Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Now, here at Linguistic Mystic, I pride myself on considering many different perspectives, not all within the accepted realm of Linguistic Academics. Today, I would like to continue this tradition by quoting what may well be my least authoritative source yet: Michael Stackpole’s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Book 1).

This book is a science-fiction work, taking place in the Exapnded Star Wars universe, following the adventures of Wedge Antilles, Corran Horn, and the elite pilots of Rogue Squadron. The squadron itself is composed of many different species, and today’s example comes from Ooryl Qyrgg, a Gand pilot, and is paraphrased below.

Corran nodded in what he hoped was a friendly manner. “Why do you speak of yourself in the third person?”

“On Gand it is held that names are important. Any Gand who has acheived nothing is called Gand. Before Ooryl was given Ooryl’s name, Ooryl was known as Gand. Once Ooryl had made a mark in the world, Ooryl was given the Qyrgg surname. Later, by mastering the difficulties of astronavigation and flight, Ooryl earned the right to be called Ooryl.”
“This still does not explain why you do not use pronouns to refer to yourself.”
“Qyrgg apologizes. On Gand only those who have achieved great things are permitted to use pronouns for self-designation. The use of such carries with it the presumption that all who hear the speech will know who the speaker is, and this assumption is only true in the case where the speaker is so great, the speaker’s name is known to all.”

“Then why do you sometimes refer to yourself by your family name, and sometimes by your own name?”
The Gand looked down for a moment and his mouth parts closed. “When a Gand has given offense, or is ashamed of actions, this diminishes the gains made in life. Name reduction is an act of contrition, an apology. Ooryl would like to think Ooryl will not often be called Qyrgg, but Qyrgg knows the likelihood of this is slender.”

I’ve discussed the power of names in the past, but this is taking the idea to a whole new level. I’ve never heard of a language, culture, or speech community where a name is not assigned to a person until they “earn” it, and would be fascinated to hear about it if anybody has. However, the idea of name changes with great accomplishments (or great demerits) is not uncommon. In some Native American cultures, a child changes names at the end of adolescence, once he or she has proven his or her worth and become an adult. In addition, a warrior winning a great battle may be given a new name to celebrate the accomplishment. However, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a system by which these names can be given and removed as frequently and non-chalantly as in Stackpole’s view of the Gand cutlure.

The idea of first-person pronoun use being presumptuous is also an interesting concept. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with the first-person pronoun in American English, and using a Third-person form of address would likely be a barrier to communication in everyday life (I suspect that “Excuse me, Will has lost Will’s number, can Will have yours?” just wouldn’t go over as well). It is worth noting, however, that this subsitution does occur in some specialized sorts of writing, namely police incident reports and some journalistic reports.

Now, the question of “being known to all who hear the conversation” is a different matter. In most conversations in social situations where there are unknown people in a conversation, you are either introduced, or it’s perfectly acceptable to add in a casual “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name?” without causing anybody to lose face. So, although using one’s full name instead of a pronoun might be useful every so often (as to reintroduce yourself to any new participants) or in some contexts (with a group of people, on a Walkie-Talkie system), the Gand strategy would likely result in a great deal more redundancy than usefulness in many of our human languages.

Although the Gand system of naming and self-reference is little more than a fascinating idea in our culture, it still serves as a great (albeit artificial) example of the necessary interaction between language and culture and the field of Sociolinguistics. However, if you do happen to stumble across a short, bug-eyed alien with a noticeable exoskeleton and a penchant for ammonia, you’d best remember this post, for the sake of interplanetary relations.

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