Michèle's Reviews > Native Tongue

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
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's review
May 21, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction
Read in January, 1990

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 in a future dystopian American society where the 19th Amendment was repealed in 1996 and women have been stripped of civil rights.(That's the social part.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 society, the guys live in constant moral misery, having to compete, always bickering, and seeing other men as rivals).

A group of women, led by Nazareth, create a new language as an act of resistance. So they revolt, not with violence, but with words, inventing the Laadan. At first Laadan helps woman getting a sense of community, then, as they grow more confident and serene (in the second book), there is an effect on the men in the Linguist families, not a disneyan "over the board" reversal of attitude, but they find themselves more at ease in their relations with their womenfolk.

This is one of the first SF novels I read that spoke to me.

Years later, I proposed a panel on "Klingon vs Laadan" at the 30th Wiscon. I assisted to this conference where Mrs Elgin, inventor of the Laadan, and John Ford, inventor (at least, one of the inventors) of the Klingon discussed the very different destinies of the invented languages. Klingon, rather overtly masculine, had a whopping sale. Laadan, like the vine, crept slowly, mostly discreet.

But the idea of the use of the language to express feminine, and other new ideas and concept. In fact, the native tongue trilogy is the contrary of the Novlang of 1984. Where the Novlang diminished the number and variety of words to express concepts, Laadan make them bloom and multiply.

I do not speak fluent Laadan, but I did look at the self-tutorial. For starters, the first sound of a sentence indicates its nature : request, information verified-witnessed by the interlocutor, information from a trusted source, information by hearsay... Only for that, Laadan is a breakthrough.

To this day I strongly believe, and live by, that the words we use secretly shape our minds. Whatever language we live in, we have to make an effort and find ways to keep in touch with the complex and subtler feelings that English - or French - have no words for.

The page on Laadan
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Richard (new)

Richard Tremblay Ça a l'air tellement bon que je viens de m'en commander une copie (usagée) sur Amazon. Merci d'avoir partagé ce roman et je t'en reparle dès que j'en ai l'occasion.


message 2: by René (new)

René Beaulieu Richard, tu as raison de... Tous les livres de la dame valent d'ailleurs le coup. Et je les ai recommandés a mon appparition (Talam la! ;-) ) sur table ronde sur les sc

message 3: by René (new)

René Beaulieu (sorry erreur la ;-( ) sur la sociologie et la SF (pour la linguistique, entre autres.. Enjoy!

Rhiannon "Klingon vs Laadan" - that must have been brilliant!

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