Cult sci-fi hit ‘The Expanse’ returns – so does its inventive coined language


Wes Chatham in “The Expanse”

Photo: Jason Bell / SyFy

Let’s just get one thing clear at the top. “The Expanse”, which begins its sixth and final season on December 10 on Amazon Prime, is not only the best sci-fi series around, but it’s one of the best series of any kind since its debut. in 2015 – although you would never know it because of the Emmy and Golden Globes’ lack of love.

It’s not just the intriguing casting choices over the past six years: Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog”); David Straithairn (“Nomadic Land”); Among them, Thomas Jane (“Stander”) and Jared Harris (“Mad Men”). It’s not just that it is, relatively speaking for television science fiction, considered scientifically accurate. It’s not just that, in a six-year streak of many summits, the explosive first five episodes of Season 1 are examples of world-building and staging at their best.

Questions and answers: Two of the forces behind ‘The Expanse’ speak of race, language and the end of the series.

And he’s notable for his portrayal of space not as a place where perfect men boldly go where no man has gone before, but a place where damaged men and women walk, laden with all the emotional baggage. and politics that encumbered them on Earth.

“The extent”

When: The sixth and final season begins December 10

Or: Amazon Prime Video. The previous five seasons are also available.

What really sets “The Expanse”, based on a series of novels by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under the pseudonym James SA Corey), is how it explores the birth of a new culture, including a whole new one. tongue.

How it started

First, a little reminder: “The Expanse” – which was canceled by SyFy after three seasons, then saved by Amazon, in part because Jeff Bezos is a fan – takes place about 300 years in the future, an era where Earth and Luna (the moon) are united under the UN flag, while Mars and the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter have been colonized.

But the distance does not make the heart more affectionate. Mars and the belt bristle at Terran control. The militaristic and industrious Martians, determined to terraform their dry and dusty home, see the Terrans as weak decadents who have destroyed their own environment while the Belters, working class workers at the bottom of the ladder of an economy of extracting resources from which both Earth and Mars benefit, growing up to despise them both. They derisively call the inhabitants of the planet “Inners” (as in the internal solar system) who despise them and launch an uprising through the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance).

Thomas Jane as Detective Josephus Miller during a demonstration by Belters in “Remember the Cant”, an episode of the first season of “The Expanse”.

Photo: Syfy

Race and nationality have receded as issues 300 years from now, and Earthlings, Martians, and Belters are all a glorious mix. The series’ reluctant warrior heroes – a multicultural team with Earthers James (Steven Strait) and Amos (Wes Chatham) as well as Martians Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and Alex (Cas Anvar, who left after season 5) and Belter Naomi ( Dominique Tipper) – represent what this brave new world might look like. But the hatred and mistrust run deep.

The Belters don’t just evolve politically, a process culminating in the growing power of Belter’s charismatic leader, Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), and his fiery son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens), who dominate Season 6. Their bodies are shape change, too. Being raised over successive generations in low gravity environments means Belters are taller, thinner, and have more fragile bones than their Earthly compatriots. This trait is exploited by one of the heads of Earth’s government (Aghdashloo), who uses the heavy weight of Earth’s gravity to torture a suspected terrorist.

The advent of Creole Belter

The Belters also change the way they speak, creating a language that binds them together as a symbol of community and resistance. Because the Belters originally came from a variety of backgrounds – American, West European, Russian, Arabic, African, Asian, Latin – the way they spoke became a Creole language that anyone could understand.

Alternately called “Lang Belta” or “Belter Creole”, it was designed by a true linguist and polyglot, Nick Farmer, who fleshed out what was in the books. He was inspired by existing Creole languages, such as Haitian Creole, but also searched in other languages ​​of the Romance, Slavic, Indian, Japanese, Germanic, Chinese and West African language families. The result is something that, to an American ear, looks like a mixture of Caribbean Creole, Mandarin, Russian, and Afrikaans.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for science fiction and fantasy stories to feature invented languages. But often they’re not meant to be of contemporary human origin – think of the elves in “The Lord of the Rings”, the Klingons in “Star Trek” or the Dothraki in “Game of Thrones”. The farmer’s task was stricter: What might an Earth-derived crop look like 300 years from now?

Keon Alexander (left) and Jasai Chase Owens are father and son leaders of Belter’s resistance in “The Expanse”

Photo: Amazon Studios / Cr: Amazon Prime Video

As Wired wrote in 2017, “Farmer knew how he wanted Belter to sound in his ear – like everything and nothing at the same time.” And, soon enough, some linguists praised it, Reddit threads were born, and fans started to throw out Belter words like “beltalowda” (belt folks), “copeng” (friend), “bosmang” (bossman), “oyedeng” (goodbye) and “taki taki” (thank you).

Belters, who often works in the silence of space where vocal language is not possible, also uses gestures to convey his views. According to space.com, Farmer hired an Italian choreographer to work on body language.)

This gives “The Expanse” a jolt of cultural realism that a smaller series might give up. Unfortunately, there has been less emphasis on this distinctive language in more recent episodes, and this continues into the final season, which is more focused on the hunt for Inaros and less on the culture that gave birth to it. Characters more often use English with a Belter accent instead of using several of their own phrases.

It’s a shame, but that doesn’t diminish the power of what Abraham, Franck, Farmer, and showrunner Naren Shankar have created. And, as the show is about to say “oyedeng” for good, we can only say “taki taki”.

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  • Cary Darling

    Cary Darling joined the Houston Chronicle in 2017 where he writes on the arts, entertainment and pop culture, with an emphasis on film and media. A native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, he has served as a reporter or editor at the Orange County Register, the Miami Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In addition, he has freelance work for a number of publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News.

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