Log in

No account? Create an account
   Journal    Friends    Archive    Profile    Memories


Jan. 3rd, 2009 05:51 pm Xenolinguistics

This is something I've been musing about lately, and I think it's enough about language to fit well here. For lack of a better term, I'll call it an exercise in theoretical xenolinguistics. I've considered various implications, but I'm going to write about just one here, mostly because I've given it the most thought and developed it the most in my mind.

In English, and in other human languages I'm familiar with, there is a hierarchical and even moral shading to vertical positioning coded right into idiom and even the words of the language itself. Consider "high priest," "lowlife," "the rise and fall of the Roman Empire," and so on. Higher is better, lower is worse. It's so much a part of our thinking that the preference seems inherent in the very concepts.

But let's do a couple of thought experiments:

First, let's imagine beings that evolved to sentience on a particularly hostile little world. The surface is incredibly dangerous; periodic storms of dangerous stellar radiation cause illness and genetic damage, and at their most severe immediate death. If that wasn't bad enough, there are also radiation-tolerant predatory creatures on the surface, ready to chomp on our poor little sentient aliens. So these guys live an almost entirely subterranean existence. Layers of bedrock protect from irradiation and from raids by the surface beasts. Obviously, the deeper the burrow, the more protected from both threats, and as such, one's status in society is reflected in how deep a burrow one lives in.

In this case, it seems quite likely that their language would reflect this flip -- the king of these people would be, essentially, the lowest of the low.

In that case, it's a simple inversion of our own paridigm. Let's consider another situation. Let's imagine a sentient being that lives outside of any significant gravity well -- or if the idea of a deep space critter stretches your ability to willing suspension of disbelief, and honestly it does my own, you can replace that with a being that is neutrally buoyant in its medium. Such a creature would not even have a concept of up and down. What, then, would be the central positional hierarchy of its language? One possibility I've imagined is inwards/outwards, or put alternately central/peripheral or near/far. I'm much less certain on this one, and I'd love to hear other ideas my fellow grammargasmics might have.

What other assumptions can you think of that are coded into our language that might look different for different sorts of beings?

19 comments - Leave a comment

Jan. 3rd, 2009 12:31 am Does anybody want this community?

I'm letting this community go. Does anybody want it? Reply here. If nobody wants it, I'll likely delete it, because I don't know how else to get it off my list.

5 comments - Leave a comment

Jan. 1st, 2009 01:29 am too funny not to share

what i need you to imagine in panel 3 is a metal cowboy robot hand grabbing the crotch of a dinosaur, okay??

11 comments - Leave a comment

Dec. 30th, 2008 06:23 pm

Not like I'm a total dork or anything.

Leave a comment

Dec. 27th, 2008 11:00 am "are" and "were"

I am very perturbed by a question I have never thought I would have a problem. I bought some books recently. When relating this purchase to a friend, should I say "These books were bought" or "These books are bought"? I think the latter is correct for I am still alive. Is my reasoning correct?

21 comments - Leave a comment

Dec. 2nd, 2008 12:02 am Anyone out there simply just find some words beautiful on their own merit?

There's about 40 or so words and a similar amount of names that I have fallen in love with in every sense of the word (no pun intended :-P)

If this sounds like you as well, please look behind the cut :-)Collapse )


13 comments - Leave a comment

Oct. 9th, 2008 01:10 am The Lingo Tango

Op-Ed columnists are generally not where one goes looking for grammar glee, but Maureen Dowd of the NY Times has written a delightful piece about the language of politics in the election.

Leave a comment

Oct. 5th, 2008 03:19 pm I had to share. :)

2 comments - Leave a comment

Sep. 30th, 2008 01:39 pm When in doubt, use both!

This is a new punctuation approach to me that I found amusing:

"Cobill was not injured in the initial collision;, two passengers, children ages 8 and 10 years, were transported to Terrebonne General by Acadian Ambulance with minor injuries."

Leave a comment

Sep. 22nd, 2008 05:35 pm Are these two sentences equivalent?

First, I should ask if the first sentence I'm referring to is even grammatically correct in the first place. Is "She doesn't support me in hardly anything" grammatically correct? And if it is, does it mean the same thing as "She hardly supports me in anything"? I'm thinking that it is correct and they do mean the same thing, but something about the first sentence sounds "twangy" (like, Southern twang--for lack of a more descriptive word--no offense to Southern US parlance) and it almost seems like a double-negative...but I'm not sure.


Current Mood: confusedconfused

13 comments - Leave a comment

Aug. 24th, 2008 05:52 pm

I have found a delicious article about semi-colon snubbers and gender:


To quote the article "Hemingway and Chandler and Stephen King 'wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch with a semi-colon (though Truman Capote might). Real men, goes the unwritten rule of American punctuation, don't use semi-colons.'" Such beautiful gibberish!

Leave a comment

Aug. 23rd, 2008 03:05 pm Men banned from national parks after vandalism

PHOENIX—A man from Somerville, Mass., and his friend who went around the country this year removing typographical errors from public signs have been banned from national parks after vandalizing a historic marker at the Grand Canyon.
No White-Out allowed!Collapse )

Current Mood: amusedamused

13 comments - Leave a comment

Aug. 20th, 2008 10:05 am Expressing Condolences

This isn't so much about grammar as it is about context. I'm curious about the use of "I'm sorry" when expressing condolences and sympathy. Recently, a dear friend lost her mother to a prescription drug overdose, and in her grief and anger she didn't want to hear anyone say they were sorry for her loss. She said, "There's nothing you can do, you can't bring her back, you didn't kill her, so why tell me you're sorry?"
This morning, another friend emailed me and told me she would be putting her dog to sleep and she was devastated. I was trying to think of another way to say "I'm so sorry" (because why should I be apologizing?) but wound up writing that exactly. I wrote "you have my deepest sympathy" as well, but it all just seemed so automatic.
This got me to thinking: Why do we say we're sorry when something bad happens to someone else? When did this start? Has it just become so mainstream that we don't even think about it?

20 comments - Leave a comment

Aug. 18th, 2008 11:35 pm I don't give a f*ck about an oxford comma

To note: Vampire Weekend

A friend of mine sent me this song ages and ages ago, and I giggled appropriately, but left it at that. I just heard the song on the radio, though, so apparently it's getting popular.

Anyway, thought it belonged here, if no one's mentioned it already.

Enjoy!lyrics and youtube song (not really a video) under the cutCollapse )

Okay, so it's not really about oxford commas, but there's irony to be enjoyed in the title at least...

Leave a comment

Aug. 18th, 2008 06:18 pm Eggcorn, or possible computer-spellcheck-gone-wild

Saw this in today's Wall Street Journal and it made me snerk:

"In the case, Leegin Creative Leather Products Inc., a maker of womens' purses and accessories, was sued by Kay's Kloset, a Dallas retailer, after Leegin cut off shipments to Kay's. Kay's had been discounting Leegin's wears."

2 comments - Leave a comment

Aug. 11th, 2008 03:20 pm

From hitchhiker, timing is everything.

Leave a comment

Aug. 1st, 2008 11:33 pm eggcorn of the day

Never seen this one before: Else-LJ today someone described herself as an "affectionato" of something. It's kind of charming, actually.

Current Mood: amusedamused

9 comments - Leave a comment

Jul. 22nd, 2008 11:22 am Observe the eggcorn in its natural habitat

Seen on Things Younger than John McCain: "[This country] is actually a hare’s breath away from electing an African-American president."

I actually find this one delightful. I'm picturing Elmer Fudd falling into a dark hole and striking a match to reveal Bugs Bunny standing just over his shoulder, breathing menacingly.

Explanation of eggcorns and many more examples available here.

Cross posted to grammarpolice.

5 comments - Leave a comment

Jul. 16th, 2008 01:01 pm

cartoonCollapse )

2 comments - Leave a comment

Jul. 16th, 2008 02:00 pm Indubitably.

Current Location: home, where my music's playing...
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
Current Music: Alice in Chains - Again

5 comments - Leave a comment

Jul. 15th, 2008 10:36 am A poem for you

As someone fond of picking nits,
I'm quite annoyed at misspelled its.

Apostrophes won't make me frown
When marking nouns that own a noun;

And when it is is what you mean,
Well, then, it's is the proper scene.

But it's no noun, this fact I give:
No, rather, its is genitive.

-- ptk 071508

7 comments - Leave a comment

jedusorJun. 29th, 2008 07:25 pm Hot calendar grammar geekery


This is the Grammar Geek from the 2009 Calendar Geeks calendar. Mmm, talk about a grammargasm!

3 comments - Leave a comment

Jun. 22nd, 2008 10:10 am hehehe

7 comments - Leave a comment

Jun. 13th, 2008 09:48 pm Do not waste your time with annoying rules!

8 comments - Leave a comment

May. 31st, 2008 12:59 am Anyone interested?

This community hasn't been very active lately. A slow trickle. Since the_xtina left, and I haven't been very active, there's no driving oomph. If you have an interest in revitalizing it, it's on the block. Just email me or comment here, and if you strike me as the trustworthy sort, I'll hand over the reins.

If I get no offers I'm comfortable with, I'll hold on and keep watching the trickle. :)

4 comments - Leave a comment

Back a Page - Forward a Page