Applied Linguistics

by 

How are your studies progressing? The liaison asked, once he was within range of the professor. The professor, a hoary man whose moustache seemed to be made of white wire, glanced up before placing his stylus on the desk beside his tablet.

They’re progressing, he answered, taking full advantage of the psychotonal range of telepathy. He seemed frustrated, rushed, annoyed to be interrupted, but ultimately hopeful and satisfied with the development of the project. It was a lie: the professor was not at all satisfied. As someone who had spent decades studying telepathic linguistics, however, he was more than qualified to fake it.

We’re still waiting on your report, the liaison reminded. The Department of Communications is-

The Department of Communications can wait. It took a great deal of skill to interrupt a thought, but fortunately, the professor possessed a great deal of skill. This is a sensitive matter, and I’ve only been given enough funding to test on English speakers and Japanese speakers. If I had more linguistic diversity in my test pool, the research would progress much faster.

Two native languages should be more than enough, the liaison argued. Your language isn’t related to either of them.

It’s not just a matter of language. Come here.

The liaison stepped to the desk, where his eyes followed the professor’s moving stylus across the glowing tablet. A fresh line of symbols made their meaning apparent: language is only the beginning.

You can read that, the professor observed, and the liaison nodded. How?

That’s your field, he replied.

It’s because your concept of beginning and your concept of language fall within the range of understanding. Your lifestyle and experiences contextualize the meaning. What’s a beginning, to you?

The start of something.

The start of what?

I don’t know. A project, maybe.

Like a research project?

Or development. The beginning is the blueprint, the business plan.

To some people, the beginning is the spring in the mountain that feeds their village’s river. In order for those people to read this and find the same meaning that you did, the word “beginning” has to represent both of those concepts.

The liaison nodded. But why would we need to communicate with people like that?

The professor blinked, answering with mental silence.

We have no reason to trade with them.

Language is for more than trade.

You’re being paid to create a written form of telepathy that can be used for international relations. International relations means commerce.

The professor etched a quick note that was immediately swallowed by the tablet.

If you want funding, you have to produce something useful. Talking to jungle tribes is all well and good, but this is applied linguistics, not theory.

I’ll redirect my research, the professor replied without psychoinflection, again scrawling something onto the glowing surface.

What are you writing?

I’m reworking the symbol for language, the professor answered. Apparently, I’ve been misinterpreting it for years.

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