Sociolinguistics in Space: Firefly

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

It’s time for more Linguistics in pop culture! Today I’ll be talking a bit about the show Firefly and the language used in it. Firefly takes place about 500 years in the future, when humanity has colonized another star system with hundreds of planets and moons, many terraformed for human habitation. The show follows a mixed crew from several walks of life in a small smuggling ship as they take whatever jobs they can get to keep flying. It’s a fantastic, unique blend of western and sci-fi which does a great job of focusing on the characters and world instead of just being another flashy fight scene riddled action show. If you like flashy fight scenes, don’t worry, it does have them. Firefly is a beloved cult classic for sci-fi enthusiasts and it is well worth your time (and your linguistic interest!)

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The crew of the firefly class ship Serenity

Spoiler Alert: While I won’t be talking about main plot points, there will be some spoilers

 

There are a couple linguistic things I want to talk about in Firefly. First up is the use of Mandarin Chinese in the show. Over the course of the series we often see the characters using Chinese to swear or insult others. While these are the most common uses, others do come up, such as pet names or terms of endearment. In the context of this airing on TV, it’s pretty obvious that Joss Whedon, the creator of the show, used this as a way to get around censorship. Other nonsense words, such as gorram, were also added for the same purpose. Within the universe, however, there is a bit more to dig into. Firefly establishes that the two superpowers which sent colony ships to the new star system from “Earth that was” were the US and China. In addition, most people are bilingual in English and Chinese as a consequence, though everyone still use English the vast majority of the time on the planets visited in the show.

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Jayne with his favorite hat

What I find really interesting about this setting is how Whedon actually pays some attention to the impacts culture and history have on language. It is, of course, too much to expect that a show emulates 500 years of language change in its speech, especially considering that it would be almost unintelligible by that point anyway. But I appreciate that Firefly does more than just have a bunch of sci-fi sounding tool names and phrases. The inclusion of small Chinese phrases, whether insults, swears, or pet names, indicates thought given to the linguistic aspect of the universe beyond giving another species their own language.

 

The other major aspect of the language in Firefly I want to talk about is the dialectical difference between Core world speakers and border planet and Rim speakers. People from the Core world tend to speak very grammatically and formally. Dr. Simon Tam, Inara, and Shepherd Book are good examples of this, all being raised on Core worlds. Inara, being born on a primarily Chinese planet, would be a second language speaker of English, but taught by other Core world speakers. Speakers from the Rim and the border planets, however, use a stigmatized dialect similar to that of stereotypical American Frontier speech. The entire culture of the frontier worlds is based on the wild west, and this less formal dialect is where Chinese and slang terms for spaceflight invented for the show tend to be used. Some notable features of this dialect are -ly dropping, g dropping, double negatives, and ain’t. Several examples taken from the show can be found here

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Kaylee, the mechanic: “Machines just got workings, and they talk to me.”

While the costuming and set design make a very clear distinction between the richer Core worlds and the poorer border planets, the differences in language add a lot of authenticity to the universe. Dialectical differences are used all the time to make judgments about people, whether consciously or unconsciously, and the addition of the elaborate dialects, phrases, and jargon to Firefly enabled us to relate to and understand the characters much better. It was, in my opinion, an absolutely crucial element of world building. Were everyone speaking the same dialect, the characters would have felt much more flat and uninteresting. Anecdotally, Firefly serves as a great example of how important linguistics is to the development of a show which cannot be left out, especially in sci-fi or fantasy worlds.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings on one of my favorite shows. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, despite it having been cut far too short by Fox.

The LINGUIST List staff is passionate about investigating the ways that linguistics interacts with human culture and media. We rely on funding from readers like you to continue hosting a wide range of academic tools and resources useful to linguists like you. Please consider donating to our Fund Drive to support not only the continuation of these resources, but also the students who maintain them, and the mission of the global linguistics community.

Thanks once again!

Nils Hjortnaes

We’re Almost There!

 

Dear LINGUIST List subscribers and readers,

LL is nearing the Fund Drive Goal! This year we set our goal at $40,000. The fund drive is important for keeping LL afloat, staffed, and ready to support the global linguistics community. As of today, we are at just under 74% of our goal, leaving a little over $10,000 remaining. Th LINGUIST List serves a total subscriber base of over 30,000 readers from all over the world. If everyone donated just $5, we’d hit our goal by the end of the day!

When you support the LINGUIST List, you support the global linguistics community. LL provides access to important academic resources to researchers and linguistics the world over–support LINGUIST List so LINGUIST List can continue supporting you!

Thanks for being with us over the last 29 years.

Best wishes,
–The LL Team

A Brief History of the LINGUIST List

Hello LINGUIST Listers,

Thanks again for visiting our blog!

Today, we would like to give you a little insight about the beginnings of the website. Did you know that the LINGUIST List was one of the first sites on the web? (You may have guessed as much from our “classic” layout). It was originally started in the year 1990 before web browsers (or the internet for that matter) had become popular among the general public. The website began its journey at the University of Western Australia with our founders, Professor Anthony Aristar and his wife, Professor Helen Aristar-Dry. Roughly one year later, the LINGUIST List made a quick move to Texas A&M University. The main editing site, however, was established at Eastern Michigan University where most of the life of the website has been centered. In 1994, the website already had over 5,000 subscribers. This may not sound like much nowadays but considering the relative number of internet users at the time, this was quite a lot! It was around this time that the LINGUIST List even held its own online conference. In the following years the LINGUIST List made a few more moves. In 1997 it moved away from Texas A&M to its own site, in 1998 a second editing site was established at Wayne State University, and in 2006 all of the LINGUIST List’s operations moved to Eastern Michigan University. Five years later in 2013, our original founders retired and handed off the reigns to our current moderators, Professors Damir and Malgorzata Cavar. Finally, in 2014, the LINGUIST List moved to Indiana University where it currently resides today.

Over this period of time the LINGUIST List has accumulated a number of useful resources, many of which we have detailed in some of our other blog posts. We are only able to offer these services, however, with the help of our generous community members like yourself. Our fund drive is currently ongoing and we need your help to continue making the linguistics community awesome. Your donations in particular strengthen the linguistics community by providing resources and valuable information to your fellow linguists. Join us in this endeavor by donating what you can today!

One of the oldest websites on the internet

With gratitude,

The LINGUIST List Team

Have you heard of LINGUIST List’s Geoling Service?

GeoLing is a map service that displays on a global map all linguistics information posted to LINGUIST List  — from jobs, to conferences, to internships. The LINGUIST List posts to the mailing list only events of global relevance, but if you want to inform the community about any local events in your area, GeoLing is the tool you want to use. When you submit events to GeoLing, they are not only displayed on the GeoLing map, but also forwarded to all LINGUIST List pages on social media. They will be also made accessible via Amazon Alexa.

 

Find events in your area using Geoling’s global map!

Any information that contains geo-coordinates or addresses – when  posted on LINGUIST List (using the structured submission interface on its website: http://linguistlist.org/LL/posttolinguist.cfm) is instantly mapped on GeoLing and does not need to be separately posted on GeoLing

 

If you want to make public information about:

  • Talks and meetings at your local departments
  • Colloquium presentations
  • Workgroup meetings
  • The office address of your institution, department, program
  • Book presentations
  • Language resources, data sets, tools
  • And other information of local and regional interest

submit the announcements to GeoLing!

 

GeoLing runs on all major browsers and on mobile devices.

 

To learn how to submit a local event, please visit: http://geoling.linguistlist.org/howto/

 

To add a local event, please visit: http://geoling.linguistlist.org/add/

 

The LINGUIST List team will release the entire code of the GeoLing app on GitHub in the next days! Stay tuned and watch for updates at:

 

https://github.com/dcavar/GeoLing

 

We will continue to put our full efforts into GeoLing and expand its capabilities and features. You are welcome to join us and help us by forking the GitHub repo.

Lastly, we ask that you all please consider making a donation to Fund Drive 2018. To keep our services, such as the cool, exciting and most of all FREE GeoLing, and all of our other features up and running  we need your help. Please consider supporting The LINGUIST List in our 2018 Fund Drive by making a donation at http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

 

 

 

Support like yours is vital to our ongoing efforts to upgrade and develop services like GeoLing. We hope you will continue to support us so we can better support you!

Enjoy!

Yours,

The LINGUIST List Team

Featured Staff: Meet Everett Green

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,

My name is Everett Green and I am a new editor here at the LINGUIST List. I work on calls and conferences along with Ken and I will also be editing a number of other miscellaneous sections on the website as time goes on. I am a PhD student in Computational Linguistics here at Indiana University and thoroughly enjoy the work we do in the department.

As a relatively new linguist (my undergraduate degree was in Psychology) working at the LINGUIST List has shown me just how vibrant the international linguistics community is. The sheer number of conferences posted to our website each day is far beyond what I would have estimated it to be prior to beginning work here. Being privy to such information has only helped me to further appreciate the opportunity to perform such critical work for the linguistics community. It is quite the honor to help scientists and researchers around the world to collaborate on a vast number of projects that may have major impacts on the ways in which we navigate even the most minute moments of our lives. Resources like those hosted on the LINGUIST List help to speed the rate of progress in the field of linguistics and spread the word about the great conferences that you are all hosting and attending. The fact that we can make these resources available to so many people is a testament to just how effective the internet has been in connecting us with others around the world.

As some of our other staff members have mentioned in their posts, the work we do here at the LINGUIST List would not be possible without donations from scientists, researchers, and interested individuals like yourself and I express my deepest gratitude for your patronage. If you find any of our services useful, please consider making a donation so that we can continue making the website an awesome, ever more useful resource for people like you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day,

– Everett Green

Support the LINGUIST List Year Round with Amazon Smile

Dear Readers,

We are approaching 70% of our Fund Drive goal! Thank you so much to all of our donors who have generously supported us so far. If you haven’t yet, we ask that you consider joining their ranks by visiting our Fund Drive homepage and helping us reach our goal!

Did you know you can support us anytime through Amazon Smile? When you use Amazon Smile to shop online, Amazon donates a portion of your purchase to the eLinguistics Foundation, the non-profit behind the LINGUIST List. The best part: this donation is made at no extra cost to you! Visit Amazon Smile today to support us year-round!

Yours Gratefully,

The LINGUIST List Team

Syntax is leading in the Subfield Challenge!

 

Hello again linguists and supporters! Check out our most recent challenge rankings to find out where your university or subfield stands!

In the Subfield Challenge:
Syntax dominates with a total of $4847 in donations!
Computational Linguistics comes up second with $3600.
Sociolinguistics comes in third with a total of $2649.

In the University Challenge:
University of Washington looks to win for a second year in a row with a total of $2745 from 39 donors.
Indiana University, our proud host institution, comes in second with $2275 from 24 donors.
Stanford University still holds third with $1370 from 20 donors.

Region Challenge:
North American leads with 287 total donors.
Europe maintains a strong second place with 144 donors.
Asia retains third with 27 donors.

Country Challenge:
The US continues in the lead with 259 donors.
Germany comes in second with 42 donors.
Canada hold third with 28 donors.

We’re grateful for your support and participation. Three cheers to our donors, who’ve been behind us for nearly three decades.
–The LL Team

Featured Staff: Meet Nils Hjortnaes

Dear LINGUIST List subscribers,

Nils Hjortnaes, LINGUIST List programmer

My name is Nils Hjortnaes and I’m a web developer here at LINGUIST List. I’m currently working on the new website fixing any issues that may come up, making it as user friendly as possible, and getting everything running smoothly and cleanly with all the functionality of our old website. If you’re curious how much progress we’ve made, you can check the new site out here.

I am currently an M.A. student in Computational Linguistics here at Indiana University, and I am extremely fortunate to have a job at Linguist List which can support me while I continue down this road to finish my Master’s and into a PhD. It is an honor to be able to support the community through such an important resource as the LINGUIST List.

When I first started my graduate program here, I thought the LINGUIST List was just a site to find jobs and conferences. I have since learned that it does so much more, hosting blogs, forums, various resources, and bringing the linguistic community together, among other things. All of this, including updating the website to be easier, faster, and more friendly to use, is only possible through your donations.

Through your support, we are able to continue hosting and providing so many resources to the linguistic community, as well as support students such as myself who are the backbone of maintaining, improving, and running these valuable resources. We therefore ask that you consider supporting us and the entire community by donating to our fund drive.

From all of us here at the LINGUIST List, thank you very much!

Best,
Nils Hjortnaes
Web Developer

Fun Fact: Multitree edition

Hey everyone,

Ken here with another fun fact for our 2018 Fund Drive campaign. Did you know that LINGUIST List maintains a number of different projects in addition to our listserv, website and social media announcements? We host and maintain projects like Multitree, LL-Map and Qenaga. Today, I’m going to be talking about Multitree.

 

Multitree is a searchable database of proposed language family trees. Multitree was created by going through hundreds of books and recording the proposed genetic relationships in those books. When you search a language or language family, like Niger-Congo, you get an interactive map where you can expand nodes to dive further down a branch of the tree. You can also view a citation for where this tree was taken from.

Multitree is a valuable resource for linguists like you and a fun, interactive way to introduce students to language family trees. It facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration with linguists to reach more accurate conclusions about human language, culture, and history.

 

For more information on Multitree visit http://new.multitree.org/about and for information on how to navigate Multitree and some of the advanced functionality visit http://new.multitree.org/help.

If you appreciate services like Multitree that we continue to maintain and support, please donate to our 2018 Funddrive campaign (https://funddrive.linguistlist.org).

Featured Staff: Meet Paige Goulding

Hello LINGUIST List Subscribers!

My name is Paige and I am the local web developer here at LINGUIST List, working on a new site for you, our users. I joined the LINGUIST List team in the summer of 2017 thanks to your generous donations and support. I have been working on a new general layout and a submission page to make browsing and submitting to our website easier, faster, and more aesthetically pleasing. I also make promotional graphics, like the ones you have been seeing this fund drive. We hope to roll out aspects of the new site in the next month or two, so you can see exactly how your donations impact what we can do here at the LINGUIST List. If you would like a sneak peak on what we are working on you can check out our previous blog post!

The LINGUIST List has been my place of employment during my master’s program in Computational Linguistics here at IU. I came to IU for the reputation of CL program and for the many amazing things happening at IU’s campus. What I didn’t know was that The LINGUIST List was located here. It was a service I used often in my undergrad as a way of browsing journals and checking out future jobs. I was ecstatic to be hired at the end of my first year at IU to work for a company that I knew had a major impact on the linguistics community.

Your support during this year’s fund drive supports the editors and programmers that help keep the LINGUIST List as a pillar of the linguistic community. Without your support, we would not be able to do all the exciting new things like renovating our website and updating our submission forms. If you would like to continue supporting the LINGUIST List in our endeavors to serve and support the linguistic community, please consider donating to our current fund drive. Thank you from me and all of us here at LINGUIST List.

Cheers,

Paige