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I'm guiding a little SF reading group of Yale students.  One is interested in writing a paper on the use of language in SF -- invented words, alien languages, Newspeak, words for as-yet-unformulated concepts.  I know of a Brian Aldiss piece that was a dictionary or glossary of terms in an alien language; can't think of a title.  ANd a recent Ted Chiang piece that is a very sophisticated study of reaching aliens through math -- anyone remember that one or where it is?  All other suggestions will be passed on.


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(Deleted comment)
Nov. 3rd, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
There were actually two pieces by Aldiss that were essentially the same structure. One, at least, was published in one of Terry Carr's Universe anthologies. I can picture the damned thing as I write, but the name escapes me, something to do with 'the Camiroi'?
Nov. 3rd, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC)
The Camiroi stories were written by R.A. Lafferty.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC)
Right. So what were the two Aldiss stories called?
Nov. 3rd, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)
"Confluence" and "Confluence Revisited" in A Tupolev Too Far.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
There's a lovely Le Guin story,"The Author of the Acacia Seeds" that addresses not just language and interpretation but the possibility of non-human art and literature.

Also, your student may want to read ozarque's LJ. I haven't read Suzette Haden Elgin'sSF, but I knoww it's philological, and she often discusses the intersection of language and SF in LJ.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)
This site might be of use to you:

Science Fiction Citations

"Hunting for the earliest citations of SF words"
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
To clarify, jessesword isn't just a random fan-site: it's the work of the Oxford English Dictionary researching how words arise specifically in science fiction.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
I'm biased of course, but I suspect your students would enjoy exposure to Hamlet (in the original Klingon). Both published editions feature English on one side and Klingon on the facing page, and the speeches track.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC)
Richard Feynman said that SETI found and started communicating with aliens, the first thing we would have to do would be to transmit atomic numbers and the names of the corresponding elements; we could develop communication from that base.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
I hope they don't forget Tolkien, who is the 800 pound gorilla of made up languages in SF. C. J. Cherryh of course. Dave Langford's parody of a paragraph from a Cherryh novel if they can find it. Apart from her sprinkling of alien words in novels, I think Wave Without a Shore, may have some Sapir-Whorf features, like Orwell's Newspeak, if memory serves.

They might also like to consider Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer, that uses real, albeit obscure, English words to name far-future concepts ("fuligin" for "very black stuff" and "destrier" for "high-class steed". And John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory, that gives real and not so obscure words meanings completely different from their original ones ("pismire" for "pistol" instead of "ant"). Also, A Million Open Doors, featuring two human cultures and their languages.

Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, with its made-up future street punks' slang based on Russian.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
"Babel-17" by Samuel R. Delaney
Tale of the Ascian soldier from Gene Wolfe's "The Citadel of the Autarch".
Nov. 3rd, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
Stanislaw Lem has written some terrific pieces of literary criticism about language in SF, but I don't know whether they are translated from Polish.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)
Poul Anderson's essay 'Uncleftish Beholding', which is an accurate essay on atomic physics written in English which has only Anglo-Saxon rootwords-- no French, German, Latin, etc. Which is how 'atomic physics' becomes 'uncleftish beholding'.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 03:16 pm (UTC)
The Aldiss piece also ended up in one of Judith Merrill's Best Of anthologies, along with the Lafferty Story on the Cameroi. Wish I'd kept those Best of's. They were really expansive and amazing.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC)
Joanna Russ's "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" is the funniest (and possibly the first) SF short story written entirely in the form of a phrasebook. It appeared in Universe 2, edited by Terry Carr, 1972, and was reprinted in Not the Only Planet: Science Fiction Travel Stories, edited by Damon Broderick, 1998.

Suzette Haden Elgin's non-fiction work focuses on language as a tool for self-defense. I'm not familiar with her fiction and don't know precisely how that concern is expressed in it, but I know that she has invented an alien language, Laadan, which some of her characters speak.

Gwyneth Jones's White Queen and its sequels are very concerned with profound and mutual misunderstandings of language and underlying understandings about the nature of existence between humans and aliens.
Nov. 12th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
Joanna Russ's "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" is the funniest (and possibly the first) SF short story written entirely in the form of a phrasebook.

It also appears in The Zanzibar Cat. "That is my companion. It is not intended as a tip."
Nov. 3rd, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC)
Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence
Nov. 3rd, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)
If he's digging into Newspeak (which in some ways seems like a category mistake to me, but whatever), he might want to go to the source and check out Y. Zamyatin's We.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)
The student should start here: http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/LSFN0101.htm with Suzette Haden Elgin's Linguistics and Science Fiction newsletter.

Essential texts include Delany's Babel-17 and Suzette Haden-Elgin's Native Tongue, both of which are fictional theses on invented language. If you speak sweetly to China he may be willing to let the student read a manuscript of his. There is an even longer list here: http://www.princeton.edu/~browning/sf.html

Heinlein wrote about this and if you can find Grumbles from the Grave it's probably there.

This : http://www.frontiernet.net/~scaves/teonaht.html might be useful. There is an entire culture out there dedicated to "auxiliary languages".

Giddings wrote on Tolkien and language.Also: Noel, Ruth S.: The Languages of Middle Earth. Baltimore, Md.: Mirage, 1974.

There is also (of course) The Klingon Language Institute: http://www.kli.org/ and your student should also look at the creation of Esperanto (invented as a peace making tool), American Sign Language (thought to be impossible to lie in for quite some time as signs were "pre-Babel") and modern Hebrew which set out to create a sense of pride and to wipe out Jewish humility.

Vance's short story "The Gift of the Gab" is rather important.
Jan. 5th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Modern Hebrew set out to do what?
fjm wrote:

"modern Hebrew which set out to create a sense of pride and to wipe out Jewish humility."

Wow. That's the first time I've heard that. It certainly did a helluva job, since in my experience "Jewish humility" is like unto "Parisian politeness", "German sense of humour" or "Spanish work ethic".
Nov. 3rd, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC)
SF and language
Two key texts:

"Babel-17" by Samuel R. Delany -- explicitly about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, implictly about ideology. Probably the quintessential genre SF novel on language.

"The Embedding" by Ian Watson -- very memorable first novel. Children "force-fed" a diet of hypercomplex language. "Reason -- rationality -- is a concentration camp..."
Nov. 3rd, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
Robert Sheckley, "Shall We Have a Little Talk"
(first contact and the evolving nuances of language)
Nov. 4th, 2006 06:26 pm (UTC)
Language in SF
Stanislaw Lem's HIS MASTER'S VOICE definitively disassembles the notion of translating a message from space.

Jack Vance's THE LANGUAGES OF PAO (circa 1958) is an interesting try: get them by the words and their hearts and minds will follow.

John Boston
Nov. 5th, 2006 04:08 am (UTC)
This blog is invaluable: http://tenser.typepad.com/tenser_said_the_tensor/

It's by a linguistics grad student, and it contains a huge amount of information on linguistics in science fiction; see the right-hand topic bar.
Nov. 6th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)
Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand has a number of subtle and innovative language uses, including pronouns keyed to the sexual interest of the speaker rather than the gender of the person, and a subscripted number by various words pertaining to work -- people have various work1, work2 (imagine those numbers subscripted), which sort of, but not exactly, correspond to ideas like "practical career" versus "vocation" versus "hobby." There are other subtle things going on in the narration that play with -- and problematize -- a contemporary reader's assumptions about characters and appearances as well.
Nov. 9th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)
SF and Language
Surprised to note the omission of LeGuin's "The Language of the Night," which examines the use of language in SF--not alien languages, but more than just the prose. Worth checking out, especially for the comments on E.R. Eddison.

See also the inexplicably-missing "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley Weinbaum (there's an excellent Wikipedia article on the story). This piece is probably responsible for the trope of learning-language-through-math, and is also arguably the first (and one of the finest) stories to present truly alien viewpoints. Very possibly one of the few must-reads for a project like the one your student proposed.
Jul. 10th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
you do iz besz

Looks good! Very useful, good stuff. Good resources here. Thanks much!


Jul. 12th, 2007 06:45 am (UTC)
Thanks much!
Hi all!

Looks good! Very useful, good stuff. Good resources here. Thanks much!


Jul. 12th, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks much!
Hi all!

Looks good! Very useful, good stuff. Good resources here. Thanks much!


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )