LINGUIST List 2.438

Mon 26 Aug 1991

Disc: Linguistic Novels

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Paul Saka, RE: the novel _The Embedding_ (spoiler)
  2. , Linguistics in titles
  3. "Michael Kac", Re: Responses: Linguistic novels, Radio program
  4. , titles/linguists
  5. , Linguistic Novels

Message 1: RE: the novel _The Embedding_ (spoiler)

Date: Sat, 24 Aug 91 12:50:33 -0700
From: Paul Saka <saka%cogsci.Berkeley.EDURICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: RE: the novel _The Embedding_ (spoiler)
	The novel in question is by Ian WATSON. In my opinion,
it would be a waste of your time to read it. Although I like some
of Watson's work, I disliked _The Embedding_ for at least
three reasons.
	First, _The Embedding_ has too many disparate threads
that do not tie together very well. There are two protagonists
who are both doing research on the nature of language: one is
an experimental psychologist who is trying to teach an artificial
language to children who are kept locked up in a lab; and the
other is an anthropologist who is trying to learn an exotic
language in the Amazon. It turns out that the children and
the Amazonians speak the same language or kind of language.
At this stage I think that the story is already overly compli-
cated; a complete novel could be based on either the children
alone or the Amazonians alone. But wait! Watson adds yet more:
the psychologist is feeding some kind of drug to the children.
which contributes to their unique linguistic ability;
aliens arrive on earth, interested in learning the language
of the drugged children and Amazonians; and some sort of
geological catastrophe leads to the flooding of the Amazon
and the demise of its inhabitants.
	It has been a long time since I read the book, and
I surely have some of the details wrong; however, my summary
is correct in showing how Watson violates one of the basic
rules of science fiction: an sf story should introduce at
most a SINGLE hard-to-believe premise (and its natural conse-
	My second objection to the book involves its use of
"universal grammar". In this book, "UG" refers not to that
portion of grammar that has a biological basis, but to
grammar that TRANSCENDS biology. The aliens, believing in the
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, are collecting grammars from different
species in order to get a triangulation on language-
independent reality. This is an interesting idea, but
Watson's unconventional use of "UG" makes the book sound
very naive about Lx.
	Finally, _The Embedding_ -- like most sf -- is weak
on characterization. The jejune rivalry between the protagonists
over a woman was embarrassing.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Linguistics in titles

Date: Sat, 24 Aug 91 17:17:10 EDT
From: <tmgreenATHENA.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Linguistics in titles
I was once browsing in the Brattle bookstore in Boston and came across
an ancient decaying leather-bound book called something like "The
Adventures of Doctor Syntax". I don't remember the author or even
what it was about, but the next time I looked for it it was gone. I'd
be interested if anyone else knows anything about this book.
-Tom Green
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: Responses: Linguistic novels, Radio program

Date: Sat, 24 Aug 91 18:41:09 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: Responses: Linguistic novels, Radio program
Ron Smyth inquires about books with linguists as principal characters.
Suzette Haden Elgin's *Native Tongue* is one. But I wonder if the game
shouldn't be subject to the following constraint: perhaps we should look
for books with linguists as principal characters by people who aren'r
(I mean aren't) linguists themselves.
Michael Kac
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: titles/linguists

Date: Sun, 25 Aug 91 00:22 EDT
From: <>
Subject: titles/linguists
Although his titles do not use a linguistic term, many of Anthony
Burgess' novels contain statements, descriptions, and characters of
interest to linguists. In his earliest novels, published as "The
Long Day Wanes" [as "The Malayan Trilogy" in the U.S.], he describes
the phonemes used by characters. This reflects Burgess' earlier
experience as a lecturer in linguistics. In "The Doctor is Sick" the
main character is a linguist. In his autobiography, "Little Wilson
and Big God," Burgess describes his experiences as a student
studying linguistics in a traditional English Department at
Manchester University.
* Jeutonne P. Brewer brewerjuncg *
* Department of English *
* University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
* Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 *
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 5: Linguistic Novels

Date: Sat, 24 Aug 1991 17:40 EDT
Subject: Linguistic Novels
RE: Fiction on linguistic themes
You might want to check out "The Languages of Pao," a science
fiction novel by Jack Vance (Ace Books, 1958). It's about a
culturally stagnet planet, Pao, where scientist from another
world artifically establish three languages, one each for
technicians, warriors, and bureaucrats. The theme (more or less)
is the language makes the culture (sort of sub-Sapir-Whorf
thinking). I can't give you more of an evaluation; it's been
years since I read the thing.
Stuart Spore | Phone: 212-998-6333
Head of Cataloging & Automated | Fax: 212-998-6587
Systems |
New York University Law Library |
40 Washington Sq. So. |
New York, N.Y. 10012 |
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue