Some people would probably never realize the powerful tool that they are carrying around, that’s their language. This is my feeling out of the materials for this week. As Jackendoff noted at the beginning of his book, people tend to have a relatively narrow and shallow understanding of linguistic as a discipline so that they “don’t recognize that there is more to language than this, so they are unpleasantly disappointed when the linguist doesn’t share their fascination.”
Both the readings and the video inspired me to look at the language from perspectives that I would never bother to before. From the distinctions among language, written language grammar and thoughts, to how children acquire language in the first place. The true complexity of language doesn’t lay in the functionality aspects of it (they are important for sure), but the subtler mechanism and component inside this black box.
Now I couldn’t help but thinking about my favorite science fiction from 2016 – “Arrival”. I don’t talk too much about it from a movie point of view, but some of the ideology and setting from it.
To begin with, language would be where everything starts. In order to communicate with the Alien and avoid an unnecessary war, a linguist was sent to make contact with the aliens. I traveled to Mexico this past winter break, in the southeastern part of the country is the Yucatán Peninsula, but this name if a misunderstanding, when the Spanish first got the place, they ask the local Mayan what the place was called. The answer was “Yucatán” which means “I don’t understand”.
Another highlight of the movie would be the exploration of Sapir – Whorf hypothesis. The linguist in the movie gained a different perception of time after she acquired the alien language. This would definitely be a dramatized portrait, but “Whorf argued that because the Hopi [the Native American group he was studying] have verbs for certain concepts that English speakers use nouns for, such as, thunder, lightning, storm, noise, that the speakers view those things as events in a way that we don’t. We view lightning, thunder, and storms as things. He argued that we objectify time, that because we talk about hours and minutes and days as things that you can count or save or spend.” So, we could see some trace of linguistic ideas behind the movie.
1: Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.
2: Steven Pinker: Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain