Anonymous asks:

Would you say that in the Pokemon world, rather than Pokemon being named after human words, Pokemon names are onomatopoeia derived from Pokemon-speak, and the human words that sound similar come from those Pokemon names?


By which I mean that it makes sense and it seems more likely than not that something like this is going on, but at the same time I’m concerned I’ve never thought through the implications of that possibility in sufficient detail.  If you see what I mean.  Because it’s a nice way of making sense of what we actually see – that is, a world where all the animals neatly and politely know how to say their own names, but nothing else.  And on a certain level it makes a lot of intuitive sense.  When you have a very basic writing system, you write the word for ‘horse’ by drawing a picture of a horse, and maybe later on the “horse” symbol becomes the symbol for “h” once you start wanting to write things that can’t easily be represented pictographically.  When you’re just grappling with the rudiments of language, well, what do you call the animal that makes the sound “pi-ka-chu”?  A “pi-ka-chu-animal,” obviously.  And maybe then from there you start to take words for other things from those names for your animals, like, what do you call this pointy stick that you made for hunting?  Well, you name it after the pointy bird that hunts things, obviously.  Consider also the fact that the Latin alphabet, in the Pokémon world, is explicitly supposed to have been borrowed from the Unown, and it makes perfect sense that elements of spoken language might have been taken over in the same way.

But on the other hand I’m concerned that, given the way languages actually work and how they develop over time, this idea implies some very odd things about the Pokémon world.  Because words change in sound and meaning, and after a few centuries they can become so unrecognisable that people can spend entire careers trying to figure out where they came from.  But this doesn’t seem to have happened to these people.  Their language is still instantly recognisable as having all of these roots in sounds from the natural world.  And it’s not like this is restricted to words that you would expect to have been coined recently – like, if it were only Pokémon like Magneton, that would be fine, because you can say that, maybe, when physicists were first working out how magnetism really works in terms of physical laws a couple of hundred years ago, they cast around for a new word to describe what they were talking about and said “ah, yes – we’ll name these energy fields we’ve just discovered after the Pokémon that use them so extensively!”  But no, we have all kinds of very basic words like “sand” and “nine” and “chance” and “leaf” and “tune” that have clearly been borrowed from things in the natural world that resemble them in some way – a huge number and variety of words, not just chance survivals – and they have been borrowed relatively recently.  That probably means the language has not been around for very long.  By which I mean, like, five hundred years, tops.  We seem to be saying that less than a thousand years ago people in the Pokémon world were developing language from scratch.  As in people did not speak before then (because if you already had a word for the colour blue, why on earth would you borrow one from that fluffy blue bird?).  And that makes no sense.  I think if you want to have this model for languages in the Pokémon world you need to have some kind of explanation for why those Pokémon-ese loan words have been so bizarrely conservative, and the only possibility that comes to my mind is that there has been some degree of feedback – that the sounds used by the Pokémon themselves have been influenced by human languages too, so that the two have developed in lockstep, ever since humans and Pokémon started working together.  I’ll leave you to figure out what on earth the implications of that might be on your own.

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