Linguistics and SFF: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

12 Jul

I’ve been thinking about ways in which I could use this blog to discuss things that I don’t see a lot on other blogs.  There are so many, many blogs out there, even if we limit it to writing blogs, or SFF writing blogs.  I don’t have any published SFF novels, so writing process is right out for a main topic.

But something I do have is a completed major in Linguistics, knowledge of several diverse foreign languages, a background in con-langing, a love of world-building, and an irritation with incorrect portrayal of culture and language.

So I’m going to do a series of posts about language and constructed language.  I’d like to highlight both good and bad examples of language and con-langing, and while I’m at it, I’m sure there’s going to be some stuff on cultural appropriation.  Because mis-use of language and con-language comes hand-in-hand with mis-use of culture.  As my first example is going to demonstrate.

The first post in the series is going to be an analysis of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer, an Asian-inspired steam-punk fantasy.  There’re some lovely examples of linguistic appropriation, and of a language that gets a great deal of attention in popular culture, but is often misunderstood.

There have been several analyses of this book before, and some of them really good, but none that have gotten into both the technical aspects of linguistics, the appropriation of culture, and the mechanics of writing in the way that I hope to get into them.

Now, many of those posts have been very critical of Kristoff, and I can’t deny that mine will have some criticism as well, but I will do my best to avoid some of the ad hominem and attacks on Kristoff that I have seen in other commentary.

I want to give this clear disclaimer:  I do not normally read books I don’t enjoy past the point I realize I don’t enjoy them.  However, for the purposes of this series, I did read the entire book.  My goal isn’t to declare this book good or bad, or to declare Kristoff a good or bad writer.  My only goal is to shed some light on how language–and, in some cases, culture– is perceived and used in SFF writing and the SFF community.

I will be using some technical linguistic terminology, and possibly some sociological and anthropological terms.  I will try to explain the terms and the necessary background behind them, but this is not a linguistics lecture course.  I’m going to assume some familiarity with language and linguistics in my discussion.  Because there should really be more of it in the SFF community.

Update:  Since I couldn’t even read every book that might be relevant to this subject in three life-times, much less dredge through all of SFF for examples, I’d love to hear suggestions from people as to what books they’d like to see analyzed.  (Tolkien and Paolini are currently off-limits, sorry.)

Update 2: List of Linguistics and SFF posts: Linguistics and SFF

Linguistics and SFF: Stormdancer and the Japanese Language


Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


Tags: , , , , ,

3 responses to “Linguistics and SFF: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Tex Thompson (@tex_maam)

    July 12, 2013 at 9:34 PM

    You have my undivided attention.

    • atsiko

      July 13, 2013 at 2:02 AM

      First post published.


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