Log in

No account? Create an account
The Fictional Linguistic Dilemma - The Mad Schemes of Dr. Tectonic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

The Fictional Linguistic Dilemma [Jun. 15th, 2007|12:49 am]
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.
Gloss Over It: Acknowledge briefly how strange it is that everyone speaks 'English', but provide no explanation.
Translator Microbes: Describe a whatchamajigger that solves the problem, but don't explain how it works.
Babel Fish: The whatchamajigger is explained in a hand-wavy way, then we move on.
Universal Translator: Whatchamajigger with explanation; how it works is sometimes plot-relevant.
Fast Learning: Invoke technobabble to let characters absorb new languages very quickly.
The Low-Tech Way: Characters learn new languages through conveniently-available months of intensive study.
Other: some exciting and clever method I haven't thought of, which is described in a comment.

[User Picture]From: finagler
2007-06-15 05:42 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of a comment by the writers of Avenue Q, something to the effect of "An audience is willing to believe anything you tell them in the first 15 minutes of the show." E.g.
'Oh my God, it's Gary Coleman!'
'Yes, I am...'
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: nematsakis
2007-06-15 06:30 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of Leper's response to the Matrix. It went something like:

Movie: Ok, reality as we know it is an illusion
Viewer: Ok, I'm with you
Movie: Really, the world is a giant computer simulation
Viewer: Sounds good
Movie: But all the humans are real, and they're being stored in these giant pods with wires into their brains
Viewer: Awesome
Movie: And they've been put there by a super-intelligent race of robots that they themselves built
Viewer: I'm with you 100%
Movie: And they did this so they could use the humans as a power source

Just don't create a situation like that, ok?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 11:35 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, the impact of basic goddam thermodynamics on the development of fluency in a foreign language is pretty minimal. ;)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arcticturtle
2007-06-16 12:07 pm (UTC)
Gawd, I love that. Thank you for (re-) posting it.

I'm the voice of dissent, here; the language thing really bothers me. Even in a good story, I'm always thinking, "Why are they speaking English?". If there was an ideal literary solution, I'd love it, but there just isn't so far as I know.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)