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THE LINGUISTICS OF PROMETHEUS – WHAT DAVID SAYS TO THE ENGINEER

The Sacrificial Engineer – (C) 20th Century Fox

I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, have a million different questions after seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. And some great analysis and theory has been mulled over with a fine tooth comb, see Brad Brevet’s great article at Rope of Silicone. But only so much analysis can be performed before you hit a stumbling block, and require a little more in-depth research. I am of course referring to the mysterious monologue that android David speaks to the alien ‘Engineer’ in the final scenes of the film, which left many in the dark. How exactly do you begin to translate alien-speak? The clue lies in an earlier scene where David learns about linguistics, while the rest of the crew are in stasis.

[UPDATE: An Easter Egg was found on the Blu-ray with an English Translation of the sacrifice scene]

In the scene David is learning the building blocks of language and we see him taking a lesson in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) Linguistics, where a holographic professor, takes him through the ABC’s and recites Schleicher’s Fable. An artificial text composed in the reconstructed PIE, in 1868, to demonstrate the language’s use.

hjewɪs jasmə hwælnə nahəst akʷunsəz dadʳkta (Translated as: a sheep that had no wool saw horses) – Excerpt from Schleicher’s Fable – The Sheep and the Horses

The good doctor himself…

The ‘Professor’ in the clip is in fact the real-life linguistics consultant used for the film and taught Michael Fassbender (David) the dialogue. I managed to track down the consultant, a Dr. Anil Biltoo of the SOAS Language Centre in London, to see if he could shed some light on the mysterious final scene. He was most helpful and provided the following:

The line that David speaks to the Engineer (which is from a longer sequence that didn’t make the final edit) is as follows:

/ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/

A serviceable translation into English is:

‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life’.

Thanks Doc!

So basically David just asked what his master, Peter Weyland, requested. As the good doctor pointed out, there is a longer sequence which Ridley Scott filmed, but ultimately cut.

We’re all going to have to wait for the Director’s cut to see if the conversation between the Engineer and David – and there was indeed originally a conversation, not merely an utterance from David – yields any fruit.- Dr. Anil Biltoo

So were going to have to wait for the Directors cut to hear what the ‘Engineer’s reply was to David’s request. Of course Dr. Biltoo is keeping quiet about the details regarding the cut scenes – I’m sure there are plenty contractual reasons he cannot spill the beans. But once we have the DVD release and isolate that audio, it wont be long before some hot shot linguist translates it, and perhaps we’ll know the answer to Shaw’s question – “Why did they change their minds about us?”

Dr. Biltoo also revealed that Fassbender spent 17 hours reciting Schleicher’s Fable, committing it to memory, only to have Ridley Scott use the first line in the film. – What I find far more impressive is that he sat through all 3hrs 45min of Lawrence of Arabia – on multiple occasions – I always knew the Fassmember was a dedicated actor – but wow!

For further insights, have a look at this discussion board over at the linguistic forum called Language Log, here. There are some great isolated audio clips of dialogue from the film.

[NOTE: Here is a full analysis of the Deleted scene – written on Sat 13th Oct]

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Trackbacks

  1. […] A translation of what David said to the Engineer in Prometheus. […]

  2. […] Engenheiro quando o ressuscitou o mistério acabou, não foi nada de mais ” Em entrevista ao The Bioscopist, o linguista Dr. Anil Biltoo, que ajudou a construir a linguagem dos Engenheiros no filme com base […]

  3. […] briefly speaks with one of the Engineers. Here’s how Dr. Biltoo translated his speech for the Bioscopist: “The line that David speaks to the Engineer (which is from a longer sequence that didn’t […]

  4. […] The Linguistics of Prometheus: What David Says to the Engineer […]

  5. […] – lorsque David parle à l’ingénieur, il lui dit (parlant de Weyland): ” /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/ “ Traduction (via l’anglais): “Cet homme est ici car il ne veut pas mourir. Il croit que vous pouvez rallonger sa vie. “ … et le dialogue sera étendu dans la version DVD… avec une réponse de l’Ingénieur !! Source: le linguiste qui a participé à l’élaboration du langage extra-terrestre […]

  6. […] Audiences are still asking questions about “Prometheus,” which probably says everything you need to know about Ridley Scott’s confounding, fascinating and frustrating return to science fiction. Now, at least one of those queries has an answer: Just what did David say to the Engineer in “Prometheus”? […]

  7. THE LINGUISTICS OF PROMETHEUS – WHAT DAVID SAYS TO THE ENGINEER – The Bioscopist…

    I’ve waited all month to read this :)…

  8. […] dig, and later the android David practices some very real linguistics — studying Schleicher’s Fable, a highly speculative but non-fictional attempt to reconstruct early human languages — to […]

  9. […] Unfortunately we don’t get the translation of the Engineers response….so thanks for that david!?! I’m going to assume that if this extended scene is 10min in length, that there is quite possible more conversation to be seen and heard. Check out the earlier article on the initial translation from here. […]

  10. […] scene, while the rest of the crew are in cryostasis. He was also very helpful in providing the English translation for what David said to the Engineer, towards the final scenes of the film and hinted at the time, that the scene originally had […]

  11. […] Here is the first clip introducing Dr. Anil Biltoo, the liguistics consultant who worked on using the synthetic language – known as Proto Indo-European (PIE), that both the Engineers and David speak throughout the film. You can read more about that on a previous article The Linguistics of Prometheus. […]

  12. […] – Ko Deivids teica Inženierim? Kas to tik ļoti sadusmoja? Vai tas bija leģendārais teiciens “bikses nost un pa purnu”? Ne gluži – izrādās, mums vienkārši atņēma subtitrus; […]

  13. […] and easy distinctions. But the more useful discussions regarding the film’s use of proto-linguistics as well as the narrative’s synthesis of intelligent design and naturalism can be […]

  14. […] The Bioscopist got in touch with the film’s linguistic expert advisor Dr Anil Biltoo of London’s […]

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