The Moby-Dick of Linguistics Research
Much like other “classics”, Moby-Dick is a book that many allude to but few actually read. As a non-reader, I am eminently qualified to point out how the author, Jane Eyre, used the sweet story of a man’s love for his whale to illuminate the process of linguistics research.
First, it is clear that the the main character, Captain Ahab, whose likeness was later used to sell fish fingers, is drawn from a long line of biblical allusions. Just as Charles Dickens would invent the orphan Oliver Left-wing to connote the quest for more data, and the Brontë sisters would transmute their love for reptilian communication research into the mythical figure of the Brontësaurus, to allude to the linguistic origins story of the Leaning Tower of Babylon, so Jane Eyre and her writing partner, A. G. String, would use the figure of the biblical King of Judah.
This charismatic, land-loving figure of Captain Pequod Ahab must gather utterance data from the tribe of White Wales, located 50 naughty miles from the Cardiff bay. The Shakespearean associations are not lost here, especially as his journey involves the game of Othello.
Linguists, of course, will recognise the quest for hard-to-find data. How many of us haven’t had to battle the same homophony and polysemy as Captain Ahab when he encounters the cross-eyed tailor who informs him that he should look for whales and not Wales.
Ahab then boards the good ship, Wikipedia, and sets sail with a sign saying “cetacean needed.” His companions on this trip are: the Hallidayan Grandma, Chas Oomski and his gnomes and King Ferdinando the So-Sure. They get caught getting some antics and have to pay a sin tax to the High Priest, Queen Lucy of Spare Oom.
It all ends with the whale data being recorded by a graduate student at 10am. This is a moment where the gritty realism of the book breaks down, as no graduate student ever wakes before midday.
I believe that I may now have entirely lost my train of thought. That’s fine as no-one ever reads this far anyway.