Linguistic Anthropology Term Project: Analysis of A Fictional Language

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Different cultures interact in different ways. They contain both verbal and visual statements. Examining these things exposes the ideals of the individuals who use them. This paper offers a linguistic description of the fictitious language in the film Nell. It even looks at visual conversation and how it is perceived.

Nell speaks English, but it is warped because her first contact was with her mother, who was paralyzed on one side of her mouth. Having first learned speech from her mother, the phonetics of her language are slurred and clipped while the vocabulary was influenced by the bible and possibly new words she formed with her sister. Observable phonemes in her language include: /b/, /d/, /f/, /g/, /h/, /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /s/, /t/, and /w/.

/b/ - bin (been)

/d/ - doana (don’t)

/f/ - fo (before)

/g/ - ga’inja (guardian angel)

/h/ - ha (have)

/k/ - kee (tears)

/l/ - loo (look)

/m/ -missa (little)

/n/ - nay (no)

/s/ - so (person)

/t/ - tay (tree)

/w/ - wan (want)

/y/­ - yo (you)


Chickabee (00:26:25) is repeatedly mentioned and every time Nell appears to open her arms (like a kite) pretending to fly. Therefore, it could be referring to a game she plays or used to play with her sister.

Ga’inja (00:36:15) is used to describe Dr. Jerry when he shows his muscles and Nell uses it to demonstrate power and guard using his hands.

Maw (00:36:39) while demonstrating Ga’inja to Jerry, Nell is heard saying “maw spee, afa ah go Ga’inja cahm” probably meaning “mother said, after I go a guardian angel will come.”

Te’ey (00:42:19) when Jerry asks what is Te’ey, Nell raises her hands like branches and sways saying Te’ey innah wind meaning tree in the wind.

Wor’ Law (00:46:10) Nell is upset and screams saying “Wor’ Law go wey” but after showing Jerry where what she means is he goes to fetch her bible.

Proper Nouns

Je’y (00:37:05) after Jerry has introduced himself and talks about his lonely childhood, Nell points at him calling him Je’y Ga’inja.

Law (00:46:10) Nell screams asking for Wor’ Law and Jerry brings her the Word of God.

Basic Statements

Nay (00:42:30) Jerry opens the door while saying “Te’ey innah wind” to which Nell strongly resists.

Doana (00:42:35) when Jerry is opening the door Nell shouts and resists while closing the door and pushing him back.

Loo (00:51:35) after seeing Jerry naked Nell swims towards Paula and gestures to where Jerry is sitting.


Tata (00:42:39) after closing the door Jerry had opened for them to go out and play in the wind like trees, Nell explains why she closed the door. She is afraid to of evo’dur.

Non-Verbal/Gestural Communication

Nell swims towards Paula and points to Jerry’s direction where he is sitting naked in order for her to see what she has seen (00:51:35). Paula tells Nell that Jerry will not hurt her and she leans forward nodding while she strokes her hair gently. The nod indicates acknowledgement.

After Paula tells Nell that Jerry will not hurt her, she swims towards him. She holds his hands and pulls him into the water (00:51:52). She holds his face into her hands then puts them on his chest before putting her face into his chest. (00:52:00). Her actions show that she is not afraid of Jerry but rather quite fond of him.

Jerry gives Nell some popcorn then walks out; she follows him but she is afraid to step into the open air. She then extends her two hands towards him while staying away from the Sun (00:53:21). The extended open hands mean that she wants to grab some of the popcorns for herself.

Graphic Communication

Nell’s language does not consist of any graphics. No writings, tattoos, or body paintings are visible in her language. However, her mother’s writings can be seen when found by Jerry (00:10:13). The writings are English words and spellings match except for gard which stands for guard. Paula writes down words she has heard Nell speak: chickabee, Feliss, Kay, bin, Reckon, spee, af, and ga-inja (00:37:31). Paula’s understanding and writing is influenced by her knowledge of English language, thus she uses Latin script.

Work Cited

Nell. Dir. Michael Apted. 20th Century Fox, 1994. DVD.

October 25, 2022

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