Posts Tagged ‘Ethnolinguistics/Sociolinguistics’

I’m not much into the idea of dating sims in general, but this one definitely caught my attention when I learned about it from 2DT’s site. My reasons for taking a closer look at this game are probably no different from what sparked the interest of other people in the blogsphere – this title is either a horrible insult and feat of fetishism, or a daring statement giving equal opportunity to the people facing disabilities, who are often ‘invisible’ in the media.

The whole idea is something that could only come about as a fan production. What company could risk the scorn they would likely get for the mere idea? It would actually be “weird” if the game sold too well. I think many people, me included, are only giving the production a fair chance because there’s no money involved.

But that’s all preconceptions, and what’s the real deal? Well, I’ve only had time to play through the introduction, but I can say there’s a spirit of sensitivity behind the writing. It helps that the main character we’re supposed to identify with stands on equal ground with the heroines – he only stays alive as long as he keeps pumping chemicals into his arrhythmic heart. But obviously that’s not something he wants to define who he is. And everyone else at the school is exactly the same, facing various difficulties, but holding their own ambitions and dreams unrelated to any disability.

The game is sure to get some flak and, even without reading it all, I can say there will be controversy about how particular scenes are handled. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. I think there is nothing wicked in the creators’ intentions, and I view this as a small contribution to breaking the status quo of complete silence.

And, as 2DT remarks elsewhere, the people behind it deserve props for just completing the project, regardless of content. We live in a fascinating age when people from all over the world can come together joined by nothing but a single idea and a will to act. I can’t stop finding that inspiring and beautiful.

On a different tangent, TWWK brings up what is called people-first language, a way of speaking used to shift focus from a person’s disability to the person itself. He notes that it is a way to “show love by being kind”. While watching out for how we speak can be part of good etiquette and a way of showing we care (not only when speaking with people with disabilities!), people-first language is a controversial idea because it’s implications extend beyond and individual’s informed choice about their manners.

Imagine you’re in a dark room. You can only see the outlines of things – barely enough to walk around without tripping over something. A friend invited you over for something to drink, and indeed, there seems to be some drinkware lined up on the table inside. As you approach to take one of the containers into your hand, your friend calls out: “Grab a mug and come here!”

When the magical keyword “mug” is spoken, your expectations about the unknown container change. You can start guessing how thick and heavy it is, the material it is made from and maybe even what your friend intends to drink. Think how different the answers to those questions would be if your friend mentioned a “cup” instead.

Mugs? Cups?

There’s no big problem in drinking beer from a teacup, and nobody can tell exactly how thin a mug can be before it stops being a mug. But the human mind needs to categorize, and once it categorizes, it associates and generalizes. Calling somebody a “nigger” is different from your average insult in that it expresses the belief in the existence of a naturally inferior race of people. Rude words are an individual’s problem. The beliefs and associations hiding behind those words are society’s problem, because words can only have meaning when shared and understood by a group.

What this all boils down to is that we need not only think about the listener when choosing our words – we should also think about the effect our words have on ourselves. Words have a magic power much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Call somebody disabled long enough, and the “technically correct” term might make you forget that the person is quite “able” to perform everyday actions their own way.

To what extent do the words we use direct our thinking process? That in itself is arguable. But it is certain the influence is there, in the subconsciousness, where we tend not to notice. And that’s why the proper terms to use, be it people-first language or anything else, will forever remain a point of heated debate.

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Demon. Wouldn't have tea with that.

The proper pronoun for the embodiment of a pocket dimension existing for the purpose of storing forbidden grimoires would probably be ‘it’. If the pocket dimension is a cute tsundere (?) character, though, nobody is going to think twice about treating it like a fellow human being.

Demon. Would have tea with her.

Our tendency to humanize creatures and objects was strong enough to make Vocaloid, for example, what it is today. Humans were made to become strongly attached to other humans. If so, it only makes sense to make things we are strongly attached to more human, even if it’s all make-believe. The idea is nothing new, and I’m quite sure there’s a blog post out there exploring the idea further. The question is, does the other side reciprocate the feeling?

Yes, are ha ii ningen deshita.

Dalian sums up her previous Keykeeper with the above words. It is remarkable how neatly the word ‘human’ corresponds with its Japanese equivalent. It’s the kind of word you could technically use to describe the old lady living next door, or even yourself, except it is too cold and too precise. You won’t use the word ‘human’ when there are warmer alternatives like ‘man’ or ‘person’ that actually fit into everyday conversation. Outside a scientific context, the word ‘human’ probably made the biggest career in fantasy and science-fiction settings, where it serves to remind us that, yes, humans are merely one of the countless number of species inhabiting this world.

That’s also basically the function it serves here. Not “I liked Wes” or “Wes was a neat guy”, but “Wes was fine by the standards I judge human beings”. Simple, but effective at getting across the distance Dalian feels between herself and the deceptively similar-looking creatures surrounding her.

There might, however, be more to be found in the simple sentence. Because unlike what we see in the English translation, Dalian does not use a personal pronoun, but a demonstrative. To put it simply, you might want to translate the sentence as “That was a fine human.” We reserve ourselves the right to differentiate between ‘creatures’ and ‘people”, why shouldn’t Dalian do the same? The tables are turned on us, and it might be humans that are ‘creatures’ in her eyes.

On another note, the demonstrative Dalian uses is also the one which implies the highest degree of distance from the speaker among the Japanese demonstratives. Why does she make that choice? The ‘distance’ we are considering is an ambiguous quality – it can refer both to spatial position as well as emotional attachment and attitude. Does the demonstrative merely show that Wes is dead, and therefore distant, unreachable? Or does it betray something about Dalian’s feelings towards the old man? That also is food for thought.

But before the episode closes, Dalian reminds us about the difference between her and humans one more time.

Shikatanai kara, watashi mo tsukiatte yaru no desu.

The quote shown above mostly seems to be a more polite version of the standard tsundere declaration. Like most of those, it contains one of the infamous Japanese benefactive verbs (what the tsundere uses to get across the nuance:“I’ll do it for you, so you should be grateful!”) What’s different from usual is that the verb is not the common ‘ageru’ (used between equals as well as towards strangers) but the less formal ‘yaru’. Seeing her otherwise polite wording, it does not seem likely Dalian has any intention of offending Hugh. But then again, it might not be surprising that Dalian uses ‘yaru’ when talking to a human. It is, after all, the verb normally used towards plants and pets…

Subs courtesy of Commie subs.

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Hands up those of you who can explain exactly how a refrigerator works. No, quoting Wikipedia is not allowed.

I’ll tell you, then. There’s a low-level gremlin living in the back of every refrigerator, and it casts a simple freezing spell-

What? You don’t believe me? What’s that I hear about a scientific explanation and chemical reactions? It’s not like you can explain those in detail, right?


If we can believe something happens because it’s science, without understanding the process in detail, then science has indeed become a new religion. And that is exactly what we see happen in the world of To Aru Majutsu no Index. To the residents of Academy City, nothing that happens on the streets is surprising, even if it involves Gaussian acceleration, movement through the 11th dimension or subverting the principle of entropy. The kids studying there have seen so many incredible things that they can probably believe anything to be possible. That is, as long as you don’t mention magic.

A very powerful defense called the walking church. Supposedly.

The students are firm in their rejection of anything even vaguely smelling of magic. God, angels, demons? There’s no way something so unscientific could exist. That might well be a reasonable approach for the people of the new enlightened age… but how can they calmly reject any notion of this:

And nod their heads knowingly to this:

It certainly doesn’t seem like any of the kids have a firm grasp of what this ‘personal reality’ their teachers keep going on about actually is. If so, aren’t they magicians themselves? But that’s just it. They aren’t magicians

They are ability users. The Japanese term – nouryokusha (能力者) – is not that much different from the ESPers Haruhi made so famous, the chounouryokusha (超能力者). In fact, it is merely one kanji shorter. The missing kanji – chou () – means ‘to transcend’ when on its own, and it is the ‘supernatural’ in ‘supernatural ability user’.

Academy City is a world of the denial of the supernatural, and the brainwashing starts with the words the students use. Every time they use the term ability user, they’re also telling themselves there is nothing out of the ordinary about raining thunderbolts from your fingers. And if they keep repeating that long enough, they will start believing it. Because an ability is just science.

And science justifies everything.

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