Aug 15, 2020 4:05 PM
Bruce meets Zoombinis
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"I'd be happy to!" It's not as though he has any other commitments he could actually get to from here, and the Zoombinis seem awesome company. Especially if he can actually help out and not just hang around awkwardly.

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"That'll make carrying our supplies much easier!" says Speeba with an expression that manages to approximate a relieved smile despite their lack of any discernible mouth.

Kwispafa interjects, "And I bet you'd make such big cakes!"

...Speeba digests this comment with a thoughtful air. "Eat bigger ones, too, probably," they say thoughtfully. "We should have enough to make it to the point where we're self-sustaining on the other side... we definitely have enough to make it to the shore, at least, when we loaded the boat we prepared for a very long journey."

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"Yeah, I was thinking about that too. Also I'm not sure whether I can eat your food, though the fact that you have something you call cake is . . . wait a second, how do we even speak the same language? Is this English we're speaking?"

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"English? Never heard of it. This is Islish," says Speeba. "Spoken all across the Archipelago."

It sure sounds like English, and feels like English when Bruce speaks it, and in all other ways is not perceptually distinguishable from English.

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"That is. Not the weirdest thing that's happened today but it would definitely have won if it had happened last week. And I have a whole bunch of experiments I want to do now but possibly it should wait until after we figure out the important logistical stuff."

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"Yes, I suppose that is very strange," Speeba agrees. "You're right about the priorities, though. Speaking of which, I'd better get back to running this operation. Kwisp, you can stay up here and chat as long as you're ready to nip back down the hatch as soon as we hit choppy waters."

"Yes, Ammi," Kwispafa says dutifully.

"Good kid. I'll be right there, Caf!" Speeba un-parks and rolls, one might almost say zooms, away.

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"So, do language experiments sound fun to you?"

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"What's a language experiment?"

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"So, as far as I know no human has ever met a Zoombini before, but we can speak the same language, except you call it Islish and I call it English. So I want to find out what else is different and why our languages are so similar when different people came up with them, and the way I want to do that is by doing experiments--trying things where I don't know what's going to happen and learning from what happens."

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Kwispafa bounces a little. "That sounds interesting! What kinds of things do you want to try?"

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Awwwww the tiny cute alien likes experiments, and bounces, that's too adorable.

"Well, first I'd like to see if you can understand me when I'm speaking a different language. For example, this is a sentence in German; can you understand it?"

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Kwispafa shakes their head. Or, well, rotates in place in a very headshake-reminiscent way. "I can't understand that at all!"

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"Okay, so we are actually speaking the same language and not, I dunno, you're telepaths or something. Second question, that head gesture you just did meant no, and this one" he nods "means yes, right?" He has the sudden impulse to see if they have an equivalent of flipping the bird and immediately stomps on it because this is a 100% G-rated science project.

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"Yes!" Kwispafa nod-bounces. It's surprisingly distinct from a happy-bounce, even though they're doing it pretty excitedly.

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These people have such clear body language that he's better at understanding it than he is at human body language. He hopes they don't find him weirdly uncommunicative in comparison.

"Hmm, what next . . . Dialects! Do you have potatoes here? If you do, if you slice them up into sticks and then cook them with oil until the outsides are crispy, what's that called?"

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Happybounce. "Oh, I like potato fries, they're tasty!"

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"They are!" Zoombinis: apparently not British. And thank goodness this world has something at least potentially similar to potatoes and probably no countries mysteriously called France. What other regional dialect variations are there . . . "Do you have a word for the kind of shoes I'm wearing, or are they weird alien shoes?" (He's wearing sneakers.)

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"They look like shoes to me but they're pretty weird," Kwispafa admits. "Makes sense, I guess, you probably have different feet."

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"Yeah, fair, I was mostly wondering if you say 'tennis shoes' or 'sneakers' but now that I say it out loud it seems pretty unlikely you've invented tennis. You're not missing much. How about plural you? If I offered someone cake I would say, 'Would you like some cake?'; if I was offering a group of people cake what would I say then?"

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"Hey guys, I made cake!" says Kwispafa, lowering their voice a little so as not to get anyone's hopes up.

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Bruce laughs delightedly. "That's also a valid way to communicate that! What if I had said 'Would y'all like some cake' or for that matter 'Would youse guys like some cake' or 'Would yinz like some cake'? Like, separate from the actual question of the cake, would you think I was using silly made-up words or reasonable ones?" He feels like he is going to owe this kid a cake at the end of this and if he had any hope of finding a kitchen maybe he would be able to follow through on that.

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"Those all sound pretty silly! I guess I'd say 'you' or 'you guys' instead of those? Are those real words where you're from?"

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"They are, yeah, but only people who live in certain places use them. Are there Zoombinis living in lots of different places and speaking different languages?"

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"I think there's just Zoombini Isle and this boat. And lots of people who aren't Zoombinis speak Islish too. Like the Bloats!"

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"What are the Bloats like? I think I got mistaken for one earlier." Oh void and botheration, if this was a YA novel it would turn out that the Bloats were humans who had come here from Earth to be generically oppressive and that's why the mysterious English. He hopes that is not what's going on and not just because it would be deeply clichéd.

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