Home Events Speaker | Event 52 – Story of Your Life: Linguistic Landscapes in Literature

Speaker | Event 52 – Story of Your Life: Linguistic Landscapes in Literature

…the only way to learn an unknown language is to interact with a native speaker, and by that I mean asking questions, holding a conversation, that sort of thing. Without that, it’s simply not possible.

 More interesting was the fact that Heptapod B was changing the way I thought. For me, thinking typically meant speaking in an internal voice as we say in the trade, my thoughts were phonologically coded. My internal voice normally spoke in English, but that wasn’t a requirement.…Different language, same mode: a voice speaking silently aloud.

Stories of Your Life

This presentation will only delve into one short story, Story of Life, in the collection, and hence, the only preparation needed is to read this single fiction, if you are interested in coming to our event. The 2016 movie Arrival, starred by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is adapted from this story. Arrival, as one of the most impressive sci-fi films in recent years, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Ted Chiang

The fiction, Story of Your Life, is authored by Ted Chiang, an enthusiast of linguistics who constructs the story on the premise of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He believes that language influences, if not determines, the thinking of human beings. Based on the hypothesis, Dr. Louise Banks, the protagonist, in the course of mastering the cranky language and text of “heptapods,” has gradually acquired their distinctive worldview and ability to predict the future. Heptapods, unlike human beings whose thinking is confined by cause and effect, have a train of thought oriented towards the outcome. Dr. Banks thereby foresees her divorce and her daughter’s premature death. The choices that she has to make brings in the philosophical issue of free will.

Ted Chiang, the author, points out that the existence of free will obviate the contingency of foretelling the future. We are aware of free will because we have directly experienced it. Free will is part of the essence of individual thought. However, the prerequisite of foreseeing the future is the absence of free will in a situation, where there is no way to change the future in spite of recognizing it. You know something will happen, and it will, definitely.

We will discuss Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Speech-Act Theory, both of which are drawn reference to throughout the story. We will conduct academic analysis based on the fiction and touch upon ways of learning a language.


Dr. Junhong Liu is an Associate Professor and serves at the Director of the Center of Functional Linguistics and Cross-Cultural Studies at the School of Foreign Languages, China Three Gorges University. She received her PhD degree in English Language and Literature from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. Dr. Liu is currently a visiting scholar at Berkeley Language Center.

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Jul 20 2019


7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


Campbell Hall 101
Campbell Hall 101, UC Berkeley


7PM Literary and Film Salon