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great circles, Babel-17

“Well,” Rydra took out a metal tracing plate and a stylus. “I’m simplifying it a little, but let me show you.” She marked the plate. “Let’s say the word for circle is: O. This language has a melody system to illustrate comparatives. We’ll represent this by the diacritical marks: ˇ ¯ ˆ , respectively smallest, ordinary, and biggest. So what would Ǒ mean?”

“Smallest possible circle?” said Calli. “That’s a single point.”

Rydra nodded. “Now, when referring to a circle on a sphere, suppose the word for just an ordinary circle is Ō followed by either of two symbols, one of which means not touching anything else, the other of which means crossing — ║ or X. What would ÔX mean?”

“Great circles that intersect,” said Ron.

“And because all great circles intersect, in this language the word for great circle is always ÔX. It carries the information right in the word. Just like busstop or foxhole carry information in English that la gare or le terrier — comparable words in French—lack.”

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