not an oscar category, but ….

May 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

So, we’re a little bit famous. Massey linguists have been in the news for working with two New Zealand filmmakers to make a futuristic dialect for a feature length film. We are connecting in a small way to an illustrious history of constructed languages for cinema which includes Marc Okrand the linguist responsible for the Klingon language for Star Trek and more recently Paul Frommer who created the language of the Na’vi as spoken by the blue people in Avatar. These alien languages have already appeared on *bling*, but the first cinematic outing of a language-using alien appears to date back to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The urbane English actor Michael Rennie playing Klaatu the alien who learnt English by listening to the BBC by the sound of it. In pop culture history however, the climax of the film is the movie’s most enduring moment. To save the earth from destruction, the heroine, played by Patricia Neal must utter a sentence? a phrase? in Klaatu’s native language ‘Gort, Klaatu barada nikto’.

It’s kind of lucky that she is speaking to a robot as she puts no inflection into what she is saying. In fact what the phrase means and how it is structured is never explained and to this day is the subject of conjecture. It lives on, though, through intertextuality having been quoted and misquoted in a number of movies, usually of the low budget sci-fi kind, in a remake of the original, and, oddly, in Two and a Half Men!

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