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Native Tongue

(Native Tongue #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  2,490 ratings  ·  257 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…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)

Community Reviews

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4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,490 ratings  ·  257 reviews


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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
...more
Wealhtheow
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, sociology
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.
Kaion
Jul 19, 2011 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, 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 Had
...more
Rhiannon
Jul 07, 2011 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
...more
Nathan
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.
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
...more
Stephen
4.5 stars. Excellent story with well drawn characters (both male and female) and an original premise. Recommended!!
Kaila
Apr 05, 2013 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
...more
Jenny
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
...more
Mikhaela
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
...more
Miriam
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.
Sarah
Feb 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Sarah by: Goodreads
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
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
...more
M
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
...more
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
Shane
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
...more
Bridget
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.
Stephen
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
...more
Rianna
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, but mainly people who like feminist novels and/or dystopia science fiction
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
...more
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.
Rebekah
Jan 04, 2010 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
...more
Michèle
May 21, 2010 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
...more
Sapphire
I loved this book-
- the Sapir-Whorfian ideas around language constructing reality / language can change the world
- the idea of "encodings" and capturing women's lived reality in new words (some of the words in Laadan that she gave us really resonated with me personally)
- the notion that someday exolinguistics would be a huge asset to humankind, which I think has been poorly explored in a lot of science fiction (thank you, "Universal Translators" & babel fishes)
- recognition that alien cultur
...more
Janice
Oct 19, 2015 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
...more
Eri-chan
Apr 14, 2009 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
Bondama
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can't review this book until my friends in the Feminist group have finished it!!
Christopher Roberts
In the narrow sub-genre of feminist science fiction, this is definitely one of those books that deserves to be more widely read. Elgin's goal with this book, and its sequels, seems to me to be a misguided one because we don't live in a society like the one she portrays in this book, but the story she built around this concept is told with sly humor and just enough nods to pulpy sci-fi tropes to reel in unsuspecting readers with its bold political message.

A lot of the negative reviews of this b
...more
Deanna
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this for a class on feminist literature. It is honestly unlike any book I’ve ever read — the premise is starkly feminist, but in an almost off putting manner... which, of course, led to great conversation in a classroom setting but hindered my interest in the novel (even though I usually love feminist books). There isn’t anything especially unique about Elgin’s writing style, except maybe the fact that she includes (mostly useless) snippets of fictional poems/articles/etc. at the beginnin ...more
Joel D
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I almost can't fathom how much I liked this book. That is, it's almost weird for me and I don't quite know why. I am boggled by the fact that this book isn't ranked alongside 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale for excellent dystopic future novels.

Why do I like it so much?

I think a big part of it was the elegance with which the world is constructed for the reader. Explanations are rarely laboured. Rather, you understand what's going on from the characters, from their observations, from little interludes
...more
Michael Carl
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I'd long intended to get around to this cult favorite, first drawn to the book by the discovery of Suzette Haden Elgin's Láadan. The broad ideas and a handful of concepts she came up with are truly compelling, but none of them really feel tied together. It felt like the language and the social commentary and her notions of what a future dystopia might look like came first, in isolation, and were never fully integrated into a truly readable narrative. I almost put the book down on several occasio ...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

Other books in the series

Native Tongue (3 books)
  • The Judas Rose (Native Tongue #2)
  • Earthsong (Native Tongue, #3)
“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.” 3 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
More quotes…