Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Prison-house of Language, by Elana Gomel

★★★☆☆ Average

(SF Adventure) Sophia has extraordinary language abilities, although speaking is acutely painful. She’s called in to investigate a group of people in an experiment who’ve started speaking an unknown language. (5,626 words; Time: 18m)

"," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 118, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.169 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The surface plot is about Sophia figuring out the mystery. What language are those people speaking and what are they saying?

I have a masters in linguistics, and I was delighted that most of the bits of linguistics described in the story were spot-on. In particular, it’s quite true that human language is so different from what other animals have that people have scratched their heads trying to figure out how it might have evolved.

Con: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was discredited long ago. “Nothing is ineffable,” as one of my professors liked to say, so there actually is no “prison-house of language.”

It feels like a bit of a cheat that Sophia never tells us what the message was, nor does she come up with anything to help those people.

It’s also a little odd that so much is put into telling the story of her and her parents without it ever amounting to anything.

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1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I, a language enthusiast, also appreciated the linguistics in this story.

    To add to your con, even if we accept Sapir-Whorf at face value as the characters do, it doesn't really make sense that shutting off the genes encoding for language would help with this. It's like cutting out your eyes because you can only see the visible spectrum.