Stuff and Sense

First some cool stuff…  Then the “sense” – the answer to a question I’ve been asked several times about the planet Artemis.

Cool Stuff 1: Tori Hansen has done an original painting for the cover of my forthcoming Wanderings on Writing.  I love it – especially since it captures something that I think is all too often missing from books on writing – the sense of fun!

Wanderings on Writing cover art

Wanderings on Writing cover art

Cool Stuff 2: Want a chance to win either an audiobook or signed hard cover of Artemis Awakening?  Take a look at my official Facebook page for details…

Cool Stuff 3: I’m experimenting with Twitter @JaneLindskold.

Cool Stuff 4: The cover art for Artemis Invaded is nearly done.  As soon as a final version is available, I’ll be sure to share it!

Now for the question…   This is a pretty direct quote:

“Why can Griffin understand the language of Artemis?  I understand that he studied it in advance of going to find the planet, but something like five hundred years have passed.  Wouldn’t it have changed more?”

The answer is that languages don’t change without reason.  In fact, left in isolation, a language will change very little.  In his book The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language Melvyn Bragg provides a very entertaining discussion of how and why English evolved as it did – and why it still is evolving.

The biggest reason for a language to change is for the culture speaking the root language to be conquered by another culture.  This culture then imposes, with greater or lesser success, its own language on the conquered people.  Sometimes this leads to the original language dying out.  Sometimes – as with English – the root language adapts.

Trade is another way that new words enter a language.  So is conquest, where the language of the conquerors takes on terms from the subjugated people – often for goods, services, or cultural traditions that the original culture lacked.

But language doesn’t change without a reason.  Bragg provides two examples of languages that remained “preserved in the amber of history.”  These are Gullah, a dialect spoken in the Sea Islands and coastal areas of the southeastern United States, and a Cornish dialect spoken on the island of Tangier.  In both cases, the relative isolation of the populations led to the very little change in the language.

Artemis has far more in common with the people of the Sea Islands and Tangier than it does with the nations of Europe.  Although it is a planet, as far as outside influences go, Artemis might as well be an island.  In its entire history, it has not been conquered, nor has it entered into trade.

Artemis is not a “natural” society.  Its population was created for a specific purpose.  That purpose was best served if all the population spoke one language, so it was given a language complex and diverse enough to enable its population to cope in all anticipated situations.  When the seegnur visited the planet, they used this local language.  On Artemis no tower of Babel was built, nor did it fall, fragmenting speech into diverse forms.

Of course there are specialized vocabularies, especially related to climate and trade, that might not be shared by all the residents of the planet, but, what is key here is that the same words for the same items or actions or situations are used.

White is always white, never blanc or laven.  Black is black, not nero or kuroi.  Once a word is learned, it would carry over to any other part of the planet.

What about slang?

Slang usually develops within subsections of the population that, for one reason or another, don’t want to be understood by the larger population.  On Artemis,  slang has always been frowned upon because it would restrict communication with the seegnur.  This provision has held during the five hundred years since the slaughter of the seegnur and death of machines, since most of the population lives in faithful waiting until the seegnur come again.

How about jargon?

Jargon differs from slang in that it is usually specific to a profession, either as a verbal shorthand for commonly used terms or to name new developments.  Probably some bits of professional jargon have evolved, but not as many as you might suspect.  The people of Artemis are conservative – and I mean this in the old sense of the word “to conserve” or “ to preserve.”  Moreover, the lack of scientific and industrial development has meant that there has been very little need for new words.

Languages change for a reason.  At least in the parts of Artemis that Griffin has explored to this point, there has been no reason for the language to change.  Will this always be the case?  That remains to be seen…


11 Responses to “Stuff and Sense”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Interesting idea. The other thing I’d kick up is Robin Dunbar’s idea that things like dialects, slang, and languages are exclusive, but they’re about trust, the other side of excluding outsiders. If someone has the same accent and uses the same words as you do (and has a recognizable family name, and knows the local references), then that person is a neighbor, and more worthy of trust (depending on where you’re from) than is a stranger who sounds different. Dunbar’s a Scot, so he’s thinking of all the different English dialects in this (although it works well with all the Polynesian dialects/languages too, since they tend to discriminate by island). I think it’s a nice idea, but I’m not sure whether it’s ever been tested.

  2. Paul Says:

    Love the cover! It has the sense of fun, indeed. If that doesn’t attract potential readers to look closer, I can’t imagine what would. You have talented friends.

  3. Chad Merkley Says:

    I did think about a language issue a little, and then consciously decided to ignore it, because it didn’t really matter to the story. Although, now it occurs to me that we as readers could assume that the language was genetically engineered into the Artemisians (is Artemisian the approved label?), along with everything else. I think I need to read Adventures in English. The internet tells me the author’s first name is spelled Melvyn, not Melvin.

    Although, that brings up another thought, related to language and language acquisition. It’s pretty generally accepted that human brains are hard-wired to acquire spoken language and grammar and so on. How does learning to read interact with the language centers of our brains? Is reading latent in us like speech? Or our we adapting and co-opting our visual systems do deal with language, analogous to the way deaf person learns sign language?

    • janelindskold Says:

      First… I’ll go and correct the spelling of Melvyn!

      Second… Yes. Artemesian is the approved label.

      Third… When I was researching feral children, I came across different information regarding humans and language. What I came across was that IF a child was exposed to spoken language before the age of five, they would indeed acquire it easily. However, if they did not, those paths did not form. That’s one reason I was careful to establish that Firekeeper was exposed to both spoken and written language before the events that led going to live with the wolves.

      Certainly, the question of deaf children and speech adds an interesting twist. They may not be able to hear, but they are communicated with…

      The feral children research I did came from often conflicted sources… The biggest question was were these ostensibly “feral” children actually “feral” or had they been rejected by their communities for some reason (perhaps a mental impairment or what today would be diagnosed as autism) and therefore weren’t neutral subjects in the first place.

      I guess the only way to make certain would be to completely isolate a child from spoken language… And that’s a pretty brutal experiment, not one I’m willing to try.

  4. Chad Merkley Says:

    Also, I’ve heard a linguist, John McWhorter (this was in one of the Great Courses lectures that were mentioned last Friday), state that languages in isolation become more esoteric, with a more complicated grammar, than languages that are shared. Languages that are used as a second language and often learned as adults tend to become simpler–more exoteric. That’s part of the process by which Latin, with a complicated synthetic grammar, changed into all the romance languages with the simpler analytical grammar. Isolated languages build up complexities and idiosyncrasies (i.e. Basque).

    So it seems that the linguists might disagree among themselves about this kind of issue. But, remember, this is Science Fiction. Jane’s obviously thought about this issue and researched it. So, even if in the future, the scientific community decides she’s wrong, we should still just enjoy the story. There’s plenty of SF out there that’s full of scientific errors, but the stories are still good.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      “There’s plenty of SF out there that’s full of scientific errors, but the stories are still good.”

      And that sums up my tastes in a nutshell. Well said!

      Story always wins as far as I am concerned.


    • Heteromeles Says:

      I think John McWhorter would benefit greatly from comparing Hawaiian with Korean (to pick 2 languages that handle vowels totally differently). The islands of Polynesia are the most isolated on the planet geographically, yet their body of closely related languages are simple enough that tourists start picking up on them in a few days. Korea, on the other hand, is “the shrimp between whales” (the whales being China and Japan), and it has one of the more difficult languages for an English speaker to master, this even though it was deliberately redesigned about 500 years ago to reflect Confucian ideals, and the hangeul alphabet was also deliberately designed to be easy to learn and to accurately represent the spoken sounds of the language (unlike English, where “ghoti” could theoretically be pronounced “fish”). Chinese and English are even better examples. Both are extremely difficult for outsiders to become truly fluent in, yet both are spoken all over the world, due to the size and power of the countries speaking these languages. I’d suggest that, just as a language is a dialect backed up by an army, an easy language is one spoken by billionaires in international business meetings, however hard it is to really learn.

      I’d suggest that the complexity of the language has little or nothing to do with the isolation of the people, but I don’t have a better explanation other than human cussedness for why some languages are horribly idiosyncratic and complex, while others are comparatively simple. For example, what’s so isolated about the Navajo that made their language so legendarily difficult?

      It also depends on who is telling the story about why a language is difficult. For instance, is Basque considered complicated because it’s some sort of bronze age relic and the Basques are standoffish, or is it because Spanish lacks a number of the sounds used in Basque, and as a result they keep transcribing it with weird letters like X and making it seem impossible to pronounce?

  5. Alan Robson Says:

    And don’t forget dialects. It is perfectly possible for two English people to have a conversation where each of them will swear that they are speaking English, and yet neither of them will understand a word that the other one says. Possibly the most extreme example is a Scouser talking to a Geordie.

    Or a Brummie talking to anybody else…


    • janelindskold Says:

      Bragg makes very clear that dialects don’t appear by either magic or isolation. I really enjoyed how he demonstrated how political and social influences led to the development of England’s varied dialects.

  6. Paul Says:

    “An Englilshman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him;
    “The moment he speaks, he makes some other Englishman despise him…”
    Sorry. I just saw a performance of “My Fair Lady.”

  7. Chad Merkley Says:

    Incidentally, I just had a conversation with a friend from ChIle regarding how I was pronouncing the Spanish “ll” sound. I couldn’t hear the difference he said existed between a European Spanish pronunciation and the Mexican-Central American (Part of that might have been our phone connection). The Chilean-Argentine version is completely different, kind of like a French “j”. But the amazing thing is how mutually comprehensible all of these actually are. Our brains do things that are nearly impossible for computers.

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