Similar to my post on fame in Young Guns, I had another moment in my lectures where I found parallels in my study focus with a piece of text. This time it was the structuralist theory of language, using Saussure’s “synchronic” system of language (lange), in relation to Eragon.
n.b. When I say Eragon, I mean the four ‘Inheritance Cycle’ books by Christopher Paolini, not the complete abomination that is the move adaptation. You must never watch it, Simba.
I am somewhat short of time since I’m posting this whilst having a family weekend, so allow me to quickly summarise the synchronic system. (This is also largely coming from my lecture notes, seeing as how my reading notes are at home…) Saussure uses the synchronic system as a method of looking at language mathematically; how it all pieces together to form meaning. ‘Lange’ is his word of choice to mean the system of language, and he stresses the importance of understanding the rules that make the convention of speech possible. He argues that language is a system of differences. There is a gap between the language (the signifier) and its MEANING (the signified). Milly Williamson, my lecturer, aptly summarised it as the word not automatically being the thing. The sign and the concept can alter.
The word is not the TRUTH of the concept.
And it was at this point that I immediately thought, “but it IS in Eragon.” The Inheritance Cycle is set in fictional Alagaesia, where Dragon riders, elves and the like exist. (It is more complex than that, I assure you. It is a great read, I heartily recommend it). The humans, dwarves, urgals, etc. all have their own languages, similarly to our world filled with English, French, Mandarin, Swahili, etc, etc. HOWEVER(!) the Elvish language is the real language. I’m not too sure how it works logically, but their words are the real truth/meaning of an object or person. Once you know this word, you have complete power over it. That’s why there is such a stigma against a character learning their ‘true name’ as it opens up (without sugar coating) who a person truly is, and whomever else knows it can influence your entire being.
What an absolutely fascinating insight and reflection of our own language systems and conventions. Well played, Paolini, well played!