Monday, January 16

Accents on Verisimilitude

Romo Lampkin
on Battlestar Galactica

One of my perennial fascinations has always been language – well, “always” as in ever since the works of J. R. R. Tolkien made such a deep impression on me in my mid-teen years. Had a career in Linguistics or Philology not meant (a) basically a degree in English and subsequent teaching of English composition more than anything else, and (b) even worse job prospects than for a History Ph.D., I might well have gone into it. (Note, fascination with how languages work, i.e.. Linguistic Theory, and facility with languages, i.e. practical ability to read and write – or speak – multiple languages, are not the same thing.) Given that interest, I often latch onto how languages are portrayed in various fantasy and science-fictional settings.

Since the summer I have been watching the re-imagined TV series Battlestar Galactica in its two-episodes every Saturday night reruns on BBC America. We're currently about three-quarters of the way through the series, 'way past where I dropped out of it for various reasons during its initial run on Sci-Fi Channel a few years ago. There have been times I wished I'd stuck with the series during its initial airing, but frankly I'm glad now that I'm able to enjoy it at a more or less steady pace without long interruptions between seasons. Anyway, I just noticed how they did something very cool in the area of language in the last couple of episodes I watched.

In episode #3:17, Dirty Hands, which aired a few weeks ago (I've been catching up on some DVR'd episodes lately) Gaius Baltar speaks a few lines in his native Aerilon accent, demonstrating the speech patterns that he worked long and hard as a child to divest himself of in favor of a standard Caprican accent. His Aerilon is quite raspy, deep in the throat, resembling what I've heard in parts of northern England or southern Scotland.

In the very next episode, #3:18, The Son Also Rises, a new character is introduced into the show, Romo Lampkin, played by the wonderful Irish-born character actor Mark Sheppard. 
 Lampkin speaks with a somewhat less-raspy but heavily accented style so similar to that demonstrated by Baltar as his native Aerilon that, although I don't think it's ever made explicit, it's pretty apparent to me that Lampkin is of similar heritage – except that although he is said to have been a public defender on Caprica prior to the Cylon Attack on the Colonies he has apparently made no effort to standardize his speech. That in itself speaks to the differing characters of the two men, at least what little I know of Lampkin in such a short time – who seems to be very strong-willed and individualist as opposed to Baltar, who quite frankly has been portrayed as a wonderfully weak-willed wimp by James Callis. Man, what does Number Six see in him?

Anyway, I don't think the placement of Baltar's revelation of this bit of his own past just before the introduction of Lampkin is any coincidence. It's just one example of the cool little nuggets that this excellent series is filled with. And the way they do it in this case, acknowledging that in a population as diverse as the Colonials' with at least a dozen different homeworlds there would be despite a common lingua franca (conveyed by English representing Caprican) a variety of different languages and even regional dialects and accents within that common standard, I believe helps solidify the realism or verisimilitude of the well-crafted re-imagined Battlestar Galactica universe.


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