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Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-03-09, 19:20
by aaakknu
Do you know about such?

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-09, 19:33
by Yasna
Does philologist count? If so, Die Blendung by Elias Canetti.

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-09, 20:26
by Luís
Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang (they made a movie out of it called Arrival)

Embassytown, by China Miéville

Babel 17, by Samuel R. Delany

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-09, 20:35
by linguoboy
If "linguist" is taken to include translators and interpreters, then there are a small number. If it's taken more strictly to mean "someone who studies language", then I'm hard-pressed to think of any Luís hasn't listed.

Suzette Haden Elgin was a linguist and conlanger as well as a science fiction author, so she might have some works that fit the bill. Certainly Native tongue does.

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 4:42
by vijayjohn
How about (for example?) Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Dan Everett and The Education of Koko by Francine Patterson and Eugene Linden? I mean, aren't they essentially autobiographical? And they're written by linguists, so...Plus there are a number of books (and novels?) about Bhartṛhari. There are also some in Malayalam at least about Hermann Gundert, and there's this about A. R. Raja Raja Varma, who I think is arguably a linguist in some sense given that he basically wrote the first grammar for Malayalam.

EDIT: Not a novel, and not technically about a linguist, but there are two versions I know of an Indian story that goes as follows: Once upon a time, a polyglot entered an emperor's court and challenged the courtiers to figure out what his native language was and where he was from. However, he was so fluent in so many languages that none of the scholars at the court could figure it out. Finally, the emperor's favorite minister found out where the polyglot was staying, snuck in in the middle of the night, and surprised him somehow, causing the polyglot to cry out in his native language and thereby giving away his place of origin as well. Conveniently enough, the polyglot is never from a particularly faraway place, so the language is easily recognizable from the minister's perspective. (In fact, in one of the two versions I know, the language is the minister's own native language).

EDIT2: Also Panini is apparently mentioned in some Indian works of literature, though I'm not sure whether he's ever a protagonist per se. Apparently, the Panchatantra claims that Panini was killed by a lion and that several other scholars (some of them also linguists) were similarly killed by wild animals.

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 5:15
by Linguaphile
Here's my list of memoirs and nonfiction narratives in English in which language-learning is a large part of the book. It's not exactly what you asked (they aren't novels, they're nonfiction, and not all of the protagonists are linguists - some are immigrants, travelers, etc.) but it might interest the same audience.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Word for Word: A Translator's Memoir by Lilianna Lungina and Oleg Dorman
All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World by Zora O'Neill
Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language by Katherine Russell
What Language Do I Dream In?: A Memoir by Elena Lappin
Call Me María by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Daniel L. Everett
Microphone in the Mud by Laura C Robinson
Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker by R. M. W. Dixon
Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner
Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language by Deborah Fallows
The Translator: A Memoir by Daoud Hari
The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone by Daniel Meyerson
Just A Phrase I'm Going Through: My Life in Language by David Crystal
Coming Home: One man's return to the Irish Language by Michael McCaughan
Biting the Wax Tadpole: Misadventures of an Armchair Linguist by Elizabeth Little
Mother Tongue: My Family's Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish by Christine Gilbert
When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins
La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales

Re: Novels where the protagonist is a linguist?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 10:10
by aaakknu
Thanks to everybody for the recommendations!
Memoirs are great, I like them even more them fiction.

Note: I've changed the title to clarify what I'm looking for and to broaden the topic, so that more interesting books can be included.

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 10:46
by aaakknu
What about books in Spanish?

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 15:20
by Linguaphile
Irusia wrote:What about books in Spanish?

I've read Daniel Everett's No duermas, hay serpientes in Spanish (it's the same as Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, so you can read that one in either language). And I recently read La lengua de los dioses: nueve razones para amar el griego by Andrea Marcolongo in Spanish (translated from Italian La lingua geniale: 9 ragioni per amare il greco).

On my list to read soon I've got Vivir en dos idiomas by Alma Flor Ada and Viva el latín!: Historias y belleza de una lengua inútil by Nicola Gardini (which is another translated from Italian: Viva il Latino: Storie e bellezza di una lingua inutile). But I haven't kept a list of books like those in Spanish the way I have in English, so right now I can only think of those four. Maybe others will suggest more.

Another interesting collection of short articles/stories in English is The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongue edited by Wendy Lesser.

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-03-11, 15:44
by vijayjohn
This paper (in Spanish) is basically a biography of Fray Domingo de Santo Tomás, who compiled the first grammar for Quechua. This is another work by a fellow Peruvian linguist, the late Luis Jaime Cisneros Vizquerra, also about Fray Domingo de Santo Tomás. It seems to mostly be a review of his grammar but has some biographical information about him, too. Cisneros also published an autobiography called Mis trabajos y los días (2000).

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-03-29, 9:57
by IpseDixit
Il Segreto di Pietramala. It's about a linguist who has to do fieldwork in an isolated village in the Corsican mountains, where a mysterious language is spoken; this will lead him to various adventures and mysteries and yada yada. Btw, not only is the novel about a linguist but it's also written by one.

Unluckily, I'm afraid it hasn't been translated to other languages yet.

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-05-05, 13:43
by IpseDixit

Re: Novels and memoirs where the protagonist is a fieldworker (linguist, ethnographer, biologist etc.)?

Posted: 2018-10-30, 9:15
by IpseDixit
There's also the telling by Ursula K. Le Guin.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Telling