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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: dpolicar
2007-06-17 06:10 am (UTC)
So, I checked all of these, because I can imagine/think of stories in which they all work (my favorite "other" right now is "he doesn't speak the damned language, and your challenge is to make the story interesting without ordinary conversation"... which A Martian Odyssey did brilliantly, for example. It's otherwise profoundly dated, but nevertheless well worth reading if you haven't.)

That said, they can all not work, too.

A more specific answer would depend on the general focus and tone of your story. If you're going for a realistic world where technobabble doesn't otherwise stand unexamined, don't make this the exception. Etc. etc. etc.

Put differently: don't flout laws of linguistics any more blatantly that you'll flout other physical laws.
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