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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Arrival: linguistic relativity at the movies

I was at the public library today with my sister. They have a display that features books at the library that have been made into movies and I noticed today that one of the movies in the display was Arrival ...

a 2016 American science fiction drama film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by author Ted Chiang. The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker .... When multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers—and to find them, Banks, Donnelly, and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

I took note because had recently watched a trailer for the film at the Apple movie trailer place and thought it looked really interesting. Here's the trailer ...

The book the movie is based on is Story of Your Life ...

a science fiction short story by Ted Chiang. It was the winner of the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella as well as the 1999 Sturgeon award. The major themes explored by this tale are determinism, language, and an interesting take on the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.

Here's the beginning of an article from Tor ...

Your First Look at Arrival, the Adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Novella Story of Your Life

USA Today has released the first images from Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming adaptation of Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life and one of Paramount’s most anticipated films this year. We get our first look at Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as a linguist and a physicist whose specialties are utilized when aliens land all over Earth and humans scramble to find a way to communicate with their extraterrestrial visitors, who possess a bizarre verbal and visual language.

This film has been in the works since 2012 but recently gained traction after Eric Heisserer (The Thing remake, Lights Out) revised the script and Adams and Renner signed on. Renner, who plays physicist Ian Donnelly, told USA Today that the movie’s tone is “if you blended a [Stanley] Kubrick and a [Steven] Spielberg movie,” and that the end result comes out closer to Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind than “a big Michael Bay alien movie”—which makes sense, since the entire story is about first contact. Summoned by the military, linguist Louise Banks (Adams) must learn the aliens’ two languages: the verbal Heptapod A, with its free word order, and the much more complex and visual Heptapod B.

Reeling from personal turmoil, Louise struggles to relate to these otherworldly creatures. Adams praised the fact that “[t]his isn’t a graphic-novel universe or creating a new universe. This happens in our world today, as it exists. Not having to transport myself to a universe where superheroes exist, which is also fun, really helped me ground the character and the experience.” Speaking of worldbuilding, she said, “Denis and the team have done a great job with the visuals and getting to something that looks familiar and not completely abstract.” ......

Sp what's the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (linguistic relativity)? ...

[A]lso known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis or Whorfianism, [it] is a concept-paradigm in linguistics and cognitive science that holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers' cognition or world view. It used to have a strong version that claims that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories. The more accepted weak version claims that linguistic categories and usage only influence thoughts and decisions.

I vaguely remember this stuff from philosophy classes in college ... Quine, Searle, Wittgenstein. I found it hard to understand but this short video is pretty good at explaining it ....

Applying this stuff to an encounter with aliens should be interesting :)


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1:14 AM  

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