Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.

9/17/2003

Review: Aliens and Linguists

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Well, I actually finished this book sometime ago, but just got to writing the review.

Hey, it’s been a busy month! In any case, Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction by Walter Earl Meyers is a really good book and worth hunting up in the used book market. Published in 1980, it’s a little out of date and very out of print, but still a good look at some of the way linguistics has been used, and abused, in science-fiction. Of course, there is also the prerequisite discussion of the most famous conlanger of all, J.R.R. Tolkien. But, mostly this book focuses on science-fiction.
A fair part of the book is spent criticizing the lack of good language use in science-fiction. Highlights include aliens that all speak our language. Or find it ridiculously easy to learn. But, also, the lack of language variation is hammered home as well as other similar errors. Another area of criticism is the lack of up-to-date use of theories and linguistic science in current, at the time, science-fiction. Linguistics, as well as the other so called “soft-sciences” were just getting their hooks into science-fiction at the time.
But, Meyers finds plenty to be happy about, as well. Sure, most writers took the Worf-Saphir theory way too far, but at least they were aware enough of it to use it. There are other good examples of linguistics in science-fiction as well.
Most interesting to me, was Meyers discussion of how aliens might approach language. First, there is every reason to believe that they will have language. It takes a lot of communication to get off a planet! Second, Meyers indicates that, while that language may be wildly different from our own, there’s a good possibility that we can learn it, eventually. Meyers also explores alternate methods of using language, including how telepathy might work from a linguistic point of view.

In all, it was a great read. Especially if you want to write fiction about a “realistic” created world. Language is a part of every culture that we know of, so it must be part of a created culture, as well. A completely enjoyable book and a fascinating subject.

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