Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Cross-Dimensional Linguistics

It's time for some Socio Linguistics! How many names do you have? What do you call other people? Would you use first names with some but never others?

So far, I have been Sean, Seanny, D, Lep and Monyn, but not yet Mr. Roberts.

Can we tell anything about people by the names they use? Let's look at a corpus. I have selected that pillar of linguistic research and popular 90s sci-fi tv program Sliders. Let's see what the four main characters call themselves while dimension hopping around alternative versions of San Fransisco and Los Angeles (from EarthPrime, with Regular Expressions):

In the graph above, Quin, Wade, Rembrandt and Professor Arturo are represented by dashed circles with the different names people use in squares. Arrows between a person and a name indicate that person using that name, with the relative frequency indicated by the thickness of the line. All arrows from the same origin sum to 100%.

So what can we learn? The professor and Wade have the most reciprocal relationship - they use each other's first name and title in similar proportions. This indicates a curtious respect.

The Professor and Quinn, however, have opposite proportions of first names and titles - this indicates that Quinn recognises his intellectual superior (although Quinn is much better, obviously).

Next, Quinn only calls Wade "Wade", while Wade also uses Quinn's first name the most, but also plays with "Q-Ball" (Rembrandt's favourite nickname for Quinn) and "Mr. Mallory". This pattern is typical of people who fancy each other, but, in the end, will never do anything about it.

The group's most complex relationship is with Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown. Everyones uses his first name and affectionate diminutive "Remmy", while only the youngsters use his stage name and only the Professor uses "Mr. Brown". All this confusion is, lamentably, because even dimension hoppers can struggle socially around black people.