Don’t ask for a paper extension in an extraterrestrial language

It’s that time in the semester when midterms start to blend in with final papers, students and profs alike look disheveled and everyone is five minutes late for everything. But being late for a paper is way different than being late for a tutorial, and if you’ve left that 14-page Chicago-style research paper a little too long, penalties up to 25 per cent are seriously damaging to any GPA.

If you’re one of UBC’s many linguistics students, or perhaps an arts student taking astronomy for a science credit, you might think it would be cute to ask for an extension in an extraterrestrial language… hey, profs are impressionable people too, right?

But, be careful — you could end up worse off than you started.

If you’re taking Dr. Christine Schreyer’s cross-campus course titled “Endangered Language Documentation and Revitalization,” it might seem like a good idea to ask her for an extension in Kryptonian. After all, she did invent it. Warner Brothers asked the associate professor of anthropology and linguistics at UBC Okanagan to develop the language for Man of Steel.

However, there are no past or future tense markers in Krypton morphology, such as “went” or “will go.”

Instead, a mark attached to the letter is used, sometimes called a “diacritical mark” in linguistics lingo. Japanese uses diacritical marks called dakuten and handakuten — they kind of look like a sideways quotation mark and a degree symbol, respectively — to indicate some voiced sounds. In the same way, the Kryptonian syllabic writing systems — syllabic and glyph — uses diacritical marks when a word should be past or future tense.

“‘Suve’ is future tense,” Schreyer explained. “... you wouldn't write out the letter ‘Su’ because that would be one shape and then ‘ve.’ You would just put this extra ornate thing on the writing system and then that would mark future tense.”

So, “suve” would be said out loud when speaking about something in the future. But written in the syllabic writing system, there would just be the “suve” mark over the verb being used to indicate future tense.

For example, to use the future tense of “lum” — which means “to talk” in Kryptonian — you’d need to write “lum” with the diacritical mark “suve” on top. That extra ornate “thing” makes all the difference. Forget it and Schreyer may be expecting your paper a week early instead!

If you’re still planning on attempting to use Kryptonian to your advantage, you’ll also have to change how you structure your sentences due to Kryptonian cultural history. As a people, Kyptonians became selfish and overly attached to objects. So much so, said Schreyer, that they obsessively write their history and stories onto the things they own.

This affected their language, remapping the sentence structure to subject-object-verb instead of subject-verb-object, which is what English uses. That works out to “I the dog saw” instead of “I saw the dog.” The long obsession with objects actually moved the object closer to the subject in their sentences.

If you really need that extension and want to impress your prof, perhaps re-mapping your sentence to show your commitment to your education is a reasonable approach.

But hey, if they respond to “I the extension need” with an “?,” don’t blame me. You should have started the paper earlier.