Study Guide

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Language and Communication

By Douglas Adams

Language and Communication

We might as well call this the theme of "Miscommunication," because in Hitchhiker's Guide, characters have a lot of trouble understanding each other, even with the Babel fish translating all languages for them. For instance, Ford has trouble explaining things to Arthur, partly because they're using different vocabularies: Ford says that Arthur is "safe" on the Vogon ship, but Arthur's version of the word "safe" doesn't involve his planet being destroyed (5.22-25). There are several ways of communicating in the book—slang, body language, writing—but it hardly ever works out, and that's what we'd expect from an absurd comedy. In other words, in Hitchhiker's Guide, communication is just another way for things to go wrong.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What are the costs of miscommunication? What's the worst thing that happens in this book because of a miscommunication?
  2. Do each of these characters have their own way of speaking? If so, what do those individual styles tell us about the characters? Or do most of the characters speak the same? How does that affect your reading experience?
  3. When does communication go right in this book, if ever? Do people with similar backgrounds find it easier to communicate (for instance, the Earth-people, Arthur and Trillian)?
  4. Is the language in Hitchhiker's Guide ever hard to follow? Is it harder when the narrator is discussing scientific issues? When the narrator is making a joke? Do you think this book is written differently because the idea started out as a radio show?

Chew on This

As the Babel fish shows us, communication in Hitchhiker's Guide is often dangerous, so we should all just be quiet.

Hitchhiker's Guide shows us that communication is impossible because everyone speaks his or her own different language. (Do not use this thesis to try to argue a better grade out of your teacher.)