Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Language Sheath, by Regina Kanyu Wang

[Clarkesworld]
★★★☆☆

(SF Drama) A teenager struggles to relate to his mother who’s trying to help build an automatic translation system so he can speak their language more like a native. (8,674 words; Time: 28m)


"," by (translated by Emily Jin and Regina Kanyu Wang, edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 164, published on .

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

Review: 2020.271 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: On a technical level, this story is quite good. I have a master’s degree in computational linguistics, and the linguistic terminology is spot-on. The story credits Ken Liu for helping, and it really shows.

Even the requirement that Ilsa record thousands of hours of speaking is reasonable, given the huge amounts of data that machine learning requires for training. That also gives the author an excuse to deliver infodumps: Ilsa is struggling to find things to talk about.

Beyond that, it’s the story of Ilsa’s attempt to “fix” her son, whom she considers defective due to his poor command of his native language, and it’s also the story of his rebellion against it.

Con: The biggest problem is that there’s not a lot of story here. I feel like the problem between the two of them is set up, and it comes to a climax, but then we don’t see the outcome.

Yakk is what linguists call a “heritage” speaker, which are children of immigrants who speak (or at least comprehend) their parents’ native language but in an imperfect way. It’s a little unrealistic that Yakk has become a heritage speaker without leaving his native country.

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