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I remember reading this science fiction novel several years ago. Here's what I remember (or think I remember) about the story:

  • Coded transmissions are intercepted right before assassinations are made
  • Involved a linguist who was commissioned to decode the intercepted transmissions
  • The linguist figures out that it's actually a language
  • The language is so efficient that when the linguist begins thinking in the language, the world seems to slow down
  • Space travel is a common thing
  • I think an assassination may have been made or attempted against an ambassador

Other than those details, I really can't remember much about the novel except that I really enjoyed it. Does this ring a bell for anybody?

  • In a similar vein, some Heinlein short stories feature a group of (exceptional) humans who use a exceedingly compact language as part of their tool kit for being better than the rest of us. "Gulf" is one, and the events therein get a passing mention in Friday. – dmckee May 22 '13 at 2:49
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It sounds a lot like "Babel-17" by Samuel Delany.

Once the linguist protagonist, Rydra Wong, finally figures out the language

she also realizes merely understanding the language puts you in the mindset to commit the assassinations. Therefore the language itself IS a weapon.

Pretty sure Delany was familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which (in a very simplified form) posits that language shapes how you think about the world, and even which thoughts you are capable of.

  • That's it! Babel-17! Thank you very much for that! – Aaron May 22 '13 at 12:22

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