Language and Strategy

by Venkat on June 25, 2014

This fascinating article (HT: Mark Maxham) explores a Star Trek: TNG episode where Picard and crew meet a species that communicates entirely through metaphor and narrative. The article draws a smart (and in my opinion, correct) lesson from the episode:

“Strategy” is perhaps the best metaphor of all for the Tamarian phenomenon the Federation misnames metaphor. A strategy is a plan of action, an approach or even, at the most abstract, a logic. Such a name reveals what’s lacking in both metaphor and allegory alike as accounts for Tamarian culture. To be truly allegorical, Tamarian speech would have to represent something other than what it says. But for the Children of Tama, there is nothing left over in each speech act. The logic of Darmok or Shaka or Uzani is not depicted as image, but invoked or instantiated as logic in specific situations. In some cases, apparently, this invocation takes place with limited transformation, such as in the application of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra depicted in the episode’s main plotline. In other cases, those logics are used in situations with more play, as when Dathon reassures Picard after the former’s injury, “Kiazi’s children. Their faces wet.” 

Incidentally, such languages might not be as alien as they sound to English speakers. It seems like Chinese might actually have some of the characteristics of Tamarian, especially in written form.

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