Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unholy verbs

ACL — Accelerated Contact Linguistics — was, Scile told me, a speciality crossbred from pedagogics, receptivity, programming, and cryptography. It was used by the scholar-explorers of Bremen's pioneer ships to effect very fast communication with indigenes they encountered or which encountered them.

In the logs of those early journeys, the excitement of the ACLers is moving. On continents, on worlds vivid and drab, they record first moments of understanding with menageries of exots. Tactile language, bioluminescent words, all varieties of sounds that organisms can make. Dialects comprehensible only as palimpsests of references to everything already said, or in which adjectives are rude and verbs unholy. I've seen the trid diary of an ACLer barricaded in his cabin, whose vessel has been boarded by what we didn't then know as Corscans — it was first contact. He's afraid, as he should be, of the huge things battering at his door, but he's recording his excitement at having just understood the tonal structures of their speech.

— from Embassytown, by China Miéville.

I'm not very far along yet, but this seems to be a novel about linguistics, and the linguistics major in me is somersaulting. A novel about an alien race with a language, Language, where thoughts cannot precede words, indeed they cannot be thought without having the words for them, where Language and Reality are one.

And some of the sentences are gorgeous.

Excerpt. (On sale May 17.)

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