Artistic License Linguistics

aka: You Fail Linguistics Forever
There are a whole lot of science-related inaccuracies in fiction, with some fields of knowledge bearing the brunt worse than others. In the case of linguistics, the vast majority of people have no idea it exists, never mind the basics. Obviously, this includes writers. Indeed, the prevalence of this trope (and its relative lack of being noticed) can be attributed to this fact - most people recognize that when dealing with questions of physics, biology, chemistry, etc., they need to ask an expert, whereas with linguistics, many people don't even realize that there are experts to be asked.

Many language/linguistics tropes are attributable to this, and are split up here into errors in academic linguistics, translation errors, and errors in usage.

Author's Mistakes (General): Basic mistakes in the way languages work, evolve, and differ from each other.

  • Aliens Speaking English: Ignores the difficulty of near-instantaneous translation between very different languages, to say nothing of differing physiology. Often acceptable, since aliens speaking a completely different language can get very annoying.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: The Theme Park Version of Victorian (essentially Present Day) English, spoken by everyone post-Regency up until the end of The Roaring Twenties. note 
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: mismatches the strength of Foreign Cuss Words.
  • Eternal English: Ignores the process of linguistic change, with people 1,000 years ago or 1,000 years later speaking in the same dialect as the creators.
  • From The Latin Intro Ducere: Just because an alleged etymology seems relevant to your point doesn't necessarily make it the word's true history. Also, just because a word was derived from an older one doesn't necessarily make that part of the word's definition today.
  • Language Equals Thought: Follows the controversial Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, that language dictates (and limits) the ideas people can have and how they experience the world. Note that this is not necessarily an error, depending on the time and the opinions of the author.
  • Language of Truth: If it is impossible to make a false statement in a language, it's impossible to make any statement in it at all.
  • Omniglot: Languages take time to learn; very few people in Real Life speak more than four or five well. These people speak more, flawlessly.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Hold your horses? What's a horse?
  • Personal Dictionary: Someone giving their own idiosyncratic definitions to existing words. Communication doesn't work that way.
  • Twisting the Words: Willfully ignoring the context, definitions, or other cues that can affect the meaning of someone's remarks.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Theme Park Version of Elizabethan (Early Modern) English, applied to any and all times before the Regency.
  • Hollywood Apocrypha: The Theme Park Version of the Early Modern English used in the King James Bible, applied to all fictional religious texts.

Author's Mistakes (Foreign Languages): Examples of these tropes ignore the differences between languages and assume they all translate perfectly 1:1. And then they get the translation wrong.

Mistakes with Usage: Many people assume "linguistics" to be all about correcting spelling, pronunciation and grammar "errors". In fact there is no such thing as objectively correct usagenote , as languages evolve over time - linguists concern themselves with studying actual usage, warts and all, rather than trying to be a Grammar Nazi. The following tropes are not strictly linguistics failures, simply poor usage:

Audience's Misconceptions (Linguistic Dissonance): While not made up of mistakes in itself, these tropes can cause difficulty with audiences who are unaware of the difference within languages over time and from place to place:

Alternative Title(s):

Artistic Licence Linguistics, You Fail Linguistics Forever