Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Time Is This Way?

Second Tier Navigator Sandoval was blossoming. Luchador, the masked Steward accepted it grudgingly. She was his best friend and he had to condone what was good for her. Skipper barely noticed. She was young and had already blossomed at an early age and working her way through clouding men's minds and causing fender benders. But there were no mechanical conveyances on Jormganner.

The signs were small unless you really knew Sandoval: hair worn loose, earrings, a daring (by her standards) blue tank top and the final clue ... lipstick. She even washed her lucky fuzzy slippers, something the older members often coaxed and threatened her to do.

The agent of her blossoming was their newest crew: Wilberforce Beagley. Beagley was a former Port Inspector and despite it a decent guy. He had made himself invaluable since hiring by running down leads and rumors of trade items he heard tales of in his former job. At the moment he was back at the Profit Rockit supervising a gaggle of locals who were supposed to be loading cargo. He had shooed the senior members away insisting he had it covered and they were all enjoying themselves by the waters of a crystal lake and helping themselves to a lunch Luch had packed.

Truth be told they ran for the hills to enjoy some downtime, right after learning that the biosphere was hospitable and they could kick the local alpha predators a kilometer. The natives were mostly incomprehensible but eager to please, much like Skipper, Sandoval thought.

The navigator lay on her back and watched the primary starting to set and the evening star, one of two far companions begin to rise. Most of Jormganner's year was awful for stargazing with the light pollution from one companion or anther. The natives seemed to have an innate sense of what sun was doing what -- proto-navigators. Sandoval felt a deep kinship with the simple souls until one tried to eat her bamboo slideruler.

She'd gotten the earrings in compensation so everything was going fine.

There was a whine, almost at the edge of hearing that Sandoval heard before she saw the ATV. It was a recent acquisition bought in a flush of adequacy since Beagley was handling part of the trading. Captain was off in the gig seeking further bargains and Sandoval wished desperately he'd stay out of the cargo deck since things were going pretty well or at least way better than she was used to.]

Beagley drove the vehicle over a rise and parked  on the beach near them. The crew began gathering their belongings. This involved Luch throwing most of them at Skipper who gamely was attempting to catch them. Both Sandoval and Beagley screamed "No!" when the steward was about to loft a large cooler at the deckhand.

Beagley allowed Skipper to drive the ATV back with Luch beside her while he and Sandoval took up the back seat. He figured he'd need both hands around Sandoval with her blossoming and all. After the Second Tier Navigator looked at him she detected a certain smugness and determined through some intuition the smugness didn't involve her.

"Give. What'd you do now?" she asked cuddling vigorously. It took most of the long ride back to get him to spill it. He was having too much fun. Even Luch was showing interest. Normally the steward wouldn't spit on Beagley if the deck master's hair was on fire.

"We got another load for our half full hold. We should have a full cargo when it's loaded," the trade master admitted.

"That's great babe ... what else?"

"Well I kind of made Captain look silly before he left to scout more leads," Beagley continued.

"Pfft. Not too hard. We all do that, even Skipper," Luch muttered.

Beagley was on a quest to be admired though and went on, "He got a bunch of natives to load the cargo that we might leave on time tomorrow, as we calculated. Only they don't speak Basic. So he started storyboarding the job, them taking the crates on the ground and bringing them up through the ship.

Except they still didn't understand. So Captain tried pointing to the crates and giving them instructions in Basic slow and loud. They're looking at the drawings and pointing and gabbing while he does this and he finally dumps them in my lap and tells me to school them. Like I speak srir-lukh-ronga?"

"No one really does. This planet gets very few ships to date," Sandoval patted her beau's arm.

"Then I got the idea -from what you said Sandy- maybe they don't follow sequences from left to right they way most cultures do. I mean you said they are pros at tracking the sun and the far stars. Maybe they use them to express time. So I get a compass, find a bulkhead that's aligned roughly east-west and lay the storyboard out for them again. the head man looks at the pictures nods with a big smile then points to the crates. I'm like 'Yeah! I gotta pick up my mates. I'll be back in a bit.' I left them with him giving orders and gesturing all over my drawings. I bet they'll be done by the time we get back!"

Sandoval got a cold spot in the pit of her stomach. She stopped hugging and said, "Skipper, floor it back to the Rockit." Skipper happily applied her lead foot to the pedal. The ride back still took a while. ATVs were sort of mechanical oxen. You couldn't hurry them much.

"What's the matter, hon? Are you not feeling well?" Beagley asked concerned at the sudden absence of cuddling for the balance of the trip. He;d asked several times. This time Sandoval finally answered as they were nearing the Profit Rockit.

"I'm great but ... you laid out your drawings on the ... port bulkhead of the hold or starboard?"

"... port."

"Left to right?"


"In other words east to west?"

"Yes. What's the ... oh Great Rah!" Beagley yelped. The Profit Rokit was coming into view now, the entire contents of both her holds were neatly arranged in rows on the ground near her. Captain had returned and was busy fist shaking at the skies and when he saw it, their ATV.

Sandoval facepalmed and said through her fingers, "This isn't Earth ... or Gern ... or even Zaonia ... the sun rises in the west here." Sandoval was already starting to redo the flight plan for tomorrow in her head. they might still raise ship, if they paid for more natives. She tried hard not to let the plaintive sounds her Wilberforce was making distract her too much.


First thanks to Winchell Chung for posting this article. In case you don't want to read it a quick synopsis follows: humans have a wealth of problems communicating with other due to different perceptions arising from different languages. Languages aren't merely different words and different syntax. They are different because they mirror different cultures and different ways of thinking.

As a  very simple example asking for a bathroom in an English speaking country other than America might direct you to a room with a bathtub and not a toilet. Some people distinguish between the two functions. A universal translator might not be a big help, not a human translator. Engage hilarity.

It's not so hilarious when two soldiers are speaking a common tongue to direct an artillery strike but one assumes the distance is in feet (or quarloos or whatever) and the other is using meters. For that matter compass directions might mean nothing on a world without a magnetic field. Gyro compasses might be set to home on the starport  or natives might use the sun's path to specify directions.

Star Trek: the Next Generation got an episode out of this when they met a race that spoke in metaphor. The universal translators did squat for a change. It was an interesting idea though I'd like to know how they used metaphor to say, "Go to Warp 6!" in a combat situation or even, "Hand me a wrench."

Language and culture differences go much deeper of course. A culture that lives on a tidally locked world might have no words or concept of time as we do, living in an eternal twilight. They might measure it by slight dips the sun makes over time or life processes of local life (I'll give you ten breaths to come out with your hands up!") This can make for hassles making appointments and handling business with offworlders from rapidly spinning planets. It also means getting a life sentence means the same as on Earth.

One example of the languages given in the link is a type of conversation where people speak very exactly and with affixes to indicate how sure they are of what they say. I could see this language for spacers or anyone living in a very delicate life system like a ship or space station where a miscommunication could lead to blood or tears. Such people might be driven to distraction by others who seem to speak ambiguously all the time.

Hopefully Beagley will have the article link for the Captain.

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