Stranger in a Strange Land
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
All symbols were in Smith's vocabulary but he had trouble believing that he had heard rightly. (3.78)
We've all been here, haven't we? The words make sense but the meaning just won't click, no matter how hard you stare at the person speaking to you. Here we see Mike struggle with one of the barriers of language, the meanings beyond what the words literally signify.
"Here. I'll read it, then you put your thumb print in the square and I'll witness it. 'I, the undersigned, Valentine Michael Smith, sometimes known as the Man from Mars, do grant and assign to Peerless Features, Limited, all and exclusive rights in my true-fact story to be titled I was a Prisoner on Mars in exchange for—" (3.102)
Heinlein throws in a pithy commentary on how the tiniest change of language can completely alter a life's story. Just how different do you think the story I was a Pioneer on Mars would be? One word can make all the difference, can't it?
The woman's last speech had contained symbols new to him and those which were not new had been arranged in fashions not easily understood. But he was happy that the flavor had been suitable for communication between water brothers—although touched with something disturbing and terrifyingly pleasant. (4.51)
Language gets stickier for Mike and his understanding of Earth. Unlike the quote above, Mike doesn't understand the definition of the words—what we word geeks call denotation—but he does get meaning from them all the same. In a sense, he feels meaning from them—wordy geeky term here is connotation. Of course, Martian or not, everyone will have different connotations for words in various situations and circumstances.