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Voting has started for the Podcastle Flash Fiction contest. Anyone who has made at least one post should be able to see the stories down in the Arcade.

New groups are posted every two days through the end of April.

Author Topic: PC353: Irregular Verbs  (Read 3394 times)

Talia

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on: March 03, 2015, 02:51:41 PM
PodCastle 353: Irregular Verbs

by Matthew Johnson

Read by Chistopher Reynaga

Featuring Special Guest Host Peter Wood!

Originally published in Fantasy Magazine.

apilar: to let a fire burn out

gelas: to treat something with care

pikanau:to cut oneself with a fishhook

It is a well-known fact that there are no people more gifted at language than those of the Salutean Isles. Saluteans live in small villages on a thousand densely populated islands; isolated but never alone, their languages change constantly, and new ones are born all the time. A Salutean’s family has a language unintelligible to their neighbours, his old friends a jargon impenetrable to anyone outside their circle. Two Saluteans sharing shelter from the rain will, by the time it lets up, have developed a new dialect with its own vocabulary and grammar, with tenses such as “when the ground is dry enough to walk on” and before I was entirely wet.”

It was in just such circumstances that Sendiri Ang had met his wife, Kesepi, and in such circumstances that he lost her. An afternoon spent in a palm-tree shadow is enough time for two people to fall in love, a few moments enough to die when at sea. Eighteen monsoons had passed in between, enough time for the two of them to develop a language of such depth and complexity that no third person could ever learn it, so utterly their own that it was itself an island, without ties to any of its neighbours.


Rated PG.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: March 27, 2015, 03:50:09 PM by Talia »



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Reply #1 on: March 06, 2015, 02:32:37 PM
Ooh, I really liked this one.   Memory fades without periodic refreshing no matter what the subject, so I liked the way the premise set it up so that the forgetting of this two-person language is equated with the fading memories of his best beloved wife--without photographs to renew memories we will even forget the faces of those we love after enough time has passed.  I don't think that tattooing it on him will have quite the effect he hopes, but if it helps him grieve in the short term then I think it's a worthwhile act anyway.

The society here was really interesting with its hyperfluid language--was that based on an actual culture or was that entirely fantastical, does anyone know?  And how each of the villages has a rigid format for preserving a common language because that's the only way they can be certain of being able to talk to each other with the linguistic drift being so extreme in their culture.

Reminds me of something Juliette Wade might've written, with her interest in linguistics.



ediblepenguin

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Reply #2 on: March 12, 2015, 07:44:11 PM
Quote
The society here was really interesting with its hyperfluid language--was that based on an actual culture or was that entirely fantastical, does anyone know?

Yes I think it's us. As I listened to this I couldn't help but think about the mass extinctions and changes in human languages. Whether it's by deliberate annihilation such as the extinction of the Arawak on the arrival of Columbus In the Bahamas, or the more passive cultural assimilation that has swallowed languages for eons.
English itself is after all a highly fluid "bastard" language that has swallowed large parts of both its captors (the french gave us most of our legal terms during the Norman conquest. Also the Romans, Vikings etc) or our captives  (words like shampoo and umbrella are from india).
Mass media has accelerated this process , and the Internet - the mother load of all media - has put incredible pressure on both rare indigenous languages, and the dominant languages, which are possibly changing faster than ever. I listened to a BBC Radio documentary a while ago about how English dialects are disappearing amongst the youth as they adopt a form of amalgamated "London speak". Unfortunately , I can't remember the title of that podcast, so if anyone else knows anything about that, I'd love to revisit it.



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Reply #3 on: March 13, 2015, 01:41:49 PM
Quote
The society here was really interesting with its hyperfluid language--was that based on an actual culture or was that entirely fantastical, does anyone know?

Yes I think it's us. As I listened to this I couldn't help but think about the mass extinctions and changes in human languages. Whether it's by deliberate annihilation such as the extinction of the Arawak on the arrival of Columbus In the Bahamas, or the more passive cultural assimilation that has swallowed languages for eons.
English itself is after all a highly fluid "bastard" language that has swallowed large parts of both its captors (the french gave us most of our legal terms during the Norman conquest. Also the Romans, Vikings etc) or our captives  (words like shampoo and umbrella are from india).
Mass media has accelerated this process , and the Internet - the mother load of all media - has put incredible pressure on both rare indigenous languages, and the dominant languages, which are possibly changing faster than ever. I listened to a BBC Radio documentary a while ago about how English dialects are disappearing amongst the youth as they adopt a form of amalgamated "London speak". Unfortunately , I can't remember the title of that podcast, so if anyone else knows anything about that, I'd love to revisit it.


Certainly inspired by us, but I don't recall hearing of a culture where it's as malleable as this, where each family unit routinely develops an entire language incomprehensible to everyone else, where even closely located island dwellers must follow a constant regimen of common language drill courses no a daily basis just to be able to communicate with each other at all.



ediblepenguin

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Reply #4 on: March 13, 2015, 06:42:17 PM
Certainly inspired by us, but I don't recall hearing of a culture where it's as malleable as this, where each family unit routinely develops an entire language incomprehensible to everyone else

I think it still stands, provided you are willing to compress distance and time. If you compress a decade into an hour, you will change Shakespeare's English to modern english in slightly over two days. Imagine how crazy that would make grade 9 english lit.

If you're looking for a real world version of this culture of languages then perhaps, as long as you are willing to compress time, you could look at the Philippines. It's an archipelago of over 7,000 islands spread over an area equivalent to Arizona.  There are 15 distinct languages (4 more known to be extinct), further fractured with approximately 150 regional dialects. Add to that the 8 established foreign languages and I think you have a pretty good example of a living version of this story.



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Reply #5 on: March 13, 2015, 08:02:58 PM
Certainly inspired by us, but I don't recall hearing of a culture where it's as malleable as this, where each family unit routinely develops an entire language incomprehensible to everyone else

I think it still stands, provided you are willing to compress distance and time. If you compress a decade into an hour, you will change Shakespeare's English to modern english in slightly over two days. Imagine how crazy that would make grade 9 english lit.

If you're looking for a real world version of this culture of languages then perhaps, as long as you are willing to compress time, you could look at the Philippines. It's an archipelago of over 7,000 islands spread over an area equivalent to Arizona.  There are 15 distinct languages (4 more known to be extinct), further fractured with approximately 150 regional dialects. Add to that the 8 established foreign languages and I think you have a pretty good example of a living version of this story.

If "willingness to compress distance and time" is a requirement then I'd say that, no, there is nothing to this degree.  The timefactor is what I thought was really interesting and unique about it, so if you remove that factor, yes, you just have normal language drift.



ediblepenguin

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Reply #6 on: March 13, 2015, 08:24:36 PM
If "willingness to compress distance and time" is a requirement then I'd say that, no, there is nothing to this degree.  The timefactor is what I thought was really interesting and unique about it, so if you remove that factor, yes, you just have normal language drift.
But isn't that the point of narrative in the end - to hold up a lens to the human condition in which we see ourselves reflected from a different perspective? This story certainly did this for me. For sure there isn't anything "real world' here, but I really do find it connects to the quiet tragedy of loss of language and culture going on right in front of us. How many cultures are there, where the youth aren't able to really communicate with their own elders, because their language has moved on to flow with the mainstream?



Dwango

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Reply #7 on: March 18, 2015, 06:42:22 PM
I'm reading the novel Snowcrash and it has this story-line that languages can carry computer-like viruses.  It uses the story of the Tower of Babel as a time when people once spoke a single language, when a language virus caused all the peoples to lose their language and speak different languages.  The idea is that language diverges because of a change in our brain patterns and that we naturally create new languages.  I found that idea interesting and the ideas in this story of languages fit a similar vein.  It is very interesting how the language in the story can become so personal, as when the couple create their own language due their close proximity.   That languages change so much and distance can create new language over time make perfect sense.  The human brain absorbs the language in our brain patterns as we grow.  But it doesn't do it so completely that we all speak one language.  Our brain can change the language over time and add new words and ideas, so the next generation gets those patterns burned into there early life, each generation building on the structure that came before.  It's like sedimentary rock that has new layers added over which the current language exists, owing to the past but living in the present.



Moritz

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Reply #8 on: March 20, 2015, 12:54:04 PM
Living less then a mile from an international border and having 8-10 ethnic groups in my apartment (and that's just between my wife and me!), this story of course spoke to me - though I thought it was a bit to much into exposition and sometimes felt a bit like a non-fiction test.

Speaking of which, a good companion piece to this story would be Nicholas Ostler's Empires of the Word, which I read this winter. It's basically the history of the spread of languages and how languages relate to power/empires. Very readable, though as a multilingual I might be biased because I just digged all the the "original language" quotes in the book way too much.



Devoted135

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Reply #9 on: March 28, 2015, 09:37:46 PM
The linguistic implications of having a language this malleable were very interesting, but the desperate struggle to record enough of his memory so that he would not forget his wife was what really grabbed me and made me pay attention. We are very lucky to have relatively permanent sources of memories such as photographs to help us remember loved ones. I can imagine trying to paint portraits before their features faded from memory if pictures did not exist. In the story's culture, the shared language was the best representation of the loved one, so that was what he tried to preserve. Beautiful.



albionmoonlight

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Reply #10 on: April 01, 2015, 08:00:04 PM
Really liked this one.  I thought that the friend was the most interesting character in the story.  One of the hardest things to do is to help someone else through unspeakable grief and loss.  And his friend did a masterful job of it.  Giving him space when he needed it.  Pushing past the boundary when that was required.  Helping him keep his language alive.  Keeping him from losing his connection to his community.  I hope on my best days to be a friend like that to those in need.



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Reply #11 on: April 05, 2015, 11:40:32 PM
This reminded me a lot of Jorge Luis Borges, both in the lyrical-ness of the writing and in the concept and world-building. And I absolutely love Borges; so that's a compliment!