The Children of Tama or Why ‘The Simpsons’ is the Universal Language

So I spent this past weekend in Ottawa with nearly all of my dearest friends from high school, and had a complete blast.

However, on the drive home after thinking objectively about how we talk around one another, I finally understand how the language used by the Children of Tama in the ST:TNG episode ‘Darmok’ evolved.

You see, my friends and I (in a painful display of our alpha geekness) can carry on entire conversations is dialog borrowed (primarily) from movies and television. We can perfectly express thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. using this borrowed shorthand grammar and I’m certain that’s how the Tamarian language developed.

(My brothers Martin and Charlie are even more fluently advanced in this shorthand language–drawn for them mostly from Simpsons episodes and dialog from Homestar Runner–to the point where even I’m confused and my parents are just terrified.)

Even if you’re only a casual fan of TNG, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” uttered one or twice before. What I couldn’t figure out when first watching that episode in 1991 was how they could have developed this metaphorical language–they would first have needed a basic shared language in which to tell the stories that later became the metaphors (shortcuts) in which they communicate.

It took me 16 years, but I see now that the Tamarians once had a basic language (likely American English if we go by every other ‘alien’ race on Star Trek…) which was subsumed by this shorthand grammar taken from their stories. Eventually, the original basic language was lost, and only the shorthand remained. One wonders if this shorthand language precludes the telling of new stories, or whether new names of people and places can simply be inserted in old metaphors to relate new ideas (the way the Tamarian first-officer does at the end of the episode when he says: “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel”.

See the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night? I wonder about the linguistic development of alien languages. This is how an SF writer thinks, I guess.

– S.


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3 Responses to The Children of Tama or Why ‘The Simpsons’ is the Universal Language

  1. I noticed the same thing about Star Trek at Ad Astra. It was the universal grammar.

  2. “Alpha geekness”. Yeah thats a pretty accurate way to describe the banter that occurs when you, Darrell and André get together.;)

  3. Charlie

    Drinko some Malinko! Malinko flavoured water! Crystal clear like domestic beer!