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Native Tongue (Native Tongue #1)

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,849 Ratings  ·  176 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

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Althea Ann
Nov 18, 2015 Althea Ann rated it it was ok
Read for book club.

OK, first off: Suzette Haden Elgin is clearly a separatist, who believed that both women and men would be better off apart from each other. (Not that she seemed to care much about what might be better for men.)
I do not agree with this premise (not even a tiny bit) - but I'm not demeriting the book for holding a viewpoint I disagree with.

There are some interesting ideas brought up - but most of them are dropped, never to be picked up again. Elgin was a linguist, and as such, d
Feb 06, 2015 Kaion rated it it was amazing
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: sf, series, feminism, reviewed
Noting the passing last week of Suzette Haden Elgin: linguist, verbal self-defense teacher, feminist genre writer, & founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. I read Native Tongue in my first push of reading harder sci-fi a few years ago, and found her approach to the genre really eye-opening. Though perhaps her hopes for the embrace of a universal, revolutionary women's language were disappointed, her writing was proof enough of how writing can change perception.

R.I.P. Suzette Had
Jul 02, 2009 Wealhtheow rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology, sci-fi
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.
Sep 01, 2011 Rhiannon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rhiannon by: The Feminist Readers Network
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
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.
Terri Jacobson
It's the 22nd century, and men are in total control. Women have no legal standing as adults; every aspect of their lives is in control of a man. The Linguists are in charge of the world. They have become the translators for the alien creatures Earth needs to trade with. So begins the fascinating novel Native Tongue.

The society created by Suzette Haden Elgin is easy to believe. The world is interesting and the characters true to life. Women are essentially slaves, and the behavior of the men is t
Apr 13, 2013 Kaila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 10, 2015 Miriam marked it as to-read
[Update Feb 2015: SHE has passed away.]

I've been seeing the sequel to this book in my public library (a ratty paperback) since I was a kid, and wanted to read it, but have never found the first volume.
4.5 stars. Excellent story with well drawn characters (both male and female) and an original premise. Recommended!!
Feb 07, 2012 Sarah rated it did not like it
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
Mary Holland
Jul 20, 2012 Mary Holland rated it it was amazing
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
May 31, 2014 Jenny rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2009 Bridget rated it it was ok
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.
Dana DesJardins
Jun 17, 2015 Dana DesJardins rated it it was ok
The premise that language shapes worldview is attractive but much disputed. Audre Lorde famously said that one cannot use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, which seems to be the foundation of this very angry book. Other reviewers have noted the chracter traits seem to line up positively and negatively along gender lines, and I think Haden Elgin was conscious enough of trying to avoid that to introduce some (underdeveloped) outliers to offset that criticism. That said, I thought ...more
Jan 04, 2010 Rebekah rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2012 Harpmary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
May 21, 2010 Michèle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Dec 30, 2007 Mikhaela rated it really liked it
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
Joe Schmutz
Nov 08, 2010 Joe Schmutz rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 13, 2015 Janice rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi-book-club
Native Tongue explores a dystopic future in which women have lost all legal rights and humanity has colonized the solar system and made contact with multiple alien species. The main thrust of the book follows the efforts of a group of female linguists to create a language for women that will change their oppressed position in life.

Some interesting concepts here—it isn't surprising that the author, a linguist, has put more thought into the potential challenges of communicating with aliens than mo
May 11, 2016 Cris rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf, feminism, favorites
Is this book misunderstood or is the eternal dynamic of the sexes misunderstood? Or is it both. I keep scratching my head as to why other readers think the women are less powerful than the men in this book. (They obviously have more long-term wisdom in some ways than the men in the book.) I guess it depends on your definition of power. Though, ultimately power is unimportant, at least to me. The question is efficiency of the joint venture (I include freedom from strife in this definition). And i ...more
Levi Amichai
Apr 27, 2016 Levi Amichai rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Levi Amichai by: Elisa
GOSH WOW I could not put Native Tongue down.

It did not start promisingly. The first page is just the text of two 1991 amendments to the Constitution that revoke all rights for women. And we're supposed to believe that's just the way it is for another 200 years, to the point where our story takes place. This is hyperbolic (granted, I was born in 1988: maybe the women's rights movement was more precarious in the mid-80s than seems possible to me), but if you can accept it as a premise and outlast
Sep 11, 2014 R.J. rated it it was ok
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 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
Chris Chester
Jun 26, 2014 Chris Chester rated it it was ok
Shelves: nerd-fiction
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
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
Jun 10, 2010 Marita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Sep 27, 2011 Teel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopia
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
May 09, 2009 Eri-chan rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2014 Kathleen rated it it was ok
I was not engaged with the story until about half-way through. The parts about the government work men seemed totally unnessesary. The total strict gender roles got so tiresome. Where is there room in this society (even hidden) for someone not meeting the strict gender roles? I guess the author was trying to show the pitfalls of such a gender restricted society, but Margaret Atwood did it a lot better with a more compelling story in A Handmaids Tale. I would have like to see the aliens that the ...more
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Suzette Haden Elgin was 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 was also a linguist; she published 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 about Suzette Haden Elgin...

Other Books in the Series

Native Tongue (3 books)
  • The Judas Rose (Native Tongue #2)
  • Earthsong (Native Tongue, #3)

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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.” 2 likes
“We are men, and human words are all we have: even the Word of God is composed actually of the words of men.” (HUNTING THE DIVINE FOX, by Robert Farrar Capon,” 2 likes
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