‘ and ” and alien linguistics

December 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Perhaps the dream job of many linguistics graduates would be behind the scenes on a sci-fi TV series. It seems that some contemplation of alien linguistics has become de rigueur for this genre. Not to be outdone by the Trekkies, Stargate fans too are trying their hand at documentary linguistics. Apparently, the Goa’uld, the baddies of the series, who are parasites that can control their host, rule huge chunks of the universe, and appear to prefer masquerading as gods as their means of control.
The stargate wiki has some interesting information about the language as well as a dictionary. (I have yet to hear an announcement of the formation of a Goa’uld Language Institute)

Two things caught my attention in the wiki. The authors suggest evidence of language contact in the lexicon of the Goa’uld language. They have incorporated words into their language from the language of the Unas their original hosts on their home planet before they discovered the stargate and burst out into the universe. Of earthly languages,  the wiki suggests Mayan, Latin, Arabic and above all Egyptian as sources of borrowing or influence. The written form of the language uses hieroglyphs which makes sense as they posed as Egyptian gods.

Other dialects were apparently written in Linear A and B!

The other things that struck me about the Goa’uld is my assumpthin that  here represents the glottal stop. For English speakers the glottal stop seems to be an easy and formulaic way of exoticising language. The presence of this extremely mundane consonant which has a minor role in the phonology of English, is some kinds of linguistic shorthand for strange and foreign. One wonders whether it is because in lay terms it might be characterised as a sound without sound or simply because the apostrophe is an unexpected device for representing phonology rather than punctuation, just as in what I would call the heavy metal umlaut. Readers familiar with German orthography will now what I am talking about. I refer to the diaeresis or double dots placed above certain vowels graphemes in that language to distinguish separate vowel phonemes. The symbol _ä_ represents a sound distinct from _a_. The heavy metal genre seems to have adopted the diaeresis as a distinctive marker i.e. Motörhead, .- if you see a band title with it you know they are metal … well except for Björk … hers are necessary.


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