Science in Fiction: Culture Speaks? #scienceinfiction

I’ve always loved language, been fascinated with it.  Language is often the embodiment of a culture, it speaks so much to the culture’s values and beliefs, to what it finds important.  For example, the Japanese have more honorifics than any other language I’ve looked into.  This parallels the country’s focus on respect.

Language in SciFi

Writing Science Fiction, this can be a great opportunity to include little details that really flesh out an alien species (for example) without overtly stating it.  This can be done with or without creating a language.

With Alien Language

For The Alien’s Pet (which I really need a new title for), I created a little bit of the language.  Not much, but more than I had in any other story.  This simple language and grammar structure spoke heavily to how the language had formed.  As a general rule mentioned by a leading language institute sprachschule hannover, languages that evolve over time are messy, they include words and phrases that change over time, losing their original context so they no longer make sense to outsiders.

The English language is a great example of this.  There are countless examples of idioms that make no sense to people who learned English as a second language.  I have to be careful of this when working with people who are not native English speakers.

If you’re creating a language that evolved over time, make sure to include these types of inconsistencies and incongruities as it speaks to the evolution process of not just the language but also the culture.  If you are creating a language that did not evolve over time (like I did with The Alien’s Pet), it should be much cleaner with easy conjugation rules and congruencies between verbs and nouns (e.g. “Ay” was the root word for “to eat” in my story and “ayan” was the noun for food).  In the story, the language was created by four cultures that merged.  It was created to give them equal footing as trying to decide which language/dialect they should choose would have created strife and inequalities.

Without Alien Language

Not all of us want to spend our time trying to figure out every little word and conjugation rule (though I did hear about an author who created a program to automatically generate fictional languages which I was really excited about).  Still, you can use language as a way of speaking to cultural differences.

  • When a character uses an idiom, have the other species point it out (In Shifting Cargo, my MC uses the phrase “needle in a haystack.”  This confuses my alien because he has no idea what a haystack is as it is something specific to Earth.).  Some idioms will be simple like that (point out Earth-specific references) while others will have no direct translation (Here is a nice page of examples from a variety of languages).
  • Word choices may speak to a culture’s mores (What do they refer back to often?  Family?  Duty?  Emotion?)
  • Nuance can be important (Think of the Chinese Curse: “May you live in interesting times.”  Muslims also have some phrases that sound fine at a glance but are meant as insults.  Indians will politely and respectfully decline a salesperson, which can lead a salesperson to think they are playing hard to get.)
  • Add in misunderstandings (there will always be some)

What are some other tips and tricks you would use for drawing information from language use?

Discover more from Danielle Forrest | Sci-Fi Romance Author

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

Related posts

Let me know what you think...