LINGUIST List 2.459

Tue 03 Sep 1991

Disc: Linguistics in Novels, Film... (Part 1)

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  1. , linguists in film
  2. Jacques Guy, Linguistics in novels, etc.
  3. , Linguistics in novels, etc.
  4. Herb Stahlke, Re: Linguistic Novels

Message 1: linguists in film

Date: Mon, 02 Sep 91 21:17:34 EDT
From: <tmgreenATHENA.MIT.EDU>
Subject: linguists in film
Now that the discussion has proceeded to the portrayal of linguists in
movies, we must at least acknowledge the movie "Iceman," which came
out in the early 80's I think. Researchers in the Arctic find a
prehistoric man frozen solid in the ice. When he is thawed out and
brought back to life, a linguist from MIT must be flown up to
determine the iceman's "parameter settings" (with the aid of a fancy
computer system of course). As far as I can remember (which isn't
very far), the scene with the linguist is pretty anticlimactic and
doesn't have much bearing on the plot, but it does show that the
makers of the movie did some homework.
Tom Green
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Message 2: Linguistics in novels, etc.

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 91 11:27:45 EST
From: Jacques Guy <j.guy%trl.OZ.AURICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: Linguistics in novels, etc.
About Chris Culy's summary of responses (28.08.91). _The Cunning Linguist_,
if I remember correctly, has nothing to do with linguistics, apart from the
pun in its title: it is a pornographic novel (The Cunnilinguis).
About the chimpanzee in the TV detective story (Nancy L. Dray, 29.08.91). I
do not see there any misunderstanding on the part of the script writer.
Ever watched a Marx Brothers movie and how they communicate with Harpo?
Like Harpo, the chimpanzee can hear, but cannot speak. It has no sign for
"cheater" and "embezzler", but has for "cheetah" and "buzzard". So it
signs "cheetah" and "buzzard" instead -- a phonetic rebus as it were -- as
Harpo would. We need not even posit that the chimpanzee knows what
"cheater" and "embezzler" mean. It is sufficient (and it is likely) that it
should have heard "embezzler", which it did not know, as "...b?zz?er...".
And to those of you who object to crediting chimpanzees with any
understanding, I say "fear not". It is sufficient that it should have been
taught by Messrs Pavlov and Skinner to respond to the sounds of "cheetah"
and "buzzard" by certain movements of its hands.
And now a question to all: in the light of the above discussion, just what
argument can you present that Harpo is a sentient being?
 Jacques Guy
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Message 3: Linguistics in novels, etc.

Date: Mon, 02 Sep 91 20:33 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Linguistics in novels, etc.
Michael Kac -- Sorry -- I should have known better re your suggestion.
I also would love to have a copy of the Dr Syntax Poster. Someone can
get rich out there.
Who painted the paiting ' irrecoverability of deleted tracers'? I don't
really believe tyis but it is a wonderful put-on.
Re tv programs and linguists etc (noone really mentioned them but wothehell) --
I think my major claim to fame with the Linguistic 1 students at UCLA
is that I wrote a language called PAKU spoken by the Pakuni (monkey
people) in a children's TV program called Land of the Lost. I had no idea
anyone knew of it and happened to mention it and got a standing ovation
from the usual bored, noisy group of 500 students. It seems they keep
showing it. For those of you who are Africanists out there -- you will
notice that it is very much like a Kwa language of West Africa. This of
course has no relation to any of the linguistic novels.
To finish -- re Paku and
Land of the Lost -- I never saw the show -- just the scripts which I had to
translate into Paku. The whole experience was very funny. They -- the
producers were worried about the sear words I wrote in Paku. I tried to
convince them that noone would know what they meant anyway but I am
not sure they believed me. Anyway, it is a lovely language which I understand
children were beginning to pick up (which was my purpose of course) --
nice regular anti-penultimate stress, homorganic nasals, nasalization of
vowels before nasals, deletion of final vowels before vowel initial suffixes.
A wonderful language!
Vicki Fromkin
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Message 4: Re: Linguistic Novels

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 1991 21:13 EST
From: Herb Stahlke <>
Subject: Re: Linguistic Novels
I missed some of this discussion while on vacation, so I hope my reaction isn't
redundant. Two linguistic novels that haven't been commented on are Jack
Vance's _The Languages of Pao_ and Samuel Delany's _Triton_. _Pao_ criminally
suspends disbelief about the usual reductions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and
then descends into imperialistic linguistic engineering. In addition to poor
linguistics, it's not a very good novel. _Triton_ is at the opposite end of
the aesthetic and linguistic spectrum, as one might suspect given the author.
Delany deals interestingly with the cultural implications of the form/meaning
dichotomy. Triton, an uninhabitable moon, has been given a complete artificial
make-over so that it can support life. The culture is largely transient and it
is socially unacceptable to speak of one's past. The only residents who
acknowledge their pasts and exhibit real human feelings are outcasts living in
a slum. It is possible to have a complete physical make-over done so that a
leading character, a tall, athletic black man, started life on Mars as a
five-foot-two blue-eyed blonde woman. And so on.
Herb Stahlke
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