Assignment 3

Conceptual Metaphor, by Zach Tomaszewski

for LING 640G, Fall 2002, taught by Dr. Ben Bergen

SETI's intercepted alien text [italics added]:

From: Blaggleth Xargldonk the Younger,
Director of Xarkplax-42 Ministry for Cultural Integration

To: Plonk-Plonkety-Plonk Flimm,
High Ruler-for-life of Xarkplax-42.

Your Exalted Plumpness,

I have much to report since the time of my higher message. As Your Royal Chubbiness may recall, when most recently we communicated, I alerted you to the existence of a final settlement of undernourished Glurg resisters on the moon of Parthoj.

The Glurg have been inciting civil unrest for 100 years now, and their elimination is vital to the interests of the empire. Let me remind you of the Glurgís most recent atrocities.

I, along with the entire staff of the Ministry of Cultural Integration, urge Your Imperial Obesity to act swiftly in the lower days to eliminate this growing menace by fully funding operation "Kill-Glurg."

Your humble and ever skinnier servant, who is worth only the spit that you leave on his emaciated face,

Blaggleth Xargldonk the Younger

P.S. I really think we should kill the Glurg.

As we can see from the italicized text, there are a number of expressions which point to two unique conceptual metaphors among the Xarkplax-42. These are SOCIAL POWER IS OBESITY and TIME IS VERTICALITY. Here are the mappings:

corpulencesocial influence/power
fat personroyal or powerful person
skinny persondisenfrachised or low-class person
losing weightlosing power
gaining weightgaining power

one object located higher than a secondone event occuring sooner than another
distance along vertical scale to an objectrelative time until/since an event

These metaphors seem strange, since in English we use SOCIAL POWER IS ELEVATION and TIME IS HORIZONTAL MOVEMENT. Yet they may give us a clue to the nature of Xarkplax-42-ians. SOCIAL POWER IS OBESITY probably arises from a simple but consistent correlation--that those in power are fat. This may be because there is limited food on Xarkplax-42, so only those in power can procure enough to achieve obesity. Or perhaps physical size is how power is achieved and maintained in the first place, such as through physical competition of some kind.

TIME IS VERTICALITY is a little trickier to determine. Our metaphors for time arise through our consistent co-experience to motion along a line and time passing. Possibly Xarkplax-42-ians experience time most frequently when moving vertically--perhaps they live in very tall mountains or big trees. Or perhaps they have a very long-standing tradition of using vertically-organized calanders. It is difficult to determine the basis for a metaphor when we don't yet know anything about a Xarkplax-42-ian's physiology or culture.

Though the Xarkplax-42-ians may seem a small threat, we must remember they seem to have a very large empire. Though it could be dangerous, we should still try to contact them rather than let such a chance at interstellar communication slip by. I would suggest a tone that neither too threatening nor too timid, and focuses on the advantages of a long-term, peaceful relationship between our two cultures.

The first draft of our reply, with novel metaphorical extensions highlighted:

From: SETI, Earth
To: Plonk-Plonkety-Plonk Flimm and all Xarkplax-42.

Great Corpulent Ruler,

Since the zenith of time, we have wondered if our people were alone in the universe. We recently picked up one of your internal memos through our recievers. Now that we know of your existence, we'd like to offer a hearty salutation!

We hope that you will reply, since we think that setting up a steady communication between us could really put on the pounds for both of us. SETI has frequently been forced to diet in the past. A connection with you could provide us a lot of prestige. Surely your people would also be impressed by a leader with contacts across the universe.

We'd like to know more about you and your people. We hope you reply shallowly.

Your well-fed neighbors

SETI, Earth.

We should maybe contact the Glurg too, just to get the other side of the story.