Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do linguists wear red capes?

Q:  Why do linguists wear red capes?
A:  So they can streak to the site of their latest heroic caper, with a flattering crimson  fluttering out behind !

We have already seen how a linguist saved the world, here.

And now … from the case-files (one incident among many):

(Angel V.vii; synopsis from Wiki)
Fred asks Wesley to decipher some symbols found on the cyborg. Roger [Wesley's philological father]  reveals that Wesley had been Head Boy back at the Academy (noting, however, that the pickings were a bit slim that year), and Spike is delighted at the revelation. As Wesley begins to work, he accidentally activates a bomb. Wesley orders Fred to get as far away from the building as possible, announcing that he’ll stay back and try to defuse the bomb. Suddenly, the bomb stops, thanks to Roger, who had more accurately translated the symbols.    
Roger, you rock !@ !@   (Par for the course, in our line of work.)


(Continuing with the canon: Angel V.ix)

Gunn, having effectively received a brain-transplant, is now a master linguist, adept in the demonic languages (meaning:  things like Hungarian and Basque).  Speaking a little-known dialect of k!(l)µnNnNkxxx, he attempts to mediate between warring demon groups:

Gunn:  [basically untranslatable, but approximately:] All is well, O powerful one.  The summit can proceed.
Demon: Killer must be found !  Killer must be punished !
[Linguistic footnote:  k!(l)µnNnNkxxx is in fact perfectly well supplied with the definite/indefinite distinction, though there expressed, not by determiners, but by a kind of nasal inflammation.  The translation without the definite article is meant to reflect, not any supposed simplicity of the in fact mind-numbingly complex k!(l)µnNnNkxxx language, but rather a certain primitive lex talionis mentality on the part of the speaker.]
Gunn:  [speaking almost unaccented k!(l)µnNnNkxxx] You have our oath.
Angel (Gunn's boss): [amateurishly butting in, and butchering the retroflex nasals:]  Be disembowled!
Demon (screaming):  Filthy man-whore!  How dare you!
Gunn, smoothing things over in a particularly elegant katharevusa sociolect of k!(l)µnNnNkxxx:  He meant, ‘Be patient’.  The whore-man is a novice in your tongue and makes foolish errors.

Moral:  When language is an issue, you need a professional, fully-qualified linguist.  Accept no substitutes !

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