Native Tongue (Native Tongue, #1)
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Native Tongue (Native Tongue #1)

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  1,200 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Called "fascinating" by the New York Times upon its first publication in 1984, Native Tongue won wide critical praise and cult status, and has often been compared to the futurist fiction of Margaret Atwood. Set in the twenty-second century, the novel tells of a world where women are once again property, denied civil rights and banned from public life. Earth's wealth depend...more
Paperback, 327 pages
Published 2000 by Feminist Press at the City University of New York (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Kaion
Aug 02, 2011 Kaion rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who read language blogs, the multi-lingual, feminists
Recommended to Kaion by: (Feminist Reader's Network Aug '11 Group Read)
Shelves: sci-fi, feminism, series
To make something “appear is called magic, is it not? Well…. when you look at another person, what do you see? … Now there is a continuous surface of the body, a space that begins with the inside flesh of the fingers and continues over the palm of the hand and up the inner side of the arm to the bend of the elbow. Everyone has that surface; in fact, everyone has two of them … I will name the “athad” of the person. Imagine the athad, please. See it clearly in your mind—perceive, here are my own t
...more
Wealhtheow
Absolutely excellent. I know The Handmaid's Tale gets more press and praise, but this is a far more realistic and chilling misogynist future. There's really so much meaty stuff, and I'm so far from eloquent, that I'll just say read it and leave it at that.
Stephen
4.5 stars. Excellent story with well drawn characters (both male and female) and an original premise. Recommended!!
Rhiannon
This book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lacked several things, in my opinion, that prevented it from living up to the proclamation: "feminist science fiction classic."

One of those things was characterization. The first one hundred or so pages in the book had no distinct character for the reader to engage with. There are several plot points expounded in male points of view that readers are su...more
Nathan
Jun 08, 2008 Nathan added it
I'll never forgive the university professors who made me read this novel. Some of the sci-fi elements in it were interesting and it posed some compelling linguistic questions but mostly it was just tiresome. The majority of the narrative is the kind heavy-handed man-hating that has done more to hurt the cause of feminism than further it. Every man in the novel is a cowardly, misogynistic tyrant while every woman is a long-suffering, angelic saint. I found the whole thing simply tedious.
Sarah
Feb 07, 2012 Sarah rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah by: Goodreads
Shelves: read-in-2012
When your novel starts with a board meeting, you know you're in for a real thrill ride. I feel like this was written by an author with good ideas and solid linguistic knowledge, but no real feel for writing fiction. The multiple plots meshed together awkwardly. The characters were mostly one-dimensional, particularly the male linguists. Almost everything was told, not shown.

Does this have value, as the essay in my edition* claims, as a feminist document? I don't know. In 1984 when this was publ...more
Kaila
Upon buying:

Just look at how amazing that cover is. HOW COULD I SAY NO.

Upon finishing:

The cover had disappointingly little to do with the book. I wanted babies in giant test tubes presided over by gigantic happy aliens, ok?

I am torn as to what I should rate this book. I think it's a 3.5 but I'll round up. Parts of the feminism were so ridiculous that after a while I was like God I get it, women's lives suck in your future! Women are considered minors in this crappy future, and can't hold jobs or...more
Mary Holland
Women have no rights and are the property of men. Aliens communicate with humans through the families of the linguist 'Lines', who have a monopoly on learning Alien languages. The women of the Lines, as restricted and patronized as any other women, have developed a secret language for women only. If the men find out, they're doomed. But the Aliens are watching ...

I read this book years ago (it was published in 1984) and I had an immediate visceral reaction: yes, she's right. The male characters...more
Jenny
I enjoyed it the first time I read it (I've studied Linguistics myself, which made it interesting) and I occasionally enjoy re-reading. But the re-reads expose more and more holes in the plot that get more and more irritating.

How on earth did the US constitution get amended at a time when women still had the vote? And why does a change to the US constitution apparently affect the whole world?

Why do Linguists live so austerely as a public relations measure when they can see for themselves that it...more
Michèle
At first it was the cover. I couldn't resist the cuuute little baby facing the smiling alien!

Then, I plunged head first in the linguist families who facilitate human communication with alien races (that's the SF part). I met the struggling women of the Lines, poor Nazareth Chorniak being bred like cattle and ill-treated... in a future dystopian American society where the 19th Amendment was repealed in 1996 and women have been stripped of civil rights.(That's the social part. By the way, in that...more
Mikhaela
Considering how obsessed I am with dystopian science fiction, I can't believe I never read this feminist cult classic until now. It's not as well-written as the Handmaid's Tale, but it's still pretty amazing.

The stuff about language reminds me a lot of 1984 and the Newspeak dictionary--the idea that taking away words for certain concepts or creating/encoding words for others can change the way people think and behave and affect whether they have the capacity to rebel against an authoritarian re...more
Joe Schmutz
This fiction is one of the more masterful pieces of literature of the 20th century. It should be considered for inclusion in reading lists for English majors. Don't let that terrorize you. The book is engrossing; the plot is multilayered; the concept is unique; and the characters are easy to understand.

On the surface it's about learning to communicate with life forms so alien, it requires human children to interact with aliens during the child's language forming years. A secondary plot line deal...more
Bridget
The premise of this book is intriguing - a future where a combination of alien contact and patriarchal rule has led to a subculture of women-centered linguistics. Sadly, focuses mostly on the male perspective, never makes the world believable, and never really delves into the "revolutionary" idea of a female language.
Jasmyn
The majority (and important part) of this book takes place about 200 years from now. The world has changed dramatically. Aliens are our trading partners and women have been relegated to the role of perpetual child. All their rights have been removed and they are allowed to do nothing without permission from their male relatives. The Linguists, a group of families that devote their time to the aquisition of new alien languages, are the prime focus of the book, and we learn many fascinating things...more
Rebekah
Native Language by Suzette Haden Elgin offers us an alternate present where men have taken back all the rights of women. In this new reality not only are women property again there are Aliens and a certain few family lines have learned to train their young to speak those languages. In general they have trapped themselves. The general population hates them for their absolute dependancy and the government encourages a media that lies about their excess just to feed that hatred.
I don’t know how mu...more
Marita
This book was all about languages, and their ability to create whole mind - sets which is a very fascinating point of interest for me. This book was written in 1984, from a feminists perspective, so it was a surreal experience to time warp back to that time. It's a science fiction book where the Earth was in contact with many alien worlds, and seeking to expand trade and colonies, which required the ability to communicate with many different cultures. There were 13 families on Earth who used the...more
Harpmary
First let me say that the "concept" of this book is definitely 5 stars. The idea that a language can influence culture and behavior, and ultimately the outcome of history is really brilliant. However, the author fails to take this brilliant idea beyond the concept. The plot drags, the storytelling is boring, the characterizations are flat, and the flow is cumbersome.

There are so many flaws in this story. The characters are terribly two -dimensional, almost to the point of being inhuman. For exam...more
Teel
Native Tongue reads as though someone had crafted an interesting and beautiful SciFi novella, but then battered and distorted it with the crude hammer of Feminism, somehow doubling its length in the process. In some places there are distinct paragraphs, pages, or chapters that seem haphazardly inserted into the text, written in a different style and without the nuance of character or theme of the surrounding words, just to drive home some blatant idea about gender relations. The unevenness of th...more
Eri-chan
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable. The plot and characters are excellent, and it is very well written. The feminist angle is laid on pretty thick, and as such there are parts which angered me quite a bit, but once I got past the first few chapters that started to fade away as the plot gained momentum. Elgin has created a society and a future that is both fascinating and infuriating, an appropriate backdrop for the machinations of these heroic women whose intelligence is so inconceivable t...more
Aik
A nice concept, badly executed. From reading this I got the image of the author sitting behind a typewriter bashing the keys while screaming 'All men are bastards!' over and over again.

Besides that, the dystopian society is just not very well realised. Why are women second class citizens? *shrug* As far as I remember, it isn't mentioned. I would have to assume it's because all men are bastards.

Having more of the language in the actual book would have been nice.

For a good feminist dystopian stor...more
David Gullen
The year is 2179, the war between the sexes is over and the men have 'won'. Women the world over are second-class citizens, without any power or independence. Even the best educated are totally subservient to men, only able to work if a husband or father permits. Our way into the world is through the Chornyak family, one of the 13 'Lines' of linguists. Mankind has reached the stars, and they are full of aliens. Linguists are a despised yet essential part of the global space-trading economy, gift...more
Kathy Harris
Putting this on my "read" shelf is a bit of a misnomer because I couldn't read it. I tried, I REALLY tried. It may have been the actual printing of the copy I tried - very tight print which I struggled to focus on - or the length taken to make the women's place clear that got me. I've read books with similar "plot lines" that I finished & quite enjoyed, but this felt like the place of women was being rammed down my throat. This one might be better as audio? I think I need a -star rating.
Michael
This book was a well-written sci-fi, dystopic, feminist page turner from beginning to end. The characters are believable and well drawn. Each plot twist left me wondering what was going to happen next, the true definition of a good story. For anyone who doesn't think the world described in the book is likely, I laugh...especially today!
Chris Chester
Let me first say that the premise of Native Tongue is extremely interesting. In a future where women have become subjugated to a greater degree than even our shameful past, a small group of "Linguists" take on the task of speaking with other sentient alien species. They do this by exposing their infants to the extraterrestrials during the period where children can absorb languages like sponges.

This obviously gives Linguists great faculties with language, and it comes about that women eventually...more
Jac
I loved the afterword! Perhaps this reveals something of the novel. It took me some time to wade through this novel, however the themes - the power of language and fighting oppression - helped me through. Valuable but not so enjoyable.
Emily
Not so much "feminist science fiction" as it is a story about language and linguists. I'm not even sure why it's compared to A Handmaid's Tale; I barely saw a connection. If you're interested in languages, this book is for you.
Regina
At first, I was a bit angry, women having no rights and treated like children of a slave owner. Then the story deepened and I was WHOA; because the women finally developed a back bone and created their own language, despite the obvious fear of the men. The genders were created differently for a reason and when one or the other becomes extremely dominant the delicate balance is disrupted. In this story the men are dominant and condescending to women; the men truly believe that their women are idi...more
Bondama
I can't review this book until my friends in the Feminist group have finished it!!
Maria Holland
Interesting plot, but fairly contrived, and requires a lot of leaps of faith to follow.
R.J.
A dystopian novel wherein the USA Constitution was amended to repeal Amendment 19; women again become property of men and religious right Christian values dominate society. A text in the "angry feminism" subgenre, the novel..in the future Earth trades with international trade partners and the key to trade are linguists who understand non-Terran languages. A highly specialized field controlled by 12 families across the planet, 10 in the USA. Women are essential to this trade but second class citi...more
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SciFi and Fantasy...: What did you think of Native Tongue 1 35 Sep 08, 2012 05:44PM  
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Suzette Haden Elgin is an American science fiction author. She founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and is considered an important figure in the field of science fiction constructed languages. Elgin is also a linguist; she publishes non-fiction, of which the best-known is the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series.

Born in 1936 in Missouri, Elgin attended the University of California,...more
More about Suzette Haden Elgin...
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense The Judas Rose (Native Tongue #2) Earthsong (Native Tongue, #3) Twelve Fair Kingdoms The Grand Jubilee

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“First principle: there's no such thing as reality. We make it up by perceiving stimuli from the environment - external or internal - and making statements about it. Everybody perceives stuff, everybody makes up statements about it, everybody - so far as we can tell - agrees enough to get by, so that when I say 'Hand me the coffee' you know what to hand me. And that's reality. Second principle; people get used to a certain kind of reality and come to expect it, and if what they perceive doesn't fit the set of statements everybody's agreed to, either the culture has to go through a kind of fit until it adjusts...or they just blank it out.” 1 likes
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