Glenn's thread Και νεκρός ενίκα and his explanation of that phrase recalled a mythical language spoken by the Tamarian people in an episode of Star Trek. The usually useful "universal translator" failed with this language, since it used almost no specific "words" but was virtually all metaphorical phrases, the meaning of which would require an understanding of Tamarian culture and history, and that wasn't in the Federation database yet. This was a first encounter between the two races.
For example: "Darmak and Jalad at Tanagra" meant "cooperation" since it alluded to a story of two allies facing a common foe.
If you're not familiar with the plot line of that Star Trek episode, read this synopsis.
Of course, there are many metaphorical phrases in English with similar cultural origins. For example, "a herculean task." With no knowledge of our own mythology, that doesn't mean much to younger generations these days.
So here's my question, since I have no training in linguistics: Are there any languages (on Earth) that come even close to Tamarian? What's the language with the greatest number of metaphors in use? My first pure guess was perhaps some of the Aboriginal languages, but Wiki didn't bear that out. And a Google of "most metaphorical language" got me nowhere.
I loved that episode!
My favorite cultural reference example in English is not an idiom but would have nearly universal meaning: she was Juliet on her balcony.
I'm not sure about the language with the most metaphors, but Chinese has to be up there. Many common words are highly metaphoric: the word for "thing" consists of the two characters for east and west.
Chinese is loaded chock full of these infernal four-character phrases. Encountering a new one, I would recognize or look up each word, and still have no whit of an idea what it meant. One fairly easy one was "play guitar in front of a cow". Ie. "casting pearls before swine". They are loaded with cultural references.
Funny you should mention that episode just now. I just picked up Douglas Hofstadter's newest book Surfaces and Essences, which is all about metaphor in language. (For those who haven't followed his career, Hofstadter is famous for his work on analogies of all kinds, from the interlinked self-references of Gödel, Escher, Bach to the giveaway title Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies to his tour de force Le Ton beau de Marot about how difficult it is to translate the meaning of a poem along with the actual words.)
Anyway, it struck me as I was making my way through chapter two of the new book that while he's talking about words that encapsulate metaphors we no longer think of consciously until we try to explain them to someone less familiar with the language, that Darmak and Jalad would have been a great reference for him to make. Checked the index, though: nothing.
Pleased, but not at all surprised, that there are other fans of that Star Trek episode on this forum. On further exploration of that synopsis linked to in my first post, I discovered linguistics teachers are actually using that episode in their course of study. At least this one. [Scroll down to second-last paragraph.]
Other research found that producer Rick Berman at first didn't like the script … thought it was too esoteric with not enough action. His writers persisted, and it went on in a slightly modified form. Later, Berman was quoted as saying it was one of his favorite episodes ever.
Berman, his eyes opened!
I recall that episode, but the homage to Tamarian escaped me until you pointed it out, and I know I must have heard that line by Dr. Rasmussen.
In the recent documentary by Roddenberry's son he interviews Berman about how the series changed when he took over. No mention of the Darmok episode, but I found it interesting how Berman felt he was the "guardian of the mythology" (his words) and sought to maintain the internal consistency Roddenberry was always so adamant about. IMHO, he did a great job with that aspect of his productions. Berman's cameos by original cast members during several episodes of Next Generation did a lot for continuity. Had a hard time with the balding Patrick Stewart "replacing" Shatner, but his character quickly grew on me.
That documentary ends with an interview of J.J. Abrams on the new cast, and whether he was trying to achieve that same consistency. Roddenberry showed Abrams a video his father had made, where he talks about exactly that type of thing, admitting that if the "show must go on" he hopes future producers and writers will follow his tradition. Haven't seen Into Darkness yet, but in Star Trek (2009) I thought Abrams did an outstanding job, both in casting and plot line. Thought the choice of making "dark matter" a red liquid was a poor decision, but that was probably done by the special effects people.
Of course, since both these movies were prequels, he didn't have much choice in terms of internal consistency. The romantic involvement between Spock and Uhuru was a bit of a stretch for me, but I guess Abrams is entitled to some artistic license.
Jackie: Hard to avoid spoilers when you surf as much as I do, but all I really know at present is that it's basically the same theme as Wrath of Khan. Trailers look like it's got plenty of action. Planning to see it in the next week or two, and will PM you with my comments. Don't want this thread to diverge from "language" too much more than it already has.
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