February 25, 2010
There were fragments of bone scattered through the arroyos—even part of a jaw, you could see the tooth sockets. At the base of the cliffs I spotted broken antlers, picked them up…and they were stone. I examined them with a hand lens and found, on one, the tiny, parallel, transverse scars left by the incisors of a Pliocene mouse or vole.
Those delicate tooth marks are slightly over two million years old.
February 17, 2010
A fast trip to the muddy roads of Zuni Pueblo, to admire this year’s babies and exclaim over how big last year’s have grown. There’d been lots of snow; it was so wet, they warned us, that the Navajos were parking on the pavement.
I learned to say “quack” in Zuni: naknak’ya. The apostrophe is a glottal stop, the tiny pause in Uh-oh! (which in Zuni would be spelled Uh’oh!).
The past tense of naknak’ya is naknak’yakkya. The happy clamor of ducks on a pond: Zuni nails it.
February 3, 2010
Not just aliens but all speakers of imaginary languages. Think about it. A polytheist who says “My god!” means something quite different than does a monotheist—and wouldn’t capitalize.
In Listening at the Gate I needed an epithet for use by Nondany, the itinerant master folklore collector. I settled on “By life!” I like it so much I want to get a slang wave going.
Recently a librarian nailed me with a steel eye and asked whether there was any “bad language” in the novel. I explained that it took place in an imaginary culture, but since all cultures have profanity, I’d had to invent some. She looked baffled. And bought the book.