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Old April 25th 07, 23:44   #1
Lousy_Dodgers
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Languages

This issue may have turned up in an earlier thread somewhere but it came to me as I have been rewatching some season 4 and season 5. Now, if you see two Minbari, two Centauri, or two Narn speaking, we can probably assume that they are using their own languages even though we hear it in English for our benefit.

However, this raises questions about what language characters use when different species interact. For example, when G'Kar and Londo are alone, which language do they use?

Interestingly, I think that might well be English since they both know it. G'Kar probably knows Centauri but using the language of an occupier could be seen as a form of cultural surrender. By the same token, few Centauri would bother with learning or speaking the language of an "inferior" race (even if the Londo of the later seasons would not think in such terms). I would imagine that while the Londo of earlier seasons might speak to G'Kar in Centauri, G'Kar might reply in English (if Londo does not speak Narn) or possibly Minbari to avoid acknowledging the Centauri language. I am certain that G'Kar speaks Centauri since he had no trouble communicating with numerous Centauri during his visits to the Centauri Homeworld. That is a more likely explanation than arguing that most members of the Centauri Royal Court speak Narn.

Another scene that interests me is G'Kar's trial on Narn. What language did Cartagia use when address our favorite Narn? I do not know if he would lower himself to speak Narn but if he spoke Centauri, how many Narns could understand him and experience his "wisdom?"

So maybe it is just me but I would be interested to know what language people are using in each scene (even if we hear it in English) because I think it would reveal so much about who was exerting power or what compromises people were making.
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Old April 25th 07, 23:57   #2
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Re: Languages

I would figure the language most of the aliens would use when interacting with other races would be English, even if they're not in some diplomatic meeting. They all need to know it for those meetings anyway since B5 is a human-run station. It's probably easier than switching back and forth between, say Narn and Drazi, or Minbari and Centauri.

As for Cartagia speaking to G'Kar, it was probably in Centauri. He probably knew that G'Kar was the Narn Ambassador to B5, so there'd be a good chance he'd have to know Centauri to deal with Londo. Or it could be that since the Centauri occupied Narn while G'Kar was growing up, Cartagia would assume that G'Kar could have learned the languauge of his world's occupiers.
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Old April 26th 07, 10:26   #3
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Re: Languages

It wasn't brought up much. but remember there was a kind of space-esperanto called Interlac that could have been used in some places. Though I would imagine most of the inter-species stuff on B5 would be in English.

Cartagia would surely be speaking Centauri. Any broadcasting of him could have been dubbed with a Narn translation for the benefit of cowing the natives.
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Old April 26th 07, 10:57   #4
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Re: Languages

It's a really interesting question. I guess the ambassadors and aides on B5 will communicate in their own languages among themselves and in English with each other, since fluency in English would be part of their job description. For example, I expect Vir and Lennier are speaking English when they meet in the Zocalo.

It's unclear whether Vir speaks Minbari despite being made Ambassador to Minbar, since not only is it a subtle tongue that took Marcus a year just to get a basic grasp of, but Delenn says there are also three versions of it (which perhaps correspond to the three castes). So then another question that arises is which Minbari language Delenn (and Lennier and Marcus) are using when addressing Neroon, warrior or religious, and which version is spoken by Dukhat and the Grey Council.

Perhaps it's underestimating the human crew members to assume they can't speak alien languages as well. For example, perhaps when Vir and Ivanova are discussing love in Sic Transit Vir they're speaking Centauri? And perhaps Timov doesn't actually speak English at all (why would she?), but Franklin understands what she is saying when she tells him she shares Londo's blood group because as a xenobiologist he has also picked up a few alien languages?

Then there are a couple of oddities, like the alien family in Believers who all seem to speak fluent English despite coming from an insular and xenophobic culture, the fugitive Centauri couple in the War Prayer, and the aliens in Voice in the Wilderness who can learn English in seconds from computer records (which is a horrible sci-fi cliche, if you ask me, though not as bad as things like Hoshi and the universal translator in Enterprise, which seemed to have the ability to reconstruct whole languages based on hearing only a few spoken words). I think 99.9% of the time B5 doesn't make such mistakes.
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Old April 26th 07, 11:51   #5
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Re: Languages

I would guess that Interlac was used a lot more often than we expect.

Maybe on occasion they also used the apparent system in Star Wars, where Chewie spoke the Wookiee language and Han spoke Basic, and the two understood each other perfectly because they knew both.
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Old April 26th 07, 12:03   #6
Joseph DeMartino
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Re: Languages

Education in Cenaturi (or one of the Centauri languages - why does everyone assume all alien races have only one language?) was probably compulsory on Narn during the occupation, so I suspect that quite a few Narn are still fluent in the language. Imperial powers almost always insist on conquered people learning their sole or dominant language, sometimes to the point of outlawing the native languages. Also any kind of technical job on Narn probably requires knowledge of Centauri as many of the manuals and references for equipment and the like will still be in their language(s)

English is probably spoken a lot on B5 for the reason mentioned - it is everybody's second langauge. (Same reason it is so widely used on Earth now and remains the Human's "commercial language" in the 23rd century.) Interlac probably also gets a lot more use than is pointed out. And Downbelow is probably developing a creole based on English and borrowings from a dozen alien languages.

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Old April 26th 07, 12:33   #7
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Re: Languages

Actually it seems JMS has said a few things about it. Specifically he's said a couple of times that the three primary languages on B5 are English, Centauri and Interlac, and these are the three languages that are seen on the signs in the docking area. I would guess that most of the characters (human personnel included) have some familiarity with all three, which would explain how they understood characters like Kiron Maray and Aria Tensus in the War Prayer, and Timov, as I mentioned in my post above.

http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1...query=interlac

Interlac I think you can hear in the series if you listen carefully to the background noise in the docking areas - messages on the PA system are given first in English, then repeated in Interlac.
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Old April 26th 07, 15:44   #8
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Re: Languages

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Perhaps it's underestimating the human crew members to assume they can't speak alien languages as well. For example, perhaps when Vir and Ivanova are discussing love in Sic Transit Vir they're speaking Centauri? And perhaps Timov doesn't actually speak English at all (why would she?), but Franklin understands what she is saying when she tells him she shares Londo's blood group because as a xenobiologist he has also picked up a few alien languages?
Good point. If Centauri (or at least the Centauri equivalent of English) is one of the main language groups, then many humans probably know it...or at least those who work in space. I would not be surprised if Earth Force officer training required cadets to learn one or more alien languages.

Quote:
Education in Cenaturi (or one of the Centauri languages - why does everyone assume all alien races have only one language?) was probably compulsory on Narn during the occupation, so I suspect that quite a few Narn are still fluent in the language. Imperial powers almost always insist on conquered people learning their sole or dominant language, sometimes to the point of outlawing the native languages. Also any kind of technical job on Narn probably requires knowledge of Centauri as many of the manuals and references for equipment and the like will still be in their language(s)
Yeah, most Narns who lived through the first occupation probably learned Centauri. You have a point about technical manuals but I think there would also be a strong desire on the part of the Narn to preserve their own language since using Centauri would be a form of cultural subordination. That is why I think it would be very unlikely if G'Kar spoke Centauri to Londo in the first few seasons...G'Kar would undoubtedly know Centauri but why should he give Londo that satisfaction? By that same token, Londo might well have spoken Centauri to G'Kar during a few scenes knowing how G'Kar would think about it.
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Old April 26th 07, 18:31   #9
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Re: Languages

I remember Lochley saying she knew a little Centauri.
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Old April 27th 07, 09:34   #10
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Re: Languages

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Originally Posted by RMcD View Post
So then another question that arises is which Minbari language Delenn (and Lennier and Marcus) are using when addressing Neroon, warrior or religious, and which version is spoken by Dukhat and the Grey Council.
I seem to recall it was said in To Dream in the City of Sorrows that Minbari are all tri-lingual, fully able to understand the language of all three castes (though as Lennier mentions when discussing his studies of languages there are many dialects of these languages - regional? Clan-based?), but that in keeping with their general attitudes towards the worker caste religious and warrior caste Minbari consider speaking worker caste language 'beneath them'. When Sinclair complements his other Minbari studies with a little worker caste-ese and addresses one of them in their language as an equal, he earns their respect and support.

It would certainly seem useful for Earthforce officers to learn some alien languages. We did see a fair bit of this in the series: Lochley's Centauri, Sheridan seemingly having a few words of Drazi, Ivanova learning (religious caste?) Minbari, Garibaldi learning to translate Narn. Franklin dealt with many different species, and had hitch-hiked all around space as a youth. He must have learned to get by in a few languages.
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