Talk To YoUniverse begins, unofficially, in a fancy department store in Tokyo Japan, where my husband and I had gone to look at shoes with some Australian friends. We approached one of the employees to ask - in Japanese - for help, but the young woman looked at us blankly and said,
We replied, still in Japanese, that we were speaking Japanese and it was all right, that we just wanted to look at a pair of shoes that our friend liked. Again, she replied,
We were never in fact able to open communication with this particular person. Eventually one of her colleagues recognized that we were indeed speaking Japanese and offered to help us.
This was a moment of discovery for me. I had to conclude that it didn't matter how well we spoke, that some people would never be able to accept that we were speaking their language. I'd met this attitude in other forms, but never so dramatically.
Later, of course, I incorporated this idea into a story, "Let the Word Take Me" (Analog, July/August 2008), folding it together with the idea of a canon-based language that I picked up from the "Darmok" episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation. If you haven't read it yet, please do! Basically it follows a young man, David Linden, as he and his famous linguist father try to save their colony from planetary eviction by figuring out how to communicate with the local gecko-like aliens - after the language "code" has been cracked but they still can't get the aliens to recognize that they're speaking it.
Since that story was published I've found myself talking about language, linguistics, and culture in many places online, including the Analog and Asimov's forums. I decided I'd like a central location to discuss these issues in speculative fiction.
So I invite all of you to come and talk with me! Let's talk about designing or deepening your universe, the accents and cultures in different regions of your fantasy world, or even places in the real world that you'd like to know more about. I love this stuff, and I'd love to share what I know and learn from you!