Productivity is the capacity to express and understand a potentially infinite number of utterances, made by combining sentence elements in new ways … Similarly, there is no limit to the number of words in a language; new words are being invented everyday.
David Crystal – How Language Works.
The fifth and final* story in the Subtle Sci-fi series is under-way. If you’d like to read the previous short stories in this series please visit the Subtle Sci-fi Centre. Otherwise, all you really need to know is that each Subtle Sci-fi story begins with a premise or rule that effects the story world: maybe people can’t balance very well; perhaps all politicians are female; there could be a third gender…
The premise of 0005 is that everyone gets to coin a word. It is a premise that poses a number of logical questions. For example, there were 56,000 births registered in Scotland (where the story is set) in 2013. The 20 Volume Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains about 171,500 words, 47,000 of which are said to be obsolete. So, using these basic figures, it seems reasonable to suggest that within less than three years the people of Scotland could completely alter their language. Would this prove to be democratic, incoherent, populist or manipulated by capitalism? In light of the recent referendum on independence – and given the highly political nature of the words we use without thinking anyway – this premise seemed to me to have a lot of ramifications for those living in this particular reality.
The story is going to be told from the perspective of a 20-year-old called Andy. To his horror his 16-year-old brother Nicky is going to be wordabled, which is a neologism in the story-world meaning that, ‘you have entered a word into the National Lexicon’. As with many teenagers, Nicky is obsessed with what Andy feels are trivial and puerile concerns, and his choice of word causes Andy serious anxiety…
Here is the opening passage:
“It used to be the case that when you reached 60 years of age you could submit your word to the national register. For our parents generation there was a sense of ceremony about this process. Then various protest movements mooted the issue of exclusion on the grounds of age. To paraphrase one of the founders of the WTF group (Words That Fight), these groups’ morgo was poised upon the rhetorical question, why should the language we are all obliged to use be dictated by a generation of people who are going to fucking die soon?”
I hope to have the story finished in the next couple of weeks, and hope you’ll come back and take a look.
*My aim was always to write five Subtle Sci-fi stories and then send them to publishers to see if I could get them published! So, that’s what I will be working on, while keeping the blog alive with other stuff.