Tag Archives: Language and Linguistics

A Modest, Logical Proposal: “Vulcan Up.”

I’m working on a longer piece regarding Star Trek in advance of its 51st anniversary on the air and the upcoming premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

And while I was writing, I came up with a phrase that I think is too good not to share. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest it should be spread to hither and yon among all your geek colleagues.

That phase is “Vulcan up” as in, “You’re going to have to Vulcan up and realize the only one responsible for that warp core breach is you.”

Or, you know, the real life equivalent of a warp core breach. Or even just the warp field collapsing. Or things not involving warp fields.

“Vulcan up” easily sidesteps the worst implications of “man up” and fully supports the best implications.

“Man up” has been used for all sorts of things one should do. Moving past the emotion of the moment? Stepping back to take a look at the big picture while stepping up to your responsibilities? Cool.

“Man up” has also been misused for some less than sensible situations. Accepting bullshit projected onto you? Ignoring pain that is in no way gain? Illogical and not cool.

Tuvok is cool, T’Pol is cool, and Spock is surely the coolest of them all. And they are all at their best when they Vulcan up and employ logic to help themselves or others.

So for those of you so inclined to speak geek in your dealings with others, I encourage you to replace “man up” in those dealings with “Vulcan up.” It may get an arched eyebrow here or there, but I think they’ll find it’s reasonable.

Note: based on my experiences studying anthropology, it’s entirely possible that the principle of independent invention is in play. Someone else may have coined this same phrase. For that reason, it would be illogical for me to claim the sole invention… and, in fact, that is not the goal. The goal is that this phrase enter the pop culture sphere for the benefit of all. The needs of the many and all that.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: Klingons are so Derivative

This is the 18th entry in an ongoing series about Star Trek fandom and its future called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. Since “18” seems a good “age of ascension,” Worf would probably approve of this being more about Klingon.

For those wondering from my post last week, I did go down the rabbit hole of fan news, commentary, and the stew of social media regarding the Axanar lawsuit… and the full report of that sobering experience will be coming out later this week. Hopefully before an expected Star Trek Beyond trailer, so I can just enjoy that.

In the meantime, let’s return to the Klingon language.

Mike Masnick at TechDirt does a good job summarizing some of the legal moves in the Axanar lawsuit in terms of how it relates to copyrighting the Klingon language.

The one thing I would say is that I do find it a serious topic, because if a court rules that Klingon can be copyrighted, it sets a disturbing precedent for corporations’ ability to own a language itself. And speaking of ownership, when something has been open source and developed for decades, but suddenly can be protected via copyright, what does that mean for open source? (I elaborate on that hypothetical here).

Now interestingly, since I’ve been digging deeper into the coverage of the Axanar lawsuit, that topic has come up. Many observers who have been looking into the Axanar case far closer than I argue that the Klingon language is not open source and is still entirely owned by CBS/Paramount despite the existence of the Klingon Language Institute, stage plays in Klingon, continued development in Klingon and so on. Their point is that these can all be deemed derivative works and CBS/Paramount has allowed them to exist because they have been done, by and large, as non-commercial endeavors.

So let me put this back into my hypothetical scenario of the General Dynamics invented language (GDIL). The argument here is that General Dynamics never released control of its language. A group of engineers found the language to be really useful and fun to expand upon and wanted to create their own training videos using the language for building wells in developing nations or whatnot. General Dynamics said, “sure, here’s a license to do that good work for non-commercial ends.” And so the GDIL Institute was born, a proper non-profit corporation obeying the laws of Pennsylvania officially licensed by General Dynamics to work on GDIL.

The original “father of GDIL” –the linguist who formally constructed the language and its rules– would continue to help the GDIL Institute to expand the language because the language originally was not too much about building wells and irrigation, and so GDIL developed. However, at all times, GDIL was developed as licensed by General Dynamics for non-commercial use. If at some point in the future, the leaders of the GDIL Institute behaved like schmucks or were trying to monetize GDIL in a way that General Dynamics disapproved of, that license would be revoked. Everything the GDIL Institute did was a derivative work allowed by General Dynamics.

That’s the argument as I understand it and it does make sense. It may even be legal. The point that I still get stuck on, and I think this is because of my studies in linguistics, is that I firmly believe that a true language cannot be proprietary by its very nature.

A language is not simply a story. It is not simply song lyrics. It is not even an information delivery mechanism like some computer code might be deemed to be. A fully realized language is a framework not only giving one the ability to communicate, but to think and ponder about the world around them. That’s why it’s so important to preserve so many of the thousands of human languages we have because they preserve ways of thinking. That’s why invented languages are so interesting and worth study and development.

Sure, you can and courts will make rulings on the use of language (e.g. the whole ‘crying fire in a theater’ thing), but it’s an entirely other matter to say someone can own a language. Languages are different.

There may be no legal precedence for this assertion, just as fans aren’t legally granted an automatic right to make fan films even though the capability is there.

I guess we’ll see. Even though it’s gone in this case (for now), I’m thinking it will come up again soon.

Update (2016-05-18, later in the PM):
I also put this update in the Corbomite post from last week, but Janet Gershen-Siegel has an entertaining and exhaustive article that goes over a lot of the legal specifics including speaking to the amicus brief about Klingon. For now, all this is academic.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: Being a P’tach about the Klingon Language

Would you believe this is the 15th entry in an ongoing series on Star Trek’s future and fandom? Don Adams would.

Eriq Gardner wrote a good article in the Hollywood Reporter yesterday about a recent amicus brief filed in relation to the CBS/Paramount lawsuit against the Axanar fan film.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog series, I absolutely believe that CBS/Paramount has real and legally binding ownership of Star Trek intellectual property (IP). For non-fans, this may sound like common sense, but for some fans, they seem to need to be reminded of this fact.

However, when it comes to the Klingon language, that’s work-for-hire they’ve given out free to the world to build and improve upon in a way languages naturally grow. Languages naturally want to be open-source anyway, much to the chagrin of Grammar Police everywhere.

So I won’t be surprised is CBS/Paramount finds a way to rein in what they see as Axanar Productions’ excesses in producing their fan film(s), but I will be surprised if there’s a ruling that curtails study and development of Klingon. I’m aware of trademark erosion, where brand names like Kleenex and Xerox become generic terms for facial tissue and copying respectively. This seems more in the copyright realm, so I don’t know what legal precedents may apply.

But again, as I mentioned in Letting Go of the Canon, the mere mortals have fire. Trying to copyright an entire language, even though it is a constructed one, appears unprecedented. Will the lawyers attempt to relate this to a computer code? I used the term “open-source” above and that might give some guidance to how people can and cannot make “derivative works” to this original “work-for-hire.” (Okay, so originally it was, “Hey James Doohan, can you help us out for a minute?” if Klingon origin stories are correct).

I may have to bug some lawyers I know on this one.