LINGUIST List 6.841

Thu 22 Jun 1995

Disc: Ling in science fiction

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Keo Sananikone, Linguistics in Science Fiction

Message 1: Linguistics in Science Fiction

Date: Fri, 16 Jun 1995 13:48:20 Linguistics in Science Fiction
From: Keo Sananikone <>
Subject: Linguistics in Science Fiction

Content-Length: 3073

 The postings on linguistics in Science Fiction for the past
couple of months have been interesting, but curiously limited to
comparing two types or genres of writing as if all that is going on
with linguistics in Science Fiction these days is that some writers who
are SF novelists have been injecting a few 'neat linguistic ideas'
into their narratives and some (distinctly other) group of
writers who are linguists read these stories for fun and like to
point out the borrowed ideas to other linguists.

 Thats not all that's happening these days folks. It seems to me that
some of the most interesting things going on with linguistics in Science
Fiction is in the blurring of these and other genres (a general phenomena
that George Steiner argued was well underway 20 years ago in his _After
Babel_). It doesn't take much digging through my library to come up with some
examples of writers who 'ply the frames' of SF in ways that deserve to be
read by linguists 'for serious'.

 Samuel R. Delany's novels have been mentioned on the list, but he
has also published two volumes of linguistic essays, _the Jewel-Hinged
Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction_ 1977. New York: Dragon
Press. and _Starboard Wine: more notes on the language of science fiction_
1984. New York: Dragon Press.

 Richard Rorty, probably known by many linguists interested in the
philosophy of language (from his writing on the 'linguistic turn' in that
field), tells a Science Fiction story about a mid-twenty-first century
expedition to Antipodea, a planet where the natives lack the concept of mind
as part of his argument about 'Persons without Minds' in _Philosophy and the
Mirror of Nature_ 1980.

 Suzette Haden Elgin is a third writer (and a linguist) who writes
about Science Fiction 'for serious'. One medium in which she does this is
the Linguistics & Science Fiction Network, which publishes a newsletter
($10 annual membership fee) out of the Ozark Center for Language Studies
(P.O. Box 1137, Huntsville, AR 72740 E-Mail:

 I'm sure that there are other such 'blurred genre' pieces
at the interface between Science Fiction and linguistic theory. I'd
encourage other subscribers to describe them here in addition to the
usual novels and short stories (the serious stuff can be read 'just
for fun' too...).

 Paul Gracie
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