of a ψφ story?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 07:38 pm (UTC)
Funnily enough, the story I'm currently poking at is PsiFi rather than SciFi, and the ordinary place is fairly alt-Earthish.

But I'm interested in the question generally, as well.
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[User Picture]From: eto_theipi
2007-06-20 06:56 pm (UTC)
You could pull a Gene Wolfe and use obscure words like "destrier" when you mean things that are not quite horses.
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