Language and linguistics in Frank Herbert's Dune

Language and linguistics in Frank Herbert's Dune

Frank Herbert's novel "Dune", and his "Dune" series in general, incorporates a number of different themes related to language or linguistics, both in the techniques Herbert used in the actual writing itself, and more obviously, in the plot and characters. This is consistent with a broader theme of these novels, specifically, the nearly limitless power inherent in the human mind and body, and the power of training and discipline to enhance both physical and mental performance.

Accordingly, heightened language skill and linguistic power are among the traits explored by Herbert in his works.

uperhuman vocal abilities

*One of the most prominent examples of an enhanced vocal power is the power of "Voice" used by the Bene Gesserit. By studying a subject and calculating the appropriate pitch and tone, a skilled speaker can use words to exert influence over listeners, both as a subtle influence on their thoughts (perhaps analogous to subliminal advertising, hypnotic suggestion, or mind control) or in extreme circumstances, causing the targets to take physical actions; this ability possibly exploits neural reflexes.
*At a dinner party on Arrakis, Jessica is able to discern a speaker's cultural origin and education by noticing their speaking cadence and pacing, rather than a specific regional accent. She has the ability to hear vocal patterns that to the speaker are a subconscious part of their training and upbringing, even when they are attempting to conceal these origins.
*Bene Gesserit adepts are able to learn and comprehend new languages at a superhuman rate, by listening to snatches of conversation. During the siege of Arrakis, Lady Jessica hears some of the Harkonnen battle-language code over the radio, but "not enough to register the language."

Neolanguages in the Dune Universe

Herbert's attention to linguistic detail in his use of fictional languages with real-world roots as well as others that are purely fictional has invited comparisons to other famous fictional works using created languages, especially J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" saga.

*Lady Jessica and the Fremen Shadout Mapes discuss Jessica's knowledge of the "Bhotani Jib," a "hunting language, ["The term "hunting language" refers to a period when the Fremen and other peoples were being pursued, before they settled on Dune, and not to an activity; it would be considered a proto-language of Chakobsa.] suggesting a world in which languages have evolved for specific purposes. In a similar episode, Jessica's exposure to what she describes as the "violence" of the Fremen Chakobsa tongue causes her to infer that the Fremen culture is even more fiercely violent than is commonly suspected. This is an example of linguistic determinism and is explored by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
*Many houses have developed unique code words, verbal encryption schemes and general linguistic precautions. The Atreides and Harkonnen are both known to employ "battle language" (verbal codes) while in combat; Count Hasimir Fenring and his wife the Lady Margot appear to have developed a private language based on humming; the Bene Tleilax are later shown to have developed a language based on whistling; the Bene Gesserit & House Atreides use separate, silent "finger-flicking" language which they use to communicate secret information while talking Galach at the same time.
*Much of the common Fremen language is derived from modern Arabic, Romani, and Slavic words.
*Galach, the language of the Imperium, is said to be a hybrid, or more strictly speaking a creole, of Inglo-Slavic.


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