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Native Tongue

(Native Tongue #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,625 ratings  ·  448 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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Valentina Nope! The premise of the book involves the repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment where women lose all rights and agency; however, there is also strict pr…moreNope! The premise of the book involves the repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment where women lose all rights and agency; however, there is also strict protection for them against abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the men who control them. This is stated basically in the first few pages.

There is the occasional threat of domestic abuse (something along the lines of "If I keep arguing with him, he might hit me") but no sexual assault or violence against the women in this book.(less)

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Althea Ann
Oct 18, 2015 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
Jul 30, 2007 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.
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf, feminism, series, 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 Haden E
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 07, 2008 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. ...more
I read this at least 21 years ago, when a listserv book club called The Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy and Utopia book club run by Laura Quilter I was a part of had closed up shop. The group had a lot of well-known (ish) authors and academics. I’m not sure why they let me in, but it was great just being a fly on the wall! We did not read this book but it was on everyone’s must read lists for the field.

I remember enjoying it, being fascinated by the ideas. I have not gotten around to reading
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first bought a copy of this book around the time that my poetry collection A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora placed second in the 2017 Elgin Awards, an annual award bestowed on books of poetry by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). The Elgin Awards are named in honor of author Suzette Haden Elgin, who founded the SFPA in 1978. Although I already knew some things about Elgin at the time, I wanted to learn more about her, and so I made it a project to spend some ...more
Reread, July 27, 2021

I remembered the main premise - women regain their power by creating a language - but could not have told you anything else about the story. Upon rereading, I can see why. The characters are not memorable and there is little world-building. Most of the "character development" is making it very, very clear to the reader that this future sucks for women. Holy shit, WE GET IT. I'm knocking it down to 3 stars.

I understand the premise that everyone hates women, fine. But I never
Mary Holland
Jul 20, 2012 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
Feb 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, science-fiction
This was... interesting. It had some great ideas but they didn't get explored as much as I'd like. Parts of it made no sense and the ending was quite anticlimactic, but there's a solid foundation here.

Going in, I didn't know it was a trilogy (yes, I know, it says right there under the title "Native Tongue #1" but I'm an idiot who doesn't pay attention to things, okay?) so I'm thinking that maybe the sequels will fix the problems I had with this one. Then again, given the fact that I didn't have
4.5 stars. Excellent story with well drawn characters (both male and female) and an original premise. Recommended!!
Jenny H
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 27, 2007 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
Jul 05, 2010 marked it as to-read
[Update Feb 2015: SHE has passed away. http://catherineldf.livejournal.com/2...]

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.
Jul 30, 2012 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
Feb 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Joe Schmutz
Nov 08, 2010 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
Megan Bell
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
It’s a damn shame this feminist science fiction cult classic trilogy is out of print today. Elgin was a linguist, and this novel explores a world where women’s rights have been revoked, but the birth of a women’s language may change everything. Also ALIENS! Native Tongue is not a subtle book but it is a fascinating one, narratively, historically (2nd Wave feminism, Moral Majority), and in how it interacts with linguistic theory. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
Dana DesJardins
Jun 17, 2015 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
Nov 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dystopia
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
Aug 16, 2009 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. ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
All women should read this book about how even the most oppressed can find and use power against "the man," who in this story really is "the man." ...more
Linda Martin
What a weird novel. Sci-fi futurism, aliens and linguistics. Definitely a cult classic, published in 1984.

In a future USA women are suppressed and disrespected by the men who have somehow gotten the upper hand and taken away women's rights of all kinds. This supposedly happened in the 1990's and that statement is the only part of this 1984 book that is dated, as in, obviously untrue and obsolete.

The action of the book takes place a few centuries from now. Aliens are visiting earth for commerce
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
After this book I should really give up on 2nd wave feminist scifi and linguistic scifi. Not that this wasn't one of the better examples of both that I've read recently, but I realized as I was reading that doesn't mean much.

I picked this book up because I wanted to try to more linguistic scifi and I had some hope because the author was a linguistics professor. I had high hopes that this wouldn't be yet another book that relied on an outdated and largely discredited linguistic theory known as Sa
36/52 books read in 2019.
5/20 bookshelf reads in 2019.

Note before my rambling review that isn't neat or eloquent:
I definitely recommend you get yourself a physical copy to read this. The beginning chapters were a little confusing when I tried to read them on my ebook version, hence it took me ages to get through them the first time I tried, but this book is definitely worth it and picks up really quick after that.

I absolutely love this book.

Granted, this love needed some reading time to grow, b
Amy Alice
Jan 15, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: radical-readers, 2022
I absolutely loved this book. I was not looking forward to it initially, and it took a little bit of time to get into it, but wow. It was so clever, and interesting, and really spoke to the power of language and how it can change people's living REALITY. Wonderful. I'm interested in the trilogy now! ...more
Jun 12, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely have this hard time writing a review. Just to get this out of the way, I loved this book. Is it the type of love that makes you sick in the stomach? Yes, what this book describes is disgusting. Why? Because it portrays a misogynistic society that is based on our history and on our daily experiences and so, even if it's magnified it feels real and possible. It's in the small things. In the way woman's ability to listen to a man is valued in this society, but men never listens to women. ( ...more
Sep 04, 2021 rated it it was ok
An interesting premise that ultimately isn’t focused or well written enough to carry itself.
Raine McLeod
Sep 17, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminist
This is an incredible book. The set up of the patriarchal society, the way the characters communicate feels incredibly authentic. I think if The Handmaid's Tale had been released a bit later (this was published the year before), more people would be talking about it.

Underestimate women at your peril.
Vesper M
Jul 01, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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

Other books in the series

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

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