I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, have a million different questions after seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. And some great analysis and theory has been mulled over with a fine tooth comb, see Brad Brevet’s great article at Rope of Silicone. But only so much analysis can be performed before you hit a stumbling block, and require a little more in-depth research. I am of course referring to the mysterious monologue that android David speaks to the alien ‘Engineer’ in the final scenes of the film, which left many in the dark. How exactly do you begin to translate alien-speak? The clue lies in an earlier scene where David learns about linguistics, while the rest of the crew are in stasis.
In the scene David is learning the building blocks of language and we see him taking a lesson in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) Linguistics, where a holographic professor, takes him through the ABC’s and recites Schleicher’s Fable. An artificial text composed in the reconstructed PIE, in 1868, to demonstrate the language’s use.
hjewɪs jasmə hwælnə nahəst akʷunsəz dadʳkta (Translated as: a sheep that had no wool saw horses) – Excerpt from Schleicher’s Fable – The Sheep and the Horses
The ‘Professor’ in the clip is in fact the real-life linguistics consultant used for the film and taught Michael Fassbender (David) the dialogue. I managed to track down the consultant, a Dr. Anil Biltoo of the SOAS Language Centre in London, to see if he could shed some light on the mysterious final scene. He was most helpful and provided the following:
The line that David speaks to the Engineer (which is from a longer sequence that didn’t make the final edit) is as follows:
/ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/
A serviceable translation into English is:
‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life’.
So basically David just asked what his master, Peter Weyland, requested. As the good doctor pointed out, there is a longer sequence which Ridley Scott filmed, but ultimately cut.
We’re all going to have to wait for the Director’s cut to see if the conversation between the Engineer and David – and there was indeed originally a conversation, not merely an utterance from David – yields any fruit.- Dr. Anil Biltoo
So were going to have to wait for the Directors cut to hear what the ‘Engineer’s reply was to David’s request. Of course Dr. Biltoo is keeping quiet about the details regarding the cut scenes – I’m sure there are plenty contractual reasons he cannot spill the beans. But once we have the DVD release and isolate that audio, it wont be long before some hot shot linguist translates it, and perhaps we’ll know the answer to Shaw’s question – “Why did they change their minds about us?”
Dr. Biltoo also revealed that Fassbender spent 17 hours reciting Schleicher’s Fable, committing it to memory, only to have Ridley Scott use the first line in the film. – What I find far more impressive is that he sat through all 3hrs 45min of Lawrence of Arabia – on multiple occasions – I always knew the Fassmember was a dedicated actor – but wow!
For further insights, have a look at this discussion board over at the linguistic forum called Language Log, here. There are some great isolated audio clips of dialogue from the film.