Heptapod B

How Louise Solved Heptapod B



In the past few years, a number of films have made a point of Getting the Science Right. Interstellar (2014) famously consulted with astrophysicist Kip Thorne, in order to achieve a realistic on-screen depiction of black holes (amongst other things). Just last year, The Martian was praised for basing much of its appeal around its scientific realism.

Now, in 2016, the sci-fi film Arrival is attracting similar accolades for it’s portrayal of linguistics, and of how scientists approach solving a problem. One standout piece hails from Science vs. Cinema – a YouTube channel devoted to examining how Hollywood fares on various science-related matters:

Since the movie only had so much time to cover exactly how Amy Adams’ character Dr. Louise Banks unraveled the aliens’ writing system, let’s do a deep dive and actually answer the question:

How do linguists do what they do?

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An interesting discussion from one of @thelingspace‘s writers of how linguists go about analyzing unfamiliar languages and breakdown of how this can be applied to Heptapod B in Arrival. 

Having said that, I’d also point out that this gets to one of my quibbles about the nonlinear orthography in the movie: true, Heptapod B is written as a circle, but the circle appears to be easily divided into parts. So I’m not sure it’s evidence of nonlinear *thinking* any more than if I was to write English (or Elvish) in a circle. 

Great piece by Ling Space staff writer Stephan about the linguistics of Arrival!