Thursday, April 16, 2009

Darmok and Jilaad

So there's this Star Trek Next Gen episode where Picard gets kidnapped by this alien race that they're trying for a 2nd "first contact" with. You see, the universal translator can't make heads or tails of this race's language and that led to war or something the first time around.

But the alien leader (we'll call him "Not-Gorn" for reasons that are obvious to those who have seen both this episode and the classic Trek episode with the Gorn - not the Enterprise Gorn, the classic Gorn. I'm still mad at Enterprise for its Gorn) knows that the same thing will happen again unless he can get someone to understand their language. So he kidnaps Picard and puts the two of them into a stressful situation (kinda like with the original Gorn except with no outside force manipulating things...and without the homemade bazooka) where they have to work together against this random energy beast in order to survive. Since stress is apparently the best way to learn a language, of course Picard picks it right up...just before the not-Gorn dies of his energy beast-inflicted wounds.

So their language is metaphorical, and based on their mythology. Now, don't get me started as to how completely absurd it is that this system of language could work in "real life" (it's just entirely too unwieldy), but be that as it may, there are days around here where I feel like I'm Picard in that episode. AJ is the not-Gorn, and the "random energy beast" is played by his emotional state (i.e., toddler meltdowns that could kill us all...or incessant whining that could cause _me_ to meltdown).

Not only am I dealing with trying to decipher poor enunciation...but it's like he's got this whole mythos that he's pulling words or phrases from - a mythos that, while I was probably present for its founding, I have zero knowledge of. So I have to infer from the context a) what the words are, and b) what they mean. Sometimes I can then think back to figure out their etymology. Often not.

There's the "hey you." He got it because VNB says it to him frequently as a greeting. So now when AJ wants something and/or doesn't think he has our complete and undivided attention, it's "Mama, mama, hey you!"

And the "yes sir" (or "yeah sir" as it comes out). This interestingly came from him hearing the negative. Both VNB and I say "no sir" when we correct him. We've very occasionally said that he should say "yes sir" or "yes ma'am" in response to a command or question, but not often enough for it to have possibly sunk in. But occasionally he'll just come up to me and say very distinctly, "yeah sir" over and over again like it's supposed to mean something special to me. All I can do is correct him to say "yes ma'am" (sounds like: "yeah man")...but I have no idea what he's actually trying to communicate.

And then there's the "wa wa wa." Lately he'll start almost all of his sentences off with "Wa wa wa ____ ." I think this is "want" with a couple of extra syllables (and sometimes the last "wa" is "watch").

Someday I'll figure this language out. Then I, too, can say "Darmok and Jilaad at Tenaagra. Shahka, when the walls fell." and know what the heck we're talking about.

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