Choices, Otherness, and Data

Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner)

Not unlike many other people in the last few months, I’ve had quite an unusual amount of time on my hands. Of course, this means I’ve been very productive—catching up on all of the shows I’ve neglected!

Because of the current situation, I’ve also been in need of something a little more nostalgic and comforting.

Oh hello Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).

I’ve been rewatching the whole series from the beginning, reliving my childhood memories, but also watching the story unfold with fresh adult eyes.

Fascinating. (OG ST throwback!)

But what does this have to do with writing, proofreading, editing, or words, you may ask? Don’t worry, I’m getting there.

(But before I do, here’s a link to my Services page. Get in touch with me to discuss how we can work together to make your current project shine!)

Back to TNG, being the language nerd that I am, the very first thought I had was, let’s see if I can catch Data in a language flub!

You see, Data, the Enterprise’s resident android, is well-known for using no contractions in his speech (e.g. I’m, you’re, etc.). I listened closely and was shocked to hear a contraction, in the very first episode no less!

As I continued to watch the first episodes of the first season, I realized that the writers were still feeling out the character, determining his similarities and differences from his fellow officers, and deciding on his limitations.

Only when Data’s android brother, Lore, makes his debut mid-season, do the writers decide that Data will no longer speak in contractions. This fact is integral to this specific episode, entitled “Datalore”, as it is one of the major differences between Data and Lore. They are identical in appearance, only distinguished by their use of language and Lore’s facial tic.

But, this fact is also a writing choice that defines Data’s character and underscores his inherent “otherness” for the remainder of the series.

Data strives to understand humanity while never quite approaching it. His individuality and identity are constantly questioned.

At the beginning of Season 2, we meet Dr. Pulaski, who in meeting Data, pronounces his name incorrectly—with a short “a” like in “Dad” instead of a long one like in “day”. Data takes the opportunity to correct her; however, she is completely unfazed by her mistake, offering no apology.

In this interaction, Dr. Pulaski demonstrates no regard for Data, she could care less about having pronounced his name wrong. A name is a mark of individuality, an identifying feature that she clearly doesn’t think an android warrants.

Pulaski’s lack of empathy continues throughout the season, with her continuing to question his individuality and undermine his very existence. To his credit, Data also seems unfazed. (To read more about the Data-Pulaski relationship, check out this post by Will Stape from Trek News.)

As I’ve mentioned, he spoke using no contractions, creating a very formal speech pattern. Data’s formality of language contributes to his differences from his fellow officers and clearly underlines the fact that he is not human.

I chose to examine Data here, because I think he is the perfect example of how a writer wields incredible power with the simplest of choices.

Aside from the obvious, such as visual images of Data removing a hand or being shut off by a switch, the writers chose to highlight his “otherness” of being an android through his uncomfortable use of language.

Formal speech is not what the average person, nor the average Starfleet officer expects to hear. The simple choice of creating a character who uses language differently than his peers influences the entire framework and perception of the character.

I don’t know that we would have the same feeling of “otherness” without the writers having made that decision in the first season.

His uniqueness might make his fictional peers uncomfortable, but it’s this same uniqueness that makes the audience watching empathize and feel for him in his quest for understanding and acceptance.

It’s just one of the many reasons I love Data.

A major shout-out must go to Brent Spiner for an amazing performance in bringing such a dynamic character to life.

Don’t be surprised if there’s another TNG blog post along the way as I continue my rewatch of the series!

Contact me if you’re looking for a language-loving proofreader to help you out!

And, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Thank you for spending this time together. See you soon.

P.S. Check out this Looper article for a list of key Data episodes. Engage! (I HAD to!)

P.P.S. Fun fact, I read an interesting Reddit thread about the naming of Data and Lore; data is rational and logical, while lore refers to folklore, oral history, and stories. So, much like the brothers, one is logical and infallible, while the other is more emotional and therefore unstable.

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