Maleficent: What’s in a name?

Walt Disney Pictures’ 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty introduced the beloved villainous figure known as Maleficent. Like the characters of many fairy tales, the evil fairy in the original story is not named.

Maleficent, though, with her head wrap that hinted at demon-like horns, has become almost synonymous with evil. So much so that she was chosen out of a plethora of Disney villains to be a major villain in the Kingdom Hearts video game.

maleficent

However, this blog post isn’t about the 1959 film, but the 2014 live action film named after the villain. I enjoyed Maleficent. The retelling was interesting, if a bit predictable. Angelina Jolie’s performance as the titular character was as brilliant as I would have expected.

Maleficent spoiler alert

One critique I have of the movie, though, is actually that the character’s name makes no sense for this story. I don’t know if many people know about this, but her name is an actual English word:

maleficent dictionary dot com

Definition of “maleficent” from Dictionary.com

That made sense for the animated film. That Maleficent was an evil fairy with no redeeming qualities presented at any time in the film. But for the live action film, that name makes no sense. Am I to just accept that a sweet little fairy girl was given a name by her parents (or whoever named her) that means “harmfully malicious”?

I have to wonder if the writers of the 2014 film knew what the word meant… I mean, it would have been simple to have given the child fairy another name, and then have her either give herself the name Maleficent when she becomes the wicked person of her adulthood, or have her be called that by her people, or the humans of the neighbouring land.

Giving a character a name can be hard, especially for fantasy stories, so maybe I should be so hard on them, but this discrepancy is actually the biggest issue I have with the film.

Oh, well.

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ILY sign emoji on WhatsApp, please!

I use WhatsApp. A lot. It’s one of my main methods of online communication nowadays.

For a long time, I’ve wished that WhatsApp had an emoji that looks like the Jamaican Sign Language (American Sign Language, too) sign for “I love you”:

ILY little girl

It’s annoying that WhatsApp has the “rock on” gesture, but not the this handshape, often called the ILY handshape.

rock on

WhatsApp emojis, showing the “rock on” gesture emoji

Interestingly, Facebook has an emoji that can be used for ILY. Not for its messenger features, though, but the emoji can be inserted into statuses.

ILY emoji facebook status

Some of the emojis available for Facebook statuses

There have been times when I wished I could send an ILY emoji both in WhatsApp and Facebook chat. It’s an hugely important sign in both for the American Deaf community, and for the Jamaican one.

Please, WhatsApp and Facebook… add the emoji!

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Why is there so much English in Sailor Moon…?

One of my favourite new pastimes is watching “theory” videos on YouTube. Super Carlin Brothers, Film Theorists, Harry Potter Folklore, ProtoMario, Seamus Gorman

Wow, I spend a lot of time on YouTube.

Anyway, as a writer, I enjoy listening to other fans try to answer questions that I or others have about the stories I love. Even if I disagree with them, I see it as a way to get my artistic gears turning.

This past week, I thought it would be interesting to see a theory video on why there is so much English in one of my favourite childhood anime: Sailor Moon.

And there’s a lot of English. Even in the Japanese versions of the franchise, the Sailor Senshi’s names are all English, taken from the English names for the celestial bodies, rather than the Japanese: Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars, Sailor Neptune, etc (Sailor Chibi Moon is the only exception, having the Japanese word ちび [chibi], meaning “small”).

What’s more, their transformation phrases are in English (“Moon Prism Power, Make-Up!“), as are the incantations they speak to launch their attacks (“Moon Tiara Action!“).

Even Sailor Senshi from outside our Solar System have English names! Sailor Star Fighter, Sailor Star Healer, and Sailor Star Maker all have English-based nomenclature in their names, attacks, and transformation phrases.

And there’s Queen Serenity and her daughter Princess Serenity, who is Sailor Moon’s past life. Both the Queen and Princess lived on the Moon during the Silver Millennium, “a peaceful time period during the prehistoric age”. The English language originated “in the mid 5th to 7th centuries AD” (Wikipedia), which, in case you’re not sure, is long after the prehistoric age!

So why is there so much English in names and incantations from not only the prehistoric era of our Solar System, but in those of aliens who come from faraway planets?

Of course, I could just chalk it up to the fact that Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon‘s creator and manga artist (漫画家, mangaka), just probably thought English sounded nice or something. Using foreign languages is a fairly common tactic of fantasy writing. For example, the term “Argetlam”, as used in The Inheritance Cycle, is from Old Irish.

But the thing with the theory genre of videos is that it both acknowledges and (more importantly) ignores the fact that there’s often a real-world explanation for many of these things and tries to explain things within the world/universe/multiverse that the movie, book, game, etc is set in.

Has any of you ever given this any thought? What would your theory be as to why English is so prevalent in the Sailor Moon names and incantations where it “shouldn’t” be?

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I’m back…

It’s been… quite a few months.

A lot has happened.

But I’m back. And I’m determined to have a blog post every week. I might even start a new blog… I’ll let know know if I do.

Hope you all have been well.

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Summer goals

The semester is winding down. I have 1 more exam left, but I have another semester starting right after. So… it will be quite a summer for me.

Still, I have some plans. I intend to start going through the hieroglyphics learning website I told you about before. I intend to devote more time to writing; which includes editing (or rewriting, maybe… sigh…) previous stories I’ve written. I intend to start Duolingo again. (I’m sorry, X. I’ve disappointed you!) I intend to draw more.

In short, I intend to me more of an artist again, and interact more with languages.

I’ve been neglecting my languages…. School and work… sapping me of time… I have been spending less time with Japanese, Hebrew, JSL… Sigh…

Creative writing is… hard work! Fun, but hard work, especially when you have to go over and edit; it can feel like taking a pair of shears to a something you spent a long time creating, your brainchild, your baby. But I won’t give up!

Maybe I’ll give you updates as I go along… Care to take the journey with me?

Posted in Miscellaneous Language Issues, Non-language issues | 2 Comments

Language is not made of letters

In learning linguistics, I find that many of my classmates have a hard time breaking out of the habit of thinking in terms of letters. Literate English speakers seem to have a hard time unlearning the idea that the words they produce are composed of strings of letters. This is what came to mind when I saw this on imgur:

I'ma

tiauska wrote: “we managed to subtract all the spaces and three-fourths of the letters”, but that’s not actually what happened. According to The Visual Thesaurus’s article “Prime Time for ‘Imma'”, this contraction followed this path:

I am going to -> I’m going to -> I’m gonna -> I’ma

So, yes, there is definitely a “subtraction”, but it’s sounds that are subtracted, not letters. Function words (words that serve grammatical function, rather than refer to physical realities or concepts) are commonly reduced in language, even if the spelling remains the same. For example: you may still spell “the” the same way even if you barely pronounce the vowel. The words “and” and “to” are other examples of this.

Think of the English word “knight”. How many sounds does it have? Six? Five? Four? Three? The letters “k”, “g” and “h” are actually not pronounced, are they? (Well, you could argue that “igh” actually has its own pronunciation, huh?) This word has 4 sounds: /naɪt/.

But you know what? The the “k” and “gh” used to be pronounced in English! In Old English, silent K words like “know”, “knock”, and “knob” used to have the “k” sound at the start. What’s more, the “gh” of words like “sigh” and “night” used to be pronounced like the back-of-the-throat raspy sound of the name “Bach”, and the fricative (think friction) nature of this sound has remained in words like “enough” and “rough”.

So “knight” shows that reduction (“subtraction”) can happen to the sounds while the spelling (letters and spaces) remains as is.

While speech is natural and is the result of hearing and acquiring language as a child, reading and writing are artificial, and must be taught, which is why people (myself included) often have difficulty remembering how to spell words. Writing has letters (or characters, etc); speech has sounds.

A lot of people have a tendency to think that writing/spelling makes a word or a language what it is, but that is simply not true. The invention of writing does indeed have a profound impact on language, but language has been around for much longer than writing has. And most languages have no written form!

Anyway, rant over.

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Linguistics is an eye-opener!

Or, rather… an ear-opener…?

listen ear

First of all, let me apologise for my absence. Life has been very hectic, what with school and all that. But I’m going to try to be more disciplined from now on.

Anyway, since I first started doing linguistics, I have been realising things about the language I am exposed to on a day-to-day basis that I didn’t pick up otherwise, and even some things that I did, but was wondering about.

I’ve always been confused by the fact that one of the shortened versions for the name “William” is “Bill”. Why “Bill”? Why not just “Will”? It’s two very different sounds, after all.

Well, I actually have an explanation now! It turns out these two sounds do have some similarities! They are both labial sounds, sounds whose production are dependent largely on what the lips are doing. For [w], the lips are sounded, and for [b], the lips make a popping sound. This also explains the origin of the Patwa past tense marker “wehn”, which comes from “been”.

It even explains the rhyming scheme of some songs! Do you remember that sound from a few years ago, “Tipsy” by J-Kwon? The second verse starts: “2, here comes the 3 to the 4 to the 5/Now i’m lookin at shorty right in the eyes”… Considering the fact that [v] and [z] are different sounds, you might think that he was just rhyming the vowel sound. (Especially since he ends the next line with “guy”.) But! [v] and [v] are both fricatives! An even better example is the much newer song “Me Love My Fatty” by Style X. It goes: “Me love my, Me love my fatty/All when the knees dem knocky”. [t] and [k] are both plosive sounds!

I doubt J-Kwon or Style X deliberately sat down and thought, “Okay, I’m going to rhyme these two sounds because they belong to the same class of consonants.” But it goes to show there’s something intuitive to these classifications that may seem arbitrary when you’re learning them for the first time.

Learning these things makes linguistics a bit more fun!

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