Saucers of Mud

December 22, 2009

Interactive Fiction Explained

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 8:03 am

From a fascinating article in the Economist about the complexity of different languages:

Lera Boroditsky of Stanford University, for example, points to the Kuuk Thaayorre, aboriginals of northern Australia who have no words for “left” or “right”, using instead absolute directions such as “north” and “south-east” (as in “You have an ant on your south-west leg”). Ms Boroditsky says that any Kuuk Thaayorre child knows which way is south-east at any given time, whereas a roomful of Stanford professors, if asked to point south-east quickly, do little better than chance. The standard Kuuk Thayoorre greeting is “where are you going?”, with an answer being something like “north-north-east, in the middle distance.” Not knowing which direction is which, Ms Boroditsky notes, a Westerner could not get past “hello”.

From now on, all IF protagonists are Kuuk Thaayorre.

[The article emphasizes how simple English is, but there are some aspects we probably don’t see — a lot of languages don’t distinguish the simple past (“did”) from the present perfect (“has done”), I don’t think. After a little discussion of the present perfect, one non-native speaker said to me, “Why do you need a whole tense for that?” I was going to say that the present perfect never applies to anything dead people have done, and then I got confused.]



  1. Re aspects we don’t see (and “aspects” is a pun, innit?) there’s the progessive present. “I go” versus “I am going.” Re directions, I believe that in Hawai’ian they use “mountainside” or “oceanside” for directions (the equivalent of “left” or “right”–makes sense considering that all the islands have a central mountain and are surrounded by water.

    Comment by Matt's mom — December 22, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  2. Emphasizing how simple English is is annoying—it seems simple because we all know it.

    Comment by ben wolfson — December 23, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Hubward/Rimward

    Comment by chris y — February 6, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  4. On it.

    Comment by matt w — February 6, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

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