February 16th 2017
Today I watched Arrival, and heard a story that I really wished was true.
The story that Amy Adams’ character tells is this:
When Captain Cook landed in Australia, he and his team were greeted by Aboriginals. With the Aboriginals were those hoppy, marsupials with pouches. Cook’s crew had never seen these animals before, so as a way of commuting with the Aboriginals, a crew member pointed at the animal and said ‘what is that called?’ and the Aborigine replied ‘Kangaroo‘. So the team took that as the name for that animal. However, when they later learned the local language, they found out that ‘Kangaroo‘ is Aborigine for ‘I don’t understand’
I really wanted that story to be true. Because I think it’s a great historical example of a Westerner balling into a foreign town and expecting the locals to understand everything he says. Unfortunately, the story isn’t true. You can kind of tell that it isn’t true because there’s no way that the Aboriginals ‘greeted’ Captain Cook when he arrived in town.
I liked Arrival, but I wish it was more about the linguistics. I think as a concept it’s fascinating. If aliens do ever land on earth, chances are they won’t be speaking English, so we’d have to find some way of communicating with them.
The problem with Arrival is that they didn’t explain the language at all, they just kind of explained that Amy Adams had figured it out somehow. I think it would’ve been a lot cooler if there was actual logic to it. I also didn’t like the whole ‘our weapon/gift is our language/seeing into the future thing.”
I’d imagine that if aliens do ever land on earth, your average Brit will just speak like he does at a deli in France.
“Hiya mate two sausage sandwiches s’il vous plait,” and on the two he’ll hold up his index and ring finger – facing forward – in what he thinks is a peace sign.
Because there is this British assumption that there’s no point learning a language because every one else speaks English. And to some extent that’s true, and I agree with it, but I’d still love to be multilingual.
I think in England if you’re fluent in a language it’s seen as impressive.
“Wow, you speak French?”
Whereas in France it’s kind of required that you also speak English. “You don’t speak English? Then you cannot work in this McDonalds.”
Until tomorrow, if we’re that ignorant with the French then imagine what the Aliens are going to think.