Friends of Semantic Compositions

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April 10, 2004


The Tensor

"The Tensor" is my nom de blog. Compared to writing out "Tenser, said the Tensor", it's terser :). I (and you, and Mark Liberman) have also used TstT as an abbreviation for the name of the blog.


Dr Ransom, the hero of C.S. Lewis's interplanetary trilogy: unfortunately he claims he deliberately cuts out all the linguistic detail because it wouldn't be of interest to the general reader, leaving us with a few tantalizing plurals (such as séroni of sorn).


Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book are about a literary detective. Linguistic references are smattered throughout e.g. within BookWorld there are Grammasites (technically known as Gerunds or Ingers) which are parasitic life forms that live inside books and feed on grammar.


What about Star Trek: Enterprise and Hoshi Sato - She doesn't do much linguistically in the show other than appear to pick up alien languges incredibly quickly.

with her very first mission, Hoshi discovered that being a linguist involves quick thinking on one's feet in situations where the safety of the crew is at stake

It looks like the future for linguists is full of adventure and danger.

Semantic Compositions

I didn't know about Star Trek: Enterprise. Truth be told, I've seen every episode of the original series, maybe 80% of TNG, about a dozen episodes of Deep Space Nine, just the pilot episode of Voyager, and none of Enterprise.

I'm glad you raised that, though. After reading Asimov's Foundation books earlier this year, and rereading the Dune series, I started drafting something about how sci-fi authors seem to be predicting the end of language diversity. I never finished it, but now I'll go back and have another look.


Milo, the hero in the movie Atlantis, is a linguist. And Milo looks curiously like the creator of the Atlantean language, Marc Okrand, who the lead animator said was the first linguist he'd ever met.

But out of all the times the Enterprise visited scientists at remote outposts, never once were they researching the verb prefix structure of an isolated Andorian tribe. There must be quite a talented team of linguists back at Starfleet Headquarters, working on the Universal Translator.

David Elworthy

What about the (dreadful, unreadable) Suzette Haden Elgin books: Native Tongue and its sequels. Not only do they have linguists amongst the characters, but place the Whorf hypothesis right in the middle of the plot; and they are also written by a linguist.


I just thought of more literary linguists: the people working on the newest Newspeak dictionary in Orwell's 1984 must be linguists. I don't think that's the title they are given, but what other profession would have the task of reducing the language to the smallest possible set of words?

Semantic Compositions

I think those people are lexicographers, not linguists. Although it's hard to say; a lexicographer generally catalogs existing words, while the Newspeakers are busy making them up. So maybe they're linguists after all.

joe tomei

I'm not sure how a person who goes to see Scooby Doo 2 could miss this, but the main character in the movie Stargate is a linguist. In fact, there's a line where Kurt Russell, who plays the tough as nails soldier, tells James Spader, who plays the linguist "you go, you're the linguist" or something like that.

There's also a short story about O. Henry entitled Calloway's Code that has a newspaper getting a scoop because of fixed collocations. It can be found in _Teaching Collocation_ by Michael Lewis.

A reader

James Spader played a linguist in the movie Stargate, I think, and there was a wild mystery novel called Box Nine, by Jack O'Connell, that featured not only a dashing linguist but a language-related drug called Lingo.

Henry IX

The characters are not linguists, but there is a good bit of information of linguistic interest in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", and "Silmarillion".


A couple of linguists I came up with in an entry over on my blog: Walter Pidgeon as Dr Morpheus (described as the ship's philologist) in Forbidden Planet (1956) and Winnie as herself in Sherman's March (1986). See the comments for more movies.

Dorothea Salo

Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Pathways of Desire." One major character is a linguist, story turns on a point of linguistics (don't want to be any less vague than that for fear of spoiling it).

The Silmarillion actually contains a gem of an example of imposed language change... that Feanor, he had some odd ideas...

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