April 12th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; crosscultural communication; Foreigner series...

dagoski has suggested that we discuss CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series here, with the idea that it might be useful to talk about crosscultural communication between the Terrans/ETS in those novels as a metaphor for exploring crosscultural communication here on Earth. I'm willing to try doing that. With two warnings...

First: I've never done a discussion like this one before, and it may turn out that I'm not good at it; we'll see. If the discussion is dreary and boring -- which won't be dagoski's fault in any way -- we'll give it a prompt and decent burial.

Second, for those of you who haven't read the Foreigner books: Even without having done this before, it's clear to me that spoilers are going to creep into the discussion. I don't see any way we can take up the communication problems and discuss them thoroughly without bringing in information that gives things away, no matter how hard we try. I can only say that I'll do everything I can to keep spoilers to a bare minimum.

That said, my suggestion would be that we begin with the following, to prime the pump:

1. The Wikipedia article about the series, which is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreigner_universe

[Note: The two "external links" at the end of the article appear to be largely inactive for this topic.]

2. An earlier post about the Foreigner series in this journal, at

3. A Strange Horizons review of the series novel Deliverer by Siobhan Carroll, at

4. A brief piece about the ETs in the Foreigner series -- the atevi -- by tj9582, at

5. And -- on the off chance that you're not familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis [mentioned in 2] -- an earlier post on that subject, at

Over to you....

[Thanks to countrycousin for the working link in #1.]

Nonfiction online: "How Verbal Self-Defense Works" at http://people.howstuffworks.com/vsd.htm ; "Why Are Old Women Older Than Old Men And How Can We Fix That?" at http://www.seniorwomen.com/articles/articlesElginOld.html ; Religious Language Newsletter archive at http://www.forlovingkindness.org ; Fiction online: "We Have Always Spoken Panglish" at http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/Story-Panglish.html ; "What The EPA Don't Know Won't Hurt Them" at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/epa.htm ; "Weather Bulletin" at http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/Weather.html ; "A Quorum Of Grandmothers" at http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/QuorumOfGrandmothers.html ; The Communipaths at http://www.jackiepowers.com/SuzetteHadenElgin/TheCommunipaths.html . More stuff at http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/SiteMap.html ; LiveJournal blog index at http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=ozarque .
ozarque figure

Linguistics; crosscultural communication; Foreigner series; part two...

Maybe I could help with a starter question....

Consider the fact that the female extraterrestrials in the Foreigner series -- the female atevi -- are larger and stronger than male Terrans, making them easily able to pick up Terran males and carry them around. We're not used to that here on Earth; although we know there may be rare outlier exceptions, our expectation is that males will be able to pick up and carry females, but not vice versa.

So... Would that cause problems for Terran males when they were interacting with female atevi?

If you're a human man, would knowing that this atevi woman could easily pick you up and haul you away interfere with your communication with her? Would that difference in strength make you feel uncomfortable in front of Terran women, or in front of Terran children? Would it make you talk differently? Would it change your body language? Suppose an atevi woman made a sudden move in your direction ... would you jump back like a startled deer?

Suppose your Terran wife (or partner) asked an atevi woman to lift or move something, because she thought it was too heavy for you to lift or move; would you be offended? Would you feel tempted -- or obliged -- to ask your wife/partner never to do that again?

If you were the Terran wife in question, and your husband made that request of you, would that lead to communication problems between the two of you? Would you be tempted to tell him not to be so childish, for example? And if you gave in to that temptation, how do you suppose he would react?