"New sun, new air, new sky. A whole universe teeming with life. Why stand still when there's all that life out there?" -The Doctor
"Asking a linguist how many languages they speak is like asking a doctor how many diseases they have." -Unknown

Friday, February 3, 2012


I used to live in a house up on a hill overlooking a valley floodplain. Some mornings, when the conditions were just right, we'd wake up to find our house drenched in sunshine and the valley below filled to the brim with fluffy white clouds, as if it had snowed overnight and had filled the lowest-lying areas with ten-storey drifts. On our way into town, we'd start out in light and warmth and inevitably descend into cold grey mist, and it was hard to believe that just a little ways above us the clouds ended and the sky began.
If you'll excuse the painfully obvious analogy, I can't help but wonder if this is an image of what our exchange students go through--or any experience, for that matter, be it concert, rally, summer camp, or exchange program, when you step away from your normal life and see everything in simplified terms. The muddle and habit of everyday life is stripped away and the road to take is so well-defined and obvious that it seems absurd to think you ever did it any other way. You feel resolved, determined, transformed, empowered to change your life--to find God, to lose weight, to make a difference in the world, to change your habits, to break out of the rut you've been trundling along in for months or years. You take a deep breath and set your feet on that road and...you find yourself back in your old life. Suddenly the way is confused and less clearly defined; all those confounding factors that seemed so trivial above the clouds loom large again in the mist. It's not as easy as you thought, and you settle back in the rut again.
I've experienced this mountaintop-to-valley process myself many times; it seems that every first taste of success is flavored with this laughably oversimplified crystalline clarity. Maybe others have the willpower to push through the haze and focus on that vision glimpsed from a faraway peak, but for the most part I don't.
The other day in computer lab, I was chatting with one of our exchange students from Japan. She's been a ray of sunshine all five months, the very incarnation of genki: full of energy and enthusiasm with a huge smile ready to break out at any second. She's in our mid-level class, but should have been in the lower. She's progressed hugely over the months, in large part because of joining the tennis team here and participating in practice sessions and tournaments. Tennis has been a huge part of her life for a long time, so I was pretty surprised when she told me that she didn't want to play tennis anymore when she went back to Japan. Why? Her experience in America taught her that there was more to life than tennis; that was a choice made for her by other people, and she wanted to make her own choices and try something different.
All those are admirable goals: try something new, take control of your life, break away from the way things have been. But already, the mist is creeping in; she also said that she received a reply from her tennis sempai telling her that she couldn't quit the tennis team because she's already been scheduled to play doubles. She is energetic, friendly, enthusiastic, yes, but she also told me that she goes where others tell her, that other people (her parents, her tennis coach) have dictated her steps for a long time. She's even attending her current university, and therefore here with us, because her tennis coach told her it was a good place to play tennis--so she went. It's terrible, but I can't help but wonder: with such a fun-loving, amiable disposition, how long will it take the combined pressure of habit and duty and parental/peer expectation to put her right back where she was before? The difference would be, she wouldn't want to be there anymore. I really hope this doesn't happen, but I don't know if she has the strength and support to fight it.
I guess the question is: is it possible to hold on to that mountaintop vision and make it real? More fundamentally, can people change their lives? I think they can, but it will never quite match that hopeful glimpse in the clear air; real life is always more complicated. "It's much easier to change your tune when your song ain't being played," as Earthsuit sings. Now that our exchange program is coming to an end, our students will have to reenter their old, normal lives, departing with promises made with the best of intentions to write and call and visit again and practice English, most of which are never fulfilled. The familiar tune is too overpowering, and they end up marching to the beat again, almost without realizing it. As usual, as ever, life just gets in the way.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Edinburgh?

On Tuesday I was chatting with a coworker about work as I opened my email and I swear my heart stopped for a moment when I saw the message from the University of Edinburgh. Once I was alone, I opened it. "Dear Jennifer," it began, "I can confirm that your application to study MSc Psychology of Language at the University of Edinburgh has been accepted unconditionally, congratulations!" To be honest, I didn't feel excited or even happy. I just sat there with tears on my cheeks as the reality of it hit me.

Ever since I finished my applications on New Year's Day in this very chair--and long before that too, as I thought about where to go and wondered where my life would take me--I've felt like a skydiver falling through thick fog. I knew that eventually and inevitably I would land somewhere, but the aimless drifting in the greyness, the terrible anticipation of waiting to hit the ground, was nerve-wracking. It's a relief to have landed, to have some control over the situation, but the monumental task of pushing forward looms before me now. I guess it really hit me what grad school in Edinburgh would mean: finding funding, moving to Scotland, getting a visa, working toward a Ph.D. That all went from being a nice, safe daydream to a rock-hard and unexpectedly painful reality.

In order for me to organize my thoughts and answer some questions, I'm going to list below the pros and cons of going to Edinburgh. At the moment, it's the only confirmed choice; the other four schools (Stanford, Berkeley, Wisconsin-Madison and MIT) have yet to respond. But despite the difficulties that lie along the road to Edinburgh, it's still my first choice, and I can't even imagine a situation in which I would choose one of the others over it. Here's why:

Geography: Pros
Let's get the obvious out of the way first...
Edinburgh is in Europe(ish). I say "ish" because the residents of the British Isles don't actually seem to consider themselves "European", but for geographically, there's no denying it. Living in Europe is a huge plus for me; the flavour of life (I swear that "u" was unintentional) is more enjoyable for me living over there. Also, I'd be much closer to my European friends (see "Travel", below).
Edinburgh is in Britain (for now at least!). I have wanted to live in Britain for years now. I love the people and the country and the food (why hasn't clotted cream become a thing over here yet?!) and the dialects and the television programming and everything. I don't see any better time to live there than now, especially when I have a good excuse for the visa application.
Edinburgh is in Scotland. It's the capital, actually. Although my visit to Scotland two years ago was brief and mostly consisted of visiting Edinburgh, I really enjoyed my time there and I would love to travel further north. Also, Edinburgh is in south Scotland; I'm only two hours from Newcastle and three from Northallerton, and being close to Bethany is very important!
Edinburgh has mountains (well, hills) and sea. I discovered after living in a sort of rolly green country hours away from any significantly sized body of water that both mountains and sea are in my blood as a native Washingtonian, and being close to both is important to me.

Geography: Cons
Edinburgh is in Britain/Scotland. Located even farther north than Germany, which is definitely north of here, I'd expect cold weather and very dark and gloomy winters.
Edinburgh is not in America. This puts me a transatlantic and transcontinental flight away from my home, my family, many of my friends, and my dog. Although I could return for visits, it would be expensive and exhausting. Which leads me to...

Travel: Pros
Travel is so important to me; it's one of the great joys of my life and a major factor in this choice, so it's great that...
There is so much to see. I spent the summer two years ago wandering around Britain (you can read about it starting here if you're interested) and I wasn't anywhere close to being satisfied with how much I got to see. I can't explain why I love it so much there but being close to so many fascinating places would be a huge blessing.
Edinburgh is a major Ryanair hub. You must know how much I love Ryanair. Flights from Edinburgh go direct all over Europe, from Finland and Estonia to Portugal and Italy. Now, I don't know how much spare time I would have for traveling, but who wouldn't want to go to Estonia for a weekend? Or Denmark? Or Portugal?
The British have trains. I know they whine and complain about National Rail, but I'm sure not going to. It's better than taking my life into my own hands driving on the wrong side of the road! It'd be possible to travel around Scotland and England pretty easily--a lot more convenient than everything-is-forever-away America.

Travel: Cons
Edinburgh is in Europe. Not only do I have to get myself there, I have to move as well. My possessions mostly consist of clothes, books, a guitar, and my computer, but all that stuff takes up lots of suitcases. Going home for visits would be an expensive undertaking involving ten-hour flights and eight hours' worth of jet lag.
Ryanair has no direct flight from Edinburgh to London. I thought they did and I'm so sad to discover otherwise. It makes no sense to me because I'd want to visit London all the time, so surely don't others?

Finances: Pros
Tuition is cheap. Right, so, "cheap" is an extremely relative term; its use here means "about $26,000 a year." Yeah, so not objectively cheap unless you're talking about moon rockets or Bugatti Veyrons--or tuition at, say, Berkeley, which is $64,000 a year. From a comparative perspective with the other schools I've applied to, Edinburgh is downright reasonable.

Finances: Cons
Edinburgh has not offered me any funding. This is the single biggest obstacle that's keeping me from accepting the offer of admission on the spot. At the moment, I would have to pay that $26,000 a year out of pocket, and my pockets are nowhere near that deep. I'm looking now into scholarships and filling out the FAFSA, but the offer includes no funding offer whatsoever. In contrast, if I get admissions offers from any of the other schools, I will pretty much be guaranteed at least some funding. My ability to pay for the education may end up being the deciding factor, even if my heart and academic interests point down another road.
Britain is frakking expensive. Accomodation, for instance--just glancing through this site, it looks like £400-£500 a month is to be expected. Still, that's pounds--the exchange rate is currently 0.6369 dollars to the pound--ouch. Then there's insurance and fees and books and food and transportation and clothes and furniture and postage and who knows what else, and I'll be in over my head pretty fast.

Academics: Pros
Edinburgh is a Russell Group school. The Russell Group is the British Ivy League. Edinburgh is a world-renowned, high-quality educational institution, which makes for a very shiny doctorate.
Edinburgh has exactly the program and major I want. I've been accepted into the MSc for Psychology of Language, which is the first step on the way to a four-year Ph.D. in psycholinguistics. This program could not be more perfect for me or more in line with my interests in bilingualism, language learning and processing, cognition, and memory. Every time I read the website I just get more excited. Speaking of which...
The faculty have been amazing so far. I've communicated with two, one of which (Dr. Branigan) took the time to write long, thoughtful, personal emails to me helping me develop my ideas and giving me pointers about my application. The other stopped responding after a bit--I assume he's been busy--but his initial responses were welcoming, friendly, and very enthusiastic. All contact I've had with faculty at other schools has been lukewarm at best; the general impression has been, "Well, I guess you can apply if you have to, but you probably won't get in." My experience with Edinburgh has been, "You sound awesome! Come study with us, we'd love to have you!" Now, which one would you choose?
Edinburgh is a major site of synaesthesia studies. Synaesthesia (a psychological condition where a stimulus in one modality, such as hearing sounds, triggers a certain response in another, such as seeing light or tasting flavors) is a huge interest of mine, as I am mildly synaesthetic myself. Serious research into synaesthesia is being done at Edinburgh, and its researchers are leaders in the field. They study synaesthesia to illuminate more about the processes of language in the mind, and I can't think of anything I'd rather study.
Geoffrey Pullum teaches at Edinburgh. Okay, allow me a bit of linguisticky geekiness here. Pullum is a frequent contributor on Language Log, a witty and knowledgeable linguist, and a slanderer and libeler of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," all of which make him pretty dang awesome. When I visited Edinburgh, I really wanted to meet him, but he was out for the summer (understandably) so I didn't get the chance. If I go there, I'm going to go shake his hand and then pitch him a job for myself as volunteer worker at Language Log Plaza. I'll let you know how it goes.

Academics: Cons
Edinburgh is not an American school. I was surprised to learn that this is actually a concern for some of my professors, who have advised me to attend an American school. They say the academics are more rigorous and therefore the degree more prestigious. I can't imagine that for a well-known, highly regarded university, simply not being located in the U.S. could be a major problem, but it is something to look into.

Culture and Society: Pros
Edinburgh is fascinating. There are theaters, festivals (the Fringe, obviously, but others as well), museums, castles, wilderness, shops, restaurants--everything you could want in a city. And it's friendly and enjoyable place to be, at least based on my experience last time.
I'm a foreigner. This could easily be a con, too, but I like being a foreigner because 1) I have an excuse when I do something stupid and 2) it makes me more interesting. Being a foreigner is an open invitation for a local to show you the ropes.

Culture and Society: Cons
I don't know anyone in Edinburgh (and I suck at making friends). The latter is evidenced by the fact that I've been living in Bellingham for months and have actually decreased my number of friends (since Dani left) by about a quarter. I don't imagine I'll spontaneously sprout the ability to be friendly and gregarious just because I'm in Edinburgh! I guess I'll have to give it a shot, though.

Well, it's late now and I haven't done the work I was planning to do, silly me. I'll have to add anything I've forgotten later. I just want this so bad and I want it to work and I'm not sure it will. I know if I don't go to Edinburgh, I will regret it. I just hope I won't regret it if I do.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

River, Make 'Er Blue Again!

[EDIT: I originally drafted this in Germany, when this was the only episode I had access to. I've since caught up but I thought I'd post this anyway.]

I shouldn't have done this. I shouldn't have watched the first half of a two-parter when I may have to wait two months for the second half. But as we've heard so many times in the past: who can resist the Doctor?

Couldn't You Just Slap Him Sometimes?
Sometimes I feel a bit silly telling people I'm a Whovian, especially when there's been a long gap between me and the last time I saw a new episode. I start, in the way a good companion never should, to doubt the Doctor. Is he really worth waiting for? Is the new adventure really worth the anticipation?

The short answer is always "hell yes!"

This also applies, in part, to our beloved Mr Moffat. I assume he has a genius plan to get himself out of the hole he's dug for himself here (he usually does), but still...a fake-out regeneration is a low blow, and there'd better be a damn good justification for it.

Twelve Jammie Dodgers and a fez
Have to say: so far the plot doesn't make any sense to me at all. There are too many unconnected pieces: the zombie astronaut child, the Area 51 psychic zappy aliens, the moon landing, Elder Eleven's murder at the hands of (presumably) the same zombie astronaut child, which has been, what, lying in wait in a lake in Utah since 1969 just to kill the Doctor?

The lack of sense plus the looming cloud of Elder Eleven's death makes the whole thing pretty dark.

You Better Get Down Here, Sir; She's Doing It Again
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any episode with River Song in it must be at least a hundred times better than the same episode without her. She throws the Doctor off-kilter, makes him nervous, although he seems drawn to her as well. Actually, that's pretty obvious; a good 3/4 of their dialogue to each other seemed to be flirtation and innuendo. If the Doctor doesn't trust River (which he clearly doesn't), he doesn't seem averse to her company, to say the least.

There were two great River-related moments in this episode of the tragic flavor, both involving the Time Traveler's Wife nature of their relationship. The first is the Doctor's half-justified, half-petulant demand for information which his companions refuse to share, leading to his scoffing in River's face at the idea of trusting her. River continues to be a mystery; her past is in shadow, slowly coming to light, but never quite enough to really answer any questions. The anguish on her face when the Doctor tauntingly asks her questions he knows she won't (can't?) answer is painful to watch.

The second is River's admission to Rory of the worst day coming for her, an inevitable result of her and the Doctor's backwards relationship. The really heartbreaking thing about this is that we already know that her worst fears come true: she meets Ten in the Library who has no memory of her at all, and in a way, it does kill her. We know she's heading for that, but we don't know what kind of horror is hidden in her past for the Doctor still to discover.

Linguisticky Quibble of the Day
At 31:50 in, this happens:

Canton: So, we're in a box that's bigger on the inside, and it travels through time and space.
Rory: Yeah, basically.
Canton: How long have Scotland Yard had this?

Canton is supposed to be American, and does the accent rather well (I think, but I'm miserable at accents, so there's that). But eh, what's this? A plural verb ("have") with a collective noun? Uh oh. That's highly unusual in American English but fairly common in British English. I'm not sure how subject-verb agreement norms for collective nouns have changed since 1969, but to my modern American ears, that sounds very odd...and British-y.

Canton has no excuse for this BritEnglish slip as he is, so far as I can tell, totally American with little to no exposure to BritEnglish, especially not enough to influence a grammar feature like subject-verb agreement. Another such mistake occured in series 4, "The Sontaran Stratagem", where Luke Rattigan (also supposedly American) says to the Doctor, "I thought you were meant to be clever." In this case, both "meant to be" and "clever" sound like Britishisms; to my ears, the sentence would sound much more like standard Amerikanisch if it were instead, "I thought you were supposed to be smart." Luke, though, has a possible excuse in that he's been living in England with BritEnglish speakers; it's possible he's picked up the phrasing he uses from his environment, consciously or no (a phenomenon that many BBC-addicted American anglophiles are likely very familiar with).

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled review...
Favorite Moments
Prison guard: You better get down here, sir. She's doing it again. Dr Song, sir. She's...packing. Says she's going to some planet called...America.

Amy: Someone's been a busy boy then, eh?
Doctor: Did you see me?
Amy: 'Course!
Doctor: Stalker!
Amy: Flirt!
Rory: Husband.

Doctor: I'm being extremely clever up here and there's no one to stand around looking impressed. What's the point in having you all?
River: Couldn't you just slap him sometimes?

Doctor: Don't play games with me. Don't ever, ever, think you're capable of that.

Doctor: Swear to me. Swear to me on something that matters.
Amy: Fish fingers and custard.
Doctor: My life in your hands, Amelia Pond.

Rory: He said the scanner wouldn't work!
River: I know! Bless.

Doctor: Oww! River, have you got my scanner working yet?
River: Oh, I hate him.
Doctor: No, you don't! River, make 'er blue again!

Doctor: That child just told you everything you need to know, but you weren't listening. Never mind, though, 'cause the answer's yes. I'll take the case. Fellas, the guns, really? I just walked into the highest security office in the United States, parked a big blue box on the rug...you think you can just shoot me?
River: They're Americans!
Doctor: Don't shoot!

Nixon: Five minutes.
Doctor: I'm going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilize, street-level maps covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers and a fez.
Canton: Get him his maps.

Doctor: Dr Song, you've got that face on again.
River: What face?
Doctor: The "He's hot when he's clever" face.
River: This is my normal face.
Doctor: Yes it is.
River: Oh, shut up.
Doctor: Not a chance.

Amy: Why would anyone want to trap us?
Doctor: Dunno! Let's see if anyone tries to kill us and work backwards.

Doctor: Ah, back with us, Canton!
Canton: Like your wheels.
Doctor: That's m'boy!

Doctor: Shout if you get in trouble.
River: Don't worry, I'm quite the screamer. Now there's a spoiler for you!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

W13, DW 6.8, and other acronymless things

Two posts later and it's August again! My my, how the time flies.

It's been a ridiculously long time since my last post about...well, about a CG kids' movie. Since then, I've switched continents, visited some seven or so countries, gone to a linguistics conference, and acquired an apartment, a car, a job (which starts a week from today!), and at least one new TV obsession. I'm also on a diet--but man, I wouldn't want to hear about that if I were you, so I won't talk about it. Also because if I do, I'll just end up thinking how much I want chocolate chip cookies right now.


Let's talk about the TV obsession, eh? Just get it out of the way.

I added this one to my Hulu list, oh, over a year ago and never cared enough to actually watch it until my sister was like, "Hey, that show's funny, you should watch it," so I did, and I totally fell in love. Warehouse 13 is about two Secret Service agents that kind of get shanghaied into working for, well, Warehouse 13, which is this epic warehouse (like the one from Indiana Jones) chock-full of objects that do weird and generally dangerous things. This artifacts were usually either the personal possession of some famous historical figure or from some emotionally charged major event that imbued the artifact with some power. There's a plank from the Titanic that causes those near it to die of hypothermia; a can of spraypaint from East Berlin that disintegrates walls; Edgar Allen Poe's pen, which makes that which is written with it become real, and also makes the user emo; a Shakespeare folio that kills you in the same way as the famous character pictured died unless you can say their last line before the picture self-destructs; and so on. The possibilities are endless.

The great thing about this show is not just the fun of famous objects gaining some superpower from their owners or surroundings; it's also a rollicking, go-in-Teslas-blazing, buddy-cop sort of sci-fi/fantasy/adventure/detective drama/comedy that bounces gleefully between nerdy silliness (superpowered underpants on Firefly's Simon Tam) and sobering philosophical questions (is torture permissible when there are innocent lives at stake?) with a seasoning of both cutting-edge technobabble and super-stylish steampunk. It's not high-budget, it's not sexy or profane or vulgar; Warehouse 13 is just mischievous, dorky, exuberant fun. I loves it so much.

I got pretty addicted pretty fast and blazed through the whole two-and-a-half-season archive in like a week. Now I'm caught up and wishing I'd taken it slower; luckily they're still airing new episodes, although not fast enough for my liking (three a day would be good). Also, I'm now Facebook friends with Eddie McClintock, of which I am stupidly proud.

In other news: Doctor Who returned last Saturday! Unfortunately the promise of a title like "Let's Kill Hitler" was sort of wasted (given the opportunity to address one of the classic time-travel dilemmas) and the episode was devoted pretty much entirely to River Song.

Now, I got to say, I love River. She is all kinds of kickass and just the right sort of woman for the Doctor--just as conniving and mysterious as he is. But really, a show called Doctor Who should really be about the Doctor, and lately it's mostly been about River, which is interesting but not, y'know, brilliant. Season 6.1's best episode, "The Doctor's Wife," was all about the Doctor and the TARDIS and their past, with no River or melty babies or creepy eyepatches. Now, you don't necessarily have to have the Doctor at the center for an episode to work ("Blink"), but it sure as hell doesn't hurt ("The Beast Below," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Midnight," almost all of the show). I'm just a little tired of the show obsessing about River. I'd rather find out about her in pieces and fragments, like we have so far, instead of huge and confusing chunks of her past being dumped in our laps.

That being said, it was so enjoyable to watch Psycho!River and the Doctor do their little duel of death, which River won with considerable grace and style. Again, it's such a shame to waste a perfectly good setup to play with the Hitler paradox--why go there in the first place, anyway?--but ah, well, there are bigger problems to deal with.

For instance, we're told a couple times that River's been brainwashed--trained and conditioned to kill the Doctor, and to believe that doing so is the right thing, what she's supposed to do. She's waited a good long time to do it (since 1969? I'm not sure, the timeline here is a bit confusing), and she does--getting herself stuck in a totalitarian country on the brink of war, which doesn't seem too clever to me--only to give up functional immortality to save him about 20 minutes later. What causes this dramatic and lifeshattering change of heart? As far as I can tell, watching him die (which is, remember, exactly what she was intending to see) and try to help his friends, which is not that extraordinary. And also, flying the TARDIS.

So, I'm confused. Doctor & Co. go through lots of effort and pain and death to find Melody Pond, only to find her turned into a brainwashed assassin. But that's okay, because they fix her--only to dump her on a planet in the future so she can study archaeology and meet Ten? So at what point does she kill the Doctor? Or did she already? But if she already did as a child, why would future Psycho!River need to do it again?
I think I'm just missing something.

Also, HellDave was kind of silly, but the antibodies' assurances ("You will experience a slight tingling and then death!") are wonderfully creepy-hilarious. As I said, there was too much of the stupid robot walking around torturing people and not enough playing with the space-time continuum. On the plus side, as if the Last Centurion wasn't kickass enough, Rory also got to punch out a super-advanced hellbot and Hitler! And the TARDIS with the red Corvette is my new desktop background. <3

But in any case, I'm glad to see that next week will be a good old-fashioned Monster of the Week episode, hopefully creepy as hell and awesome to boot.

That's all I can really think of to say for the moment. I'll...not make any promises at this moment in time. I think that's for the best. Byyeeee!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dragons in Scotland?

I just watched How to Train Your Dragon for the fourth time in total, and I still love it. Not only is it a good story, but there's something true about it; it had that faint whiff of reality that makes it really fascinating. I don't mean in the dragons or whatever, but in the people and their relationships to each other. Anyway. The dragons--well, especially Toothless--are still fantastic, and now that I finally own the movie, I can watch it over and over and over again! :D Hooray!

There's one thing about this movie that really bothers me. It starts out being narrated by Hiccup, the main character, in standard American English, which is fine up until we starting meeting the other characters, like his father and his instructor, who, inexplicably, speak a dialect of Scottish English. More baffling, all of the adolescents in the film speak American, and all of the adults Scottish, for no explicable reason.

On the one hand, this makes no sense at all. Why would an isolated society develop two completely different dialects based solely on age? Answer: it wouldn't. This is bad enough as it is, but the movie goes so far as to draw attention to it: in the opening minutes of the movie, while complaining about his father's attitude towards him, Hiccup mocks his father by briefly adopting a Scottish accent--highlighting the fact that he does not actually speak that way. Later, Stoick (Hiccup's father) tells him that Hiccup will have to learn to "speak like us [the Vikings]"--which presumably means his dialect will change? Maybe when he hits puberty and his voice breaks, he'll start speaking Scottish instead? Linguistically, it's total nonsense.

But--from a sociolinguistic perspective, taking into account the biases of the audience watching the story from the outside, this makes a good deal of sense. First of all, the book and the movie are both geared toward children--specifically, American children. Accentual and dialectal variations immediately identify the speaker as an other, an outsider, with a marked difference in expression; making Hiccup and his cohorts speakers of a neutral/standard-ish dialect of American English makes sense in order to make Hiccup appealing and relatable to the majority of the target audience.

Alright, then. Why do the adults then speak a completely different dialect? Most obvious is that the movie is playing on My Fair Lady's Higgins' Law ("An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him/The moment he talks, he makes some other Englishman despise him") to its advantage. Accent implies otherness and outsiderness; hearing someone speak with an accent immediately triggers a different reaction than if one was to hear the same words from the same person with no accent. (I make this statement from personal experience; I'd love to see some studies on it, though.) Since one of the movie's main themes is the barrier between the older and younger generations and the difficulty of communicating new and dangerous ideas, the philosophical, ideological barrier that separates old from young and Stoick from Hiccup is given measurable, perceivable form through the use of a dialectal difference. Hiccup and Stoick literally do not speak the same language.

Notably, though, they still don't speak "the same language" at the end of the movie, after all of their problems have been miraculously resolved, perhaps foreboding further troubles and misunderstandings in the future.

Now, I'm not really in a position to debate whether Scottish is really the historically accurate dialectal flavor for Vikings to have--I don't have the necessary geographical and historical knowledge, and for heaven's sake, they're computer-animated dragon-riding Vikings, so that seems to be less of an issue for me. What I'd like to know is: why Scottish? If they were going for Viking-y, why not Norse or Scandinavian? The latter is easier to answer, it seems to me. Scottish English is a dialectal variant of the great mythical ideal called English, whereas a "Norse" or "Scandinavian" accent would actually be an accent, i.e. someone speaking English as an L2 and approximating the phonemes of English using the phonemes of their Scandinavian L1. Which is a long way to say that Scottish is better-established, more consistent, and more easily recognized as "being a thing" than a Scandinavian accent. (Again, speculation!). Even the American youth have a good chance of having heard Scottish before; the chance of them having heard a Scandinavian accent, or even recognizing it as such, seems to me to be much lower.

So, Scottish sounds exotic in a Celtic, northern sort of way, but is not so anonymous or evanescent as a Scandinavian accent. Still, though, why not, say, Irish? Or British? Now, I'm sure there are some historical reasons that come into play here that I shall not be bothered to look into at the moment, but I submit that at least part of the answer goes back to Higgins' Law, i.e. the language one uses immediately modifies the hearer's perception and attitude toward the speaker in accordance with the hearer's previously held beliefs and stereotypes associated with that particular language/dialect. I've argued before that Americans associate British English (particularly southern) with high levels of intellect, tea and crumpets, sophistication, and villainy (see: almost every American movie ever that has a clever, ruthless villain), which are not really the connotations you want to put with your Vikings. All American varieties of English are out, for being 1) too familiar and 2) out of context; Australian and other non-British varieties for reason number 2; which leaves you with Britain. You want your adult Vikings to be fierce, brave, mighty, and noble, and Scottish fits the bill. As the article linked above mentioned, it could go back to Braveheart and the stories of the Scottish struggle for freedom against English tyranny--something that resonates and sticks with American viewers, I would guess. Stereotypes aren't always the best thing in the world, but as far as they go, Scotland could do a lot worse than "fierce, brave, mighty, and noble." Of course, I guess I'd have to add "highly traditional", "tribal", and "slightly savage" to more fully reflect the movie's depiction of its Scottish speakers. I'm not saying that is an accurate portrait of real Scottish people, just that such notions are evoked as stereotypical qualities.

Or it could be that DreamWorks just thought it would be really awesome to have Gerard Butler play an enormous red-bearded dragon-punching Viking.

Either way, I'm going to quit typing before I say something that gets me in trouble/doesn't make any sense; I suspect I'm past that point already. I just thought it was interesting that language is used in the same way that light and shadow and facial expressions are used to convey ideas, and although the inclusion of the language barrier in How to Train Your Dragon is clumsy, it also illustrates a point. How and why this kind of linguistic illustration works should be/hopefully is the topic of further study.