Monday, 24 February 2014

Divergent Languages

Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006).

Historical divergence implies linguistic divergence but a language that has not diverged too far yet might still be comprehensible. In "Delenda Est," Poul Anderson writes a few sentences that we understand and take to be in an existing European language - but then we are told that they are not.

When, coping inside an alternative timeline, Everard claims to understand a little Cimbric, his interlocutor responds:

"'Ah, aen litt. Gode!...Ik hait Boierik Wulfilasson ok main gefreond heer erran Boleslav Arkonsky.'" (p. 208)

We are told that Everard has never heard of this language but nevertheless follows it reasonably well although speaking it will be a problem because "...he couldn't predict how it had evolved." (ibid.)

That does not prevent him from trying:

"'What the hell erran thu macking, anyway?' he blustered. 'Ik bin aen man auf Sirius - the stern Sirius, mit planeten ok all. Set uns gebach or willen be der Teufel to pay!'
"Boierik Wulfilasson looked pained..." (ibid.)

- as well he might. Anderson wrote some humor and I think that this passage counts as an example of that.

But the main point in this passage is that Anderson composed a couple of sentences in one of the languages of an alternative history, then incorporated them into his text so that we read and understood them before we realized what they were.

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