***Group Read: Native Tongue by Suzette Hadel Elgin (spoiler thread)

Keskustelu75 Books Challenge for 2011

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***Group Read: Native Tongue by Suzette Hadel Elgin (spoiler thread)

Tämä viestiketju on "uinuva" —viimeisin viesti on vanhempi kuin 90 päivää. Ryhmä "virkoaa", kun lähetät vastauksen.

1ronincats
tammikuu 29, 2011, 5:09 pm

This is the thread to discuss the first of the books in the Future Women series, Native Tongue. Reading starts on February 1, with suggested pacing of Chapters 1-8 for week 1, Chapters 9-17 for week 2, and Chapters 18-25 for week 3, which is a pace of about 100 pages per week. Tuesday, February 8, we will start discussing anything that happened in those first 8 chapters. Similarly, on February 15 we will expand our discussion to anything occurring in the first 17 chapters, and on the 22nd, discussion of the book as a whole will start.

This is a very languid pace. If everyone is ahead of this rate, we can agree to move the discussions up as desired. But it should give everyone a chance to participate without feeling pressured.

2drneutron
tammikuu 29, 2011, 7:11 pm

3ronincats
tammikuu 29, 2011, 9:26 pm

Thanks, Jim!

4billiejean
tammikuu 29, 2011, 11:09 pm

Thanks for setting this up. The pace looks good to me.
--BJ

5souloftherose
helmikuu 1, 2011, 3:07 pm

Sounds good to me.

6amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 1, 2011, 3:52 pm

I started a little early and finished it yesterday: it's an interesting book. I'll be posting a review soon.

7ronincats
helmikuu 1, 2011, 5:57 pm

Question: should I set up a temporary thread for people who have finished the entire book? I know several of us have, and sometimes if you wait several weeks to comment, you lose your mojo. What do people think?

8_Zoe_
helmikuu 1, 2011, 6:37 pm

My only concern would be that the discussion might then die out before some people have even started participating.

9amanda4242
helmikuu 1, 2011, 6:57 pm

I don't think another thread is necessary. As long as people put in spoiler warnings there's no reason that everyone can't use this thread.

10sibylline
helmikuu 1, 2011, 7:06 pm

I agree -- and I am counting on the slow pace to leave room for discussion. One thing I do when I get ahead is write up my thoughts, quotes, reactions elsewhere on the computer and then pop them in as the discussion catches up with me...... I have found that works well and also that revisiting the book several times helped fix it in my mind.

11ronincats
helmikuu 1, 2011, 7:43 pm

Yes, Lucy, that is what I try to do as well, and so I will encourage all of those reading ahead of schedule to write up and save their thoughts on a document, to bring them out at the appropriate time of the schedule. Do it now while you remember--even if you don't think it will happen, in a week's time, you will not be able to remember what you wanted to say! ;-) *scurries off to do it myself*

12avatiakh
helmikuu 3, 2011, 1:47 am

I'm only up to the third chapter but finding it hard to 'appreciate' any of the men in the story so far. I won't comment any further but will keep reading.

13amanda4242
helmikuu 3, 2011, 10:58 am

#12: I almost gave up within the first few chapters out of irritation, but it does get better.

14jasmyn9
helmikuu 3, 2011, 11:12 am

I find it interesting how the men think they are being so nice and considerate.

15markon
helmikuu 3, 2011, 12:43 pm

I initially was gritting my teeth at the one dimensional male characters and hackneyed plot (right-wing takeover of US) and then I looked at the copyright - 1984.

Ah, the 80s. Ronald Reagan was elected president twice, with Bush I following after. We had the savings & loan scandal & the stock market crash of 1987.

The Soviets were at war in Afghanistan and the Iraqis & Iranians were at war with each other. The US clandestinely sold arms to the Iranians, using the money to fund anti-contra forces in Nicaragua.

Mt. St. Helen errupted, the Challenger exploded, the Exon-Valdez spilled oil, Union Carbide's plant in Bhopal, India leaked poison gas & Chernobyl melted down.

Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 & Pat Robertson the Christian Coalition in 1987, and the "Christian Right" got in bed with the Republican party condeming abortion and homosexuality.

Maybe it wasn't so hackneyed after all. And Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale was published in 1986 & Sherri Tepper's Gate to women's country in 1988, so Elgin may have simply read the zeitgeist quicker than others.

And some good things did happen. We had glasnost and Solidarity and by the end of the decade the Berlin wall was down.

16TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2011, 1:33 pm

>15 markon:: Ardene, yes, you're right that the 1980s were a less-than-stellar time for America.

The thing is that it's still somewhat hard to swallow Elgin's premise even with that historical context. What sets Elgin apart from Atwood and Tepper is the timeframe in which her backstory occurs—the book opens with Amendment 24 enacted in 1991.

So, in those seven years from the reality of 1984 to the time of the amendment, she's proposing that there was a swing in American political values that was so radical that it completely re-structured the entire country in a way that makes the years leading up to the Civil War look tame.

Essentially, she's contending that one of two things happened, given the Christian Right/Republican bed sharing:
The Democratic party swung around 180° and positioned itself farther to the right than the Republicans were at the time.

or

Despite incumbent advantages and no major scandals, in just 3 elections the American populace rebuilt Congress so that it went from almost 60% Democrat to 33% or less in order to give the Right the supermajority needed for an amendment.
And, for either of those things to happen, you pretty much have to assume that women helped do it to themselves. Unless men somehow kept the plan to propose this amendment a secret needing a Y chromosome to decrypt, you have to think that women (>50 sibylline:% of the voting population in the U.S.) are going to going to be viewing candidates with a slightly critical eye toward their stances on "let's take away women's rights."

You mentioned glasnost and Solidarity. That actually germinated another thought for me. Things did start to ease in the Soviet Union...but that was pretty much late 80s. In the early 80s the Cold War still looked relatively solid. This attitude toward women was supposed to be global. Why would the Soviets who a) espoused an official credo that said women were equal to men and b) spent a decent amount of time pooh-poohing U.S. science be so on board with an American scientific "discovery" that women are inferior? I'd have thought they'd be making major political hay over "barbarian Americans." I guess...to be fair...she could have argued that it took hold in America but gradually spread to the Soviet block after much political upheaval there.

Edit: typos

17tloeffler
helmikuu 3, 2011, 1:55 pm

I agree with Tad. I also had some difficulty believing that such a dramatic change could have happened in so little time. And I was hoping for more of an explanation HOW it happened. I remember too, Tad, that you said something somewhere of not liking how thoroughly bad the men were. I got that same sense, and it would be easier if I found an explanation of how it happened. Oh, well, maybe it will show up later. I just finished the first 8 chapters to stay on schedule.

18markon
helmikuu 3, 2011, 1:59 pm

TadAD, you're quite right - I'm just going to have to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the novel. Her world-building skills aren't the greatest, but I also think that the climate of that time was somehow conducive to this type of dystopia since three writers published fiction that posited some type of revolution in which women's rights had been abrogated. Tepper & Atwood, more experienced fiction writers, simply made their world more believable/consistent in time.

19sibylline
helmikuu 3, 2011, 6:01 pm

Wow -- really good stuff -- I decided somewhere around Chapter 5 that if I was going to read NT I was going to have to suspend disbelief, let the guys be hopeless jerks etc and concentrate on the part of the book where Elgin does have expertise: linguistics (whoops I started to write linguini!)-- wasn't the whole neurolinguistic programming language thing big in the 80's too (I'm not sure I have the name right) -- the idea was (is?) you can seriously manipulate people with the way you put things.... well, duh, but we tend to be a bit passive about it all the same. I'm almost to Ch 8 thanks to the readathon and snowstorm yesterday!

20avatiakh
helmikuu 3, 2011, 7:13 pm

#19> The linguistics idea caught my attention and was mainly why I joined the group read.
I think we are all having a similar reaction to reading it - suspend disbelief.
Here's a timeline of Women in Politics that shows women were holding positions of power around the world even before the 1980s so to think that women in the US could end up with so few rights is hard to consider, though it has happened in some countries under Islamic rule, but still...
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel so the possibility of it happening is more believable.
I had a similar 'how could this happen' reaction to Beggars in Spain with the prejudice and reaction to prejudice shown by the US population to the genetically enhanced 'sleepless'.

21ronincats
helmikuu 3, 2011, 11:55 pm

Ardene, thanks for going ahead and pointing out important points--the time this was being written, that it predated The Handmaiden's Tale, and the political tone of the times with the rise of the conservative Christian right. In addition, we still had women like Phyllis Schlafly actively campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945990,00.html) and arguing that a woman's place and greatest pleasure was in the home.

Recently, we have situations like the one in Pakistan where it is looking more and more like an Islamic society that actually had a woman prime minister is going to be overthrown by the extremists, who are assassinating those who speak up for women and justice. See the links iftyzaidy provided on his thread--he's there! Ten years ago, such a thing would have been roundly scoffed at in that country.

Our story, of course, takes place over 2 centuries later, when belief systems could have become reset quite handily. After all, it's been less than that long that the belief that women are legal persons with full rights has become widespread in the cultures that currently hold that. I agree that it takes a suspension of belief that the evidence of women's abilities has been so thoroughly done away with, and that belief is so monolithic, but repressive governments can do a lot of things and we really do only get into a limited number of heads here.

I see the men's views being very similar to those of slaveholders, in the belief that the other race/other gender simply cannot be and isn't equal and therefore it is their responsibility to take the best care of the others. And they have their own pressures, trying to protect their families from a society taught to hate them. Isn't Thomas arguing that providing Nazareth with that extra benefit could place the Families in danger, and that it's not worth the risk? What do you think?

22amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 1:31 am

The biggest problem that I had with the beginning was that there was no real explanation given for the complete revocation of women’s rights. There are no wars mentioned or epidemics or anything that would set this kind of thing off. It’s as if Elgin was convinced that the defeat of the ERA was the end of feminism and that without the “protection” of two dozen words that women would be stripped of all their accomplishments. I know that the ‘80s were kind of a rocky time, but American women at that time enjoyed more rights and freedoms than had ever been afforded to women at any other point in history. To then have women enslaved in less than 10 years is a bit too pessimistic for me.

I kind of picture Thomas as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. He’s a very strong leader who’s trying to protect his family and his way of life and is frequently called upon to do terrible things. Of course the fact that he doesn’t really regret the things he does makes me lose most of my sympathy for him.

23TadAD
helmikuu 4, 2011, 8:16 am

>20 avatiakh:: Kerry, it's interesting that you should mention the Kress book. I hadn't made the connection but, you're right, there is a similar feeling that the author hasn't made the case for the rapid swing toward prejudice and discrimination.

I think Nazi Germany showed us that social attitudes can change very quickly. However, without some triggering event (the post-WWI treaties and economic collapse in Germany, for example), it's a bit of a reach to think they'd change that quickly and absolutely.

Good call!

24TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 9:10 am

>21 ronincats:: Our story, of course, takes place over 2 centuries later, when belief systems could have become reset quite handily.

I think the thing you're missing, Roni, is that, while the story takes place 200 years later, the events that caused the revocation of women's rights did not. According to Elgin, they occurred in 1991. Where all the discussion of "suspension of disbelief" is coming in is that this is a ludicrous extrapolation from the situation in 1984 when she wrote the book.

Yes, the Religious Right was on the rise but let's not forget the over half of the country still identified themselves as liberal at that time.

People keep bringing up the Islamic societies. I don't find that a convincing argument. There are two weaknesses with it, imo.

First, fundamentalist Islam generally feels that the perfect society was defined in the 7th-8th centuries and their current thinking uses that as a yardstick...a need to conform to a codification of social behavior that is 12 centuries old. Western societies, in general, don't have that mindset. Our tradition is more that societies evolve and times like the Middle Ages are generally viewed as less civilized.

Now, you may argue that certain fundamentalist Christian groups want to turn back the clock, also. That's a fair enough statement. However, that raises my second objection: even if you argue that the extreme whacko cults would go so far as to enslave women (tenuous at best), it overlooks the fact that—unlike Afghanistan or Pakistan where Islam is dominant—fringe groups at that level are an extreme minority in the U.S. and, in fact, a despised minority in 1984.

25TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 8:53 am

>22 amanda4242:: It’s as if Elgin was convinced that the defeat of the ERA was the end of feminism and that without the “protection” of two dozen words that women would be stripped of all their accomplishments.

Amanda, it does raise the question of how much Elgin was convinced that women were going to move/be moved backwards as a result of the increasing conservatism, versus, how much she was just speculating on a farfetched extension of rightist conservatism and, as Ardene suggests, was just inept at world-building?

I find Elgin's own writings about this book don't help to answer this question. For the most part, she does not discuss this aspect of the story, focusing solely on the thought experiment of "would women adopt a Women's Language if it was offered to them?" (Her conclusion was no.)

I have to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn't really have these convictions. Yes, the bitterness over the failure of the E.R.A. was palpable but...

Switching topics, your comparison to Michael Corleone is interesting. However, I think the "he doesn’t really regret" aspect is overwhelming.

Michael said, "You broke my heart, Fredo."

Thomas says, "For the sake of one foolish woman, already overindulged her whole life long and now making the usual feminine mountain out of a pair of thoroughly worn out mole hills."

Yikes! Those are two different categories of callous.

Edit: typos

26TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 9:00 am

Btw, since not everyone reads my thread, my review of the book (no spoilers in it) was here if you want to know where I'm coming from on it.

As if that wasn't becoming apparent quite rapidly....

*smile*

27sibylline
helmikuu 4, 2011, 9:11 am

I'm intrigued by Elgin's own remark that she didn't think women would make up their own language! I feel like the whole book is like a 'thought experiment' -- not a novel coming from both left and right sides of the brain. There is a coolness to it and the characters are, basically, rather flat. On the other hand, I do find the language piece interesting.

28norabelle414
helmikuu 4, 2011, 9:11 am

I'm reading The Help right now as well, and I'm seeing a lot of similarities between the way the women are treated in Native Tongue and the way the African-American maids are treated in The Help. It makes Native Tongue a bit more realistic, I think, to know that there was a time in history when a large group of people was actually treated so badly by those with power.

But I agree that I don't think 1984-1991 is a realistic time frame in which to have such drastic changes in women's rights.

29TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 9:31 am

>27 sibylline:: Actually, Lucy, I think she thought the opposite at the beginning: that women would adopt the language if it was offered to them or, if it wasn't adequate, create a better one once the idea got loose. In her writings, there's almost an undercurrent of surprise that the experiment failed. She seems to reach the conclusion that women find English/French/German/etc. adequate almost reluctantly.

I find two things interesting with the whole experiment.

First is her perception of Láadan. She keeps focusing on the fact that the concepts expressed by that language are "important to women." However...and I may be reading way too much into her written word...I feel that there's always an unspoken clause at the end that says "and unimportant to men." Yet, when I look at the Láadan vocabulary, there's very little emotional content that I, personally, haven't felt and would have had the same difficulties expressing.

Second is that she keeps talking about Klingon, a language she says is very "male", and how it has become successful while Láadan has not. I'm not sure what conclusion she's drawing. Personally, I would just draw the conclusion that more boys are weird about SF Fandom than girls. :-)

30ronincats
helmikuu 4, 2011, 10:54 am

I wasn't forgetting, Tad. I was just making the point that if we grant that one basic occurrence, then where society was over 200 years later was not necessarily so unrealistic.

Karen Armstrong argues, rather convincingly I think, that all fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity, with a "Golden Age" some time in the past, whether Islamic or Christian or Jewish (see The Battle for God).

I think it's too early to be discussing Láadan, as it is only referred to fairly briefly in book one, but will be an important component when discussing the book as a whole.

Consider, while you are reading, is this more a science fiction novel, or a parable in the sense of Animal Farm? Of course, it can be both--I think we could argue that all science fiction is "thought experiments".

31TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2011, 12:51 pm

>30 ronincats:: I'm not sure which Elgin would claim it was, but I suspect the former...a science fiction story. She refers to it consistently that way and I've never seen her mention the words parable, fable or allegory.

Further, I've done some more reading of her non-fiction and discussions and what I've found is that she does not seem to believe that this was a farfetched outcome for America society. In fact, she believes it is already happening in America. (Thereby answering my question in >25 TadAD:, though not the way I thought it would be answered.) That would tend to support the view that Native Tongue is a rationale extension of the United States and, therefore, science fiction, not parable.

32pammab
helmikuu 5, 2011, 8:50 am

See, I have to disagree with TadAD. She may have thought she was writing science fiction, but I can't treat Native Tongue as sci-fi. It's too far fetched, it has too much of a blatantly obvious agenda, and it has essentially no science. It's a thought experiment, and there are clearly undertones of "look where we could end up, and be fearful, my fellow ladies!". So my vote is for parable. I do have a very firm belief that when it comes to literature, the author is dead, which is likely influencing that.... (But just to clear up any confusion I may cause: Elgin herself isn't dead! I'm talking in a Barthesian sense.)

33aulsmith
helmikuu 5, 2011, 10:18 am

I've been reading this discussion with interest, having read the book series ages ago shortly after it came out.

I'd like to interject two things here. One, Native Tongue does deal with science. The science is linguistics and Elgin was one of only a few people at the time to have dealt with linguists well in science fiction. (There still aren't very many.). At the time these books were written there was a raging debate in fandom about whether the books by women authors were sf because they didn't deal with "hard" science (by which the (usually male) detractor really meant technology). A number of women authors fought very hard to have the "softer" sciences like biology and linguistics counted as sf, and Native Tongue was a show piece.

Also, although I also didn't feel at the time that the timeline for male domination was realistic, it was a real worry that feminism could lose everything it had gained and lose it rather quickly. We were all aware that our mothers had gone back home to have babies after being Rosie the Riveter during the war. We also knew that first wave feminism had somehow gotten side-tracked in the late 19th century. So a story preparing us to start all over again made a lot of sense.

34billiejean
helmikuu 5, 2011, 7:26 pm

I just finished the first 8 chapters. I find the importance of multiple languages the most interesting part of the story. Funny, it also reminded me of Beggars in Spain.
--BJ

35Enraptured
helmikuu 6, 2011, 10:08 pm

I'm having a hard time warming up to the story so far; it reads like it was written with an agenda in mind (as I believe it was), and like many of you, I'm having a hard time accepting the world. On the one hand, an author doesn't necessarily believe their dystopian future is inevitable or even likely; I've written a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian America, but that doesn't mean I think that's a likely future. But it has to feel plausible to the reader, and so far I haven't seen anything to make the revocation of women's rights feel plausible. Maybe if I had read it when it was first published I would have been able to see the societal trends it was drawing on, and wouldn't need so much of it explained in the book itself. (As it is, I wasn't even alive when it was first published!)

I'm also having a hard time with the way men and women relate to each other in the book. I know that 200 years have gone by and the view of women as inferior is culturally ingrained; these men are raised with that view, and they think they're being kind to these women. But the fundamentally adversarial nature of the relationship between men and women as a whole in the book - it's written as if they're practically different species - doesn't ring true for me.

36alcottacre
helmikuu 7, 2011, 2:58 am

#35: I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one not particularly liking this book. I have only read the first 8 chapters though, so I am hoping the book improves for me.

37jasmyn9
helmikuu 7, 2011, 11:37 am

The part that has stood out to me is the testing of the babies in the linguistics chamber by the government. Now, I know our government has been accused of testing things on people under the radar, but I'm not sure when all of that came out. Could it have been during the time the story was being developed?

38norabelle414
helmikuu 7, 2011, 12:39 pm

Most of the details of research abuse and ethics violations, particularly by various governments, started coming to light in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. For example, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment ended in 1972, when details were leaked to the public. The Belmont Report, the first official US government human research ethics guidelines, was published in 1979.

So that probably did have a lot to do with Elgin's use of government testing as part of her dystopia.

39markon
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 7, 2011, 3:19 pm

The eugenics movement in the late 19th & twentieth century advocated for compulsory sterilization, targeting primarily the mentally retarded & mentally ill, but also people with disabilities, criminals and people of color.

Sterilization is still an issue worldwide as evidenced by this article from the Guardian. And of course, access to safe and affordable contraception as well as good pre-natal care is not easy to come by in many parts of the world.

Edited to add: But I think we're preaching to the choir here & I'm getting off topic.

So back to jasmyn9's comment - it sounds like testing of linguist infants was standard procedure in the novel. If you could be more specific about the testing you're referring too we could figure out when it happened.

40TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 7, 2011, 4:20 pm

>39 markon:: It might be post-Chapter 8, Ardene. You will definitely recognize it when you come to it!

ETA re that article: I was in Beijing last summer putting together a new team and somehow, after a bunch of drinks, we got into a conversation about living in China vs. living in the U.S. One of the women present wished, on one hand, that she lived in the U.S. so she could have a second child. Yet, at the same time, she was adamant that the government should do whatever it must to get the birth rate in China under control. The conversation got swept into other directions and I was too leery of sensitive topics to bring it back up...but I sure wish I could have heard more of her views as someone who was in the midst of it all, so to speak.

41Aerrin99
helmikuu 7, 2011, 4:19 pm

I had a very different reaction from most of what I'm hearing here. Although I agree about the suddenness of the change and the lack of reason given, that didn't bother me overmuch.

I think that it felt clear to me that the story Elgin wanted to tell was not how women fell into that state, but how women might fight and empower themselves once they were there. It seemed as though she was particularly interested in the power that language does or does not have and the ways in which people communicate. As such, I didn't care about whether her set-up was plausible - plausibility of the set-up wasn't the point, to me. It's the stuff you skip over in order to get to the interesting exploration of human (and alien) communication.

The book is clearly a thought experiment to me, but most thought experiments are science fictional and many science fiction works are thought experiments to one degree or another. I think they go hand in hand.

I liked the book a great deal - although none of the characters were immediately relatable, I found myself intensely invested in Elgin's thoughts on communication, miscommunication, language, and thought. It reminded me a lot of linguistic theory materials I read in graduate school - theories, for example, which hold that the words you use, the language you speak, affects even the thoughts you are capable of thinking.

This is what is so interesting to me - this idea of a society with these families completely focused on communication, and yet so much communication is missed.

42TadAD
helmikuu 7, 2011, 4:38 pm

>41 Aerrin99:: It seemed as though she was particularly interested in the power that language does or does not have

Your impressions are correct. Elgin said in later years that she wrote the book to test four hypotheses. I think there is more than a little bit of disingenuousness in that explanation, but I do think those experiments are one reason for the book. Using her words, she was testing:

(1) that the weak form of the linguistic relativity hypothesis is true that is, that human languages structure human perceptions in significant ways;

(2) that Goedel's Theorem applies to language, so that there are changes you could not introduce into a language without destroying it and languages you could not introduce into a culture without destroying it;

(3) that change in language brings about social change, rather than the contrary;

(4) that if women were offered a women's language one of two things would happen -- they would welcome and nurture it, or it would at minimum motivate them to replace it with a better women's language of their own construction.

She later stated that the fourth was disproved and, because of that, no meaningful conclusion could be drawn about the first three.

She wasn't the first science fiction writer to tackle this, but she was the first linguist science fiction writer to do it that I know of.

Beyond that, the current Chapter 8 limitation on discussion gets in the way, so more later.

43Aerrin99
helmikuu 7, 2011, 4:52 pm

> 42

Thanks, that's very interesting. I don't think most of her hypotheses are /right/, but they certainly shed light on the book.

I'm wondering now if I have any language theory articles still tucked away somewhere. I think there's a lot of interesting meat there and one thing I think Elgin does really well is at least create situations in which those theoretical questions can be asked in a less-than-strictly-academic sort of way.

44pammab
helmikuu 8, 2011, 9:43 pm

42
(4) that if women were offered a women's language one of two things would happen -- they would welcome and nurture it, or it would at minimum motivate them to replace it with a better women's language of their own construction.

She later stated that the fourth was disproved and, because of that, no meaningful conclusion could be drawn about the first three.


TadAD, do you by chance know why she thought the fourth was disproved?

45sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 8, 2011, 9:45 pm

I finished up ch 8 -- this isn't spoiling but is one of those reading interconnections I find fascinating -- I'm reading a not terribly literary space opera presently where one civilization has been trying to breed a hybrid/telepathic person who can communicate with these creatures that live inside gas giants -- she's only seven when she gets sent to try to reason with them not to murder all 'rock dwellers' -- In the Elgin I was very intrigued by the idea that just trying to connect and communicate with an alien, truly alien, mind could kill you....and sentient beings from gas giants were mentioned as an example of something seriously alien. Maybe the fellow who wrote my current reading indulgence read NT and it sort of sank into some little nook in his mind, or maybe it is a common idea and I don't know any better because I haven't read enough SF, but there you go, I was agreeably struck by it. Naturally, being a space opera, the little girl succeeds pretty well - or she has so far. All this leading, perhaps, to a point -- that is Elgin's book does feel more 'realistic' and 'sciencey' when compared to the other. The last three or so chapters felt more like I was reading a real novel...... the story seemed to take hold at last.

46amanda4242
helmikuu 8, 2011, 10:24 pm

#44: My guess is because it never happened. Her language was not adopted and apparently no one else thought that having a language just for women was a priority. Since there was no new language being widely used, it was impossible to see whether language shaped reality or vice versa.

Does anyone else think that the idea of language shaping reality sounds creepily like Newspeak?

47billiejean
helmikuu 8, 2011, 11:40 pm

I was discussing this book with my daughter on the phone just now and she mentioned the same thing!
--BJ

48sibylline
helmikuu 9, 2011, 8:28 am

I don't see how #4 can be disproved because only a certain set of circumstances would create the pressure that might cause a separate language to happen..... say..... if men and women were entirely separated for decades or even centuries, that sort of thing, obviously their language would evolve differently unless they took care to keep interacting verbally somehow, but then, they wouldn't be separated, now would they. The more similarly we talk, the more, I would guess that means we are getting along OK!!!!

Has any linguist been able to study a harem at length??

49aulsmith
helmikuu 9, 2011, 9:45 am

44, 46, 48: Elgin put out a grammar and vocabulary for Laadan in science fiction circles and expect that it would get the same amount of attention as Klingon. Klingon has a summer program for teaching people Klingon, there is an active program of translating Human cultural writings (like the Bible) into Klingon, and there were enough people who could speak it to have small gatherings at science fiction conventions. None of this happened with Laadan, thus disproving the fourth hypothesis

50sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 2011, 10:30 am

Hardly -- unless you are being ironic???

And, as I said, Laadan, at present, is pointless. Being able to spit "P'-Taak" at someone who just cut you off fills a void and serves a purpose. We NEED Klingon, we don't have a NEED for Laadan. Plus, Klingon is really fun!!!! Maybe Laadan is no fun, I mean as a language?

Plus it strikes me as a bit egotistical on Elgin's part to expect people to leap on board HER language -- no one went for phonetic spelling, no one went for --oh -- I forget what it's called -- that language someone made up that was supposed to be a lingua franca. Klingon became popular in a groundswell of popular consensus -- and I think the forming of it has been very much a 'group' effort - Tolkien has an equal number of fans but not so many people have made the effort to learn Sindarin (elf language spoken in Middle Earth) even though there is ample information there -- and people do -- believe me -- part of the problem is that it was Tolkien's invention so there is uncertainty about expanding the vocabulary and changing anything -- they did make up some stuff for the movie and it was controversial, though I think accepted in the end. Klingon seems to be communal property in a way -- I think, if you can convince the 'arbiters' you can add something yourself, the way real language works.

Not to go on about it but I think Elgin is almost absurd re #4! expecting just because she put it out there people/women would leap at it.

edited to correct spelling of 'p'taak.

51aulsmith
helmikuu 9, 2011, 10:34 am

I'm not being ironic. I really think she thought there was a need for a women's language and that the same kind of ground swell would take Laadan that took Klingon (which is essentially a language Marc Okrand made up) and make it a group project too.

And I do think the problem was that Klingon is fun and Laadan seems serious and like we have to do it to save women's culture, which bogged it down with political freight that Klingon didn't have.

52sibylline
helmikuu 9, 2011, 10:49 am

Ah, well that makes perfect sense -- esp the political freight piece.

It is quite true that Klingon started with one person - the whole Klingon phenom is incredible - the original Klingons were pretty lame. But these things are arbitrary and unpredictible, the zeitgeist being the fickle thing that it is.

ESPERANTO - that is the 'universal' language that never took off. (see message 50)

53jasmyn9
helmikuu 9, 2011, 12:42 pm

Klingon is also heard - many times throughout the various episodes of Star Trek. Laadan has not been broadcast in a form that people can hear spoken. Unspoken languages seem to die off - or in this case, never take hold.

54Aerrin99
helmikuu 9, 2011, 1:01 pm

What I find amazing is that Elgin seemed to think that women would be willing to learn a /new/ language at all. How many Americans can speak more than one language? Her book itself tells us how difficult picking one up past childhood is. I think failure can be linked not only to women's lack of 'need' but also to the sheer amount of work required. It's easier just to use more words to explain what you mean!

I wonder if she would have had better luck if she'd proposed simply adding words to the language we already speak to cover those 'Encoded' concepts.

> 66 Does anyone else think that the idea of language shaping reality sounds creepily like Newspeak?

I think it's more likely that Elgin is cribbing this idea from linguistic theory - a lot of it holds that the language we speak is intensely powerful, so powerful that it shapes reality and shapes what thoughts we are even capable of thinking.

Of course, Newspeak may have cribbed this, too, I'm not sure.

If I have time I may try to dig out some of the dimly-recollected linguistic theory I've read. I think it's really interesting in the context of this book.

55aulsmith
helmikuu 9, 2011, 3:25 pm

54: What you want to look for is stuff on the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Here is the Wikipedia page (which I haven't reviewed for accuracy and bias. There's a lot of theorizing that gets attached to Sapir/Whorf that's been discredited)

(Klingons: this is a different Whorf).

56sibylline
helmikuu 9, 2011, 4:31 pm

> Good one!

57Prop2gether
helmikuu 9, 2011, 5:56 pm

About four chapters in and holding my opinion about the story while following the discussion here. Curiously enough, the one thing I don't find implausible is the rapidity of change/decline in gender relations. If you take the dates out of the story, you could be reading, oh, half a dozen "classics" from any major list. Because my reading is so convoluted in publication periods, there are some "oldies but goodies" out there which I've read that make this gender setup look very genial. You could easily make the "aliens" here simply another unknown cultural group and come out with some similar story lines. I'm not sure I'm going to like or maybe even enjoy this story, but it sure is fun reading what others think about it.

58amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 2011, 8:01 pm

#54: I'm sure the theory was out there long before Elgin and probably before Orwell, too. It made me think of Newspeak because she presented it as a means of control rather than a way that humans realate to their environment.

On Klingon vs. Laadan: I think part of the reason that more people care about Kilngon is because it's non exclusive while Laadan cuts out half the population by design.

59billiejean
helmikuu 9, 2011, 9:53 pm

OK, I had no idea that people are out there speaking Klingon. This is Star Trek Klingon? Is this from one of the later series? Can I see it on youtube?
--BJ

60amanda4242
helmikuu 9, 2011, 10:08 pm

Yes, it's the Star Trek Klingons. It's from various series and from the movies. And you probably can find it on youtube.

61amanda4242
helmikuu 9, 2011, 10:16 pm

Here's a link to a Láadan dictionary. Some of the entries are pretty cool, but does anyone really need 8 different words for menstruation?

62Prop2gether
helmikuu 10, 2011, 2:57 am

Oh and you can get Klingon versions of a couple of Shakespearean plays as well.

63norabelle414
helmikuu 10, 2011, 11:50 am

I'm at chapter 10-ish and I find the men in this book really upsetting. I realize their world is different from ours but still.

It probably wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't know a few males who actually thought this way.

64sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 10, 2011, 11:55 am

>61 amanda4242: ieuww. And why would it ever matter? Different names for different kinds of snow can really matter, believe me, -- I used to use wax xcountry skis and I had about ten names for snow myself, sticky, fast, slick, lumpy, fickle, icy, corny, and other less nice names -- and all of these conditions required thinking and strategy about where to put the wax and what wax...... Except for -- some strange medical situation I can't think of any reason and even then that's what adjective are for.

I have to add, I am so loving this thread!


65TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 10, 2011, 12:49 pm

>54 Aerrin99:: I wondered much the same thing. Given the extreme difficulty of an adult learning a new language, I wouldn't think it would have much chance of being adopted, especially in largely mono-lingual cultures such as the U.S. Extension of the existing language seems a more feasible approach. Of course, if you argue that the grammar of Western languages are inherently unfriendly to women, then just extending the vocabulary doesn't accomplish the purpose. However, I don't know if she goes that far as all I've done is poke around in the vocabularly a bit.

The comparison to Klingon is interesting for all the reasons mentioned above. However, I think one thing to note is that Klingon is an entertainment vehicle for pretty much everyone associated with it. You may be passionate about learning it, but I doubt there are many people considering it as a primary language for society to adopt (and, thereby, change according to the premise Elgin has). On the other hand, my understanding is that Elgin was looking at Láadan as a primary communication mechanism among women.

>57 Prop2gether:: But the thing is, Laurie, that Elgin herself put the dates in. I'm not talking about the publication date, etc.; I'm talking about her premise that the U.S. took only 7 years to go from having a significant segment (arguably majority) of self-defined liberals where women's rights was an active topic to, essentially, a slave state. Taken as a snapshot in time, it's certainly plausible. Taken as a state relative to 1984, it's much less so (personally, I would go so far as to say, completely implausible given the lack of triggering stimulus in her timeline).

66sibylline
helmikuu 10, 2011, 1:12 pm

Tad - Isn't there a very tiny mention of some definitive unquestionable scientific study that proves once and for all women are hopelessly inferior to men?

The main preposterous thing about THAT is the fact that anyone believed the scientists......I mean, since when do we just instantly accept any 'study'????????? Not to mention that women accept it without a peep. I simply can't imagine any test, any study ANY sensible scientific inquiry that could draw such a conclusion!!!!!!! I was going to write something about this a few days ago and then I thought, whenever I think about this I lose all my ability to suspend disbelief, so I can't think about it or I can't read the book!!!!!!! Uh oh!

67TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 10, 2011, 2:01 pm

>66 sibylline:: Yes, Lucy, there was. No details given, just a "science has shown us women are inferior" type of thing.

I agree with you that it's a bit of a stretch to think something like that wouldn't be challenged, counter-studied, refuted, and endlessly debated for a lot longer than 7 years.

I vaguely remember an article about a difference found between the average male brain and the average female brain. The details have faded with time (something about the inferior parietal lobule???) but I do remember the androcentrists crowing that it proved men were better, the gynocentrists crowing that it proved women were better, and most of the (rational) people pointing out that we didn't really know if it meant anything but it certainly didn't mean that one sex was better than the other.

How can we possibly think that such a debate wouldn't rage tenfold over the supposed discovery in NT?...especially if legislation was being constructed on top of it?

In some ways, I think the folks here who are saying, "Yes, her back history is totally whacky, so just ignore it and go with the flow" have the right idea. I found myself just pretending that the situation developed over the centuries between 1984 and the time of the story. It made for easier reading.

68Prop2gether
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 10, 2011, 3:29 pm

#67
I found myself just pretending that the situation developed over the centuries between 1984 and the time of the story. It made for easier reading.

Yep. That's basically what I meant by taking the dates out of the storyline. Nineteen Eighty-Four has the same issues for specific dates, but I know very few readers who insist that Orwell meant that by 1984, the UK situation would be exactly as he wrote about it.

I'm also intrigued that Dune, published in 1965, uses a similar chapter method--you are reading the historical document which relates to the story action you are about to read about. It points your perspective in a specific direction and makes the story denser in a way.

Two more chapters in and more intrigued.

69Citizenjoyce
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2011, 2:40 am

It's possible that Elgin was angry enough over the defeat of the ERA that she proposed a domino theory of misogyny and shortened the time frame due to the rising religious right. Women were quite complicit in the ERA's defeat, I know one who is quite smug about her success.

As to whether or not this is science fiction, feminist science fiction is different from hard science fiction it that its emphasis is in trying out social changes.

Elgin's goal was to create a language that did not support patriarchy. She thought patriarchy couldn't exist without violence and her language specifically would not be violent. Klingons, as I recall, are quite violent so their language is more "fun". Laadan seems to concentrate more on emotional states and social interaction. I won't quote any of the words here because they are at the end of the book, but I can certainly imagine situations they would perfectly describe.

What I like least about the book is the very one dimensional males. In fact the men, especially those working for the government sound like their dialogue could have come right out of Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House, not one of my favorites. The women, however sound very believable.

I liked he comment relating the treatment of women in the book to the treatment of African Americans in The Help. Elgin's idea, I think, is that patriarchy requires that kind of duality - the us vs them. It works for Nazis and Jews, Taliban (or any other religious fundamentalists) and women, Jim Crowers and African Americans, European settlers and Native Americans. It's always there waiting for our baser selves.

70TadAD
helmikuu 11, 2011, 7:50 am

>69 Citizenjoyce:: She thought patriarchy couldn't exist without violence

It's funny you mention this right now as I was just reading an article which, to exemplify an argument it was making, quoted her saying roughly that.

71norabelle414
helmikuu 11, 2011, 9:40 am

>69 Citizenjoyce: I also saw similarities between the women in Native Tongue and the African-American women in The Help in the faux-scientific justification of the inequalities. In The Help, the African-American women aren't allowed to use the toilets because someone published false "statistics" about white people getting sick from sharing toilets with their help. And then there was the mention in Native Tongue about the scientific study that women are less intelligent. It really shows how people will make up ANYTHING to support their idea of the "us vs. them"

72sibylline
helmikuu 11, 2011, 11:09 am

Thank you all 69-71 for a great set of comments. Yes, yes, I have been mulling over the 'fun' aspect of Klingon. And the disturbing corollary that in some way violence is fun. There are theories out there about comedy being a form of violence as well.... oi. And that is what Laadan lacks most vividly -- humor.

Would women love men differently, less, condescendingly if men were found to be 'inferior'? I mean, my husband grovels around his favorite cat and will do anything for it....... Which brings me to the hugest question, unanswered for me, looming over this book, Where do the men lavish their love? I mean, most men form deep attachments with partners (whatever gender) and their children and dogs and cats and, in my case, tractor (which would live in the house if I would let him) and whoever is part of their household. I gotta ask, Hunh? That somehow evaporated? How could learning women are 'inferior' change this? So do they have boyfriends they 'love'? I haven't seen much evidence of that, in fact they seem to simply range from being mildly sh---y to being unbelievably out-of-the-stratosphere sh---. I'm thinking of Lois Bujold's rather hilarious Ethan of Athos which I read last year -- a planet where there are only men -- and of course, they form deep attachments, and since there are no women, they are all 'gay' so to speak. BTW it would be a real antidote to this dreary book! (Which, Roni, I am still very glad to be reading!)

73Citizenjoyce
helmikuu 11, 2011, 3:25 pm

That's what I mean about the one dimensional nature of her male characters. The don't lavish their love anywhere. They don't love. The make money and they manage people. They're not really alive. They exist only as something to fight against.

74avatiakh
helmikuu 11, 2011, 3:45 pm

My thoughts too, the men are sad, no love and no humanity. There's no awareness in this novel of an artistic culture in the community - the world seems to be bent on intergalactic trade at the expense of all else which makes one assume that by downgrading the role of women in society leads to an absence of much that we appreciate in life - poetry, art, music, family. I'm not even enjoying the linguistic side of it as the focus for everything is too economic and coldly scientific.

I'm only up to chapter 16, so don't know yet how it all works out. But most of us must be aware of attachment theory, (what sort of mothers did these men have when children?) and I'm just shattered that Elgin would think that her fictional society could function with so little love in it.

75TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2011, 4:58 pm

I find myself wondering whether, in creating such one dimensional beings, she was actually not trying to portray men at all but, instead, a metaphor for patriarchy. Take the common social discussion during the mid- to late-20th century about whether all social inequity (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, etc.) was fundamentally economic in nature. Add that to her stated beliefs that social inequities were expressions of violence. Now, personify the sexual divide and you have soulless, violent, money-focused beings...

I don't know; I guess I'm reaching a bit.

The problem for me is that the alternative, that she's saying "that's what men are like at their core," is something I find rather offensive.

76jasmyn9
helmikuu 11, 2011, 5:06 pm

Perhaps she was trying to keep her "bad guys" from being too sympathetic for the reader. If they were too deep or dynamic, we may find ourselves feeling something other than disdain and offense for them.

77amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2011, 5:29 pm

I thought the women were just as flat and unsympathetic as the men. True, the men were total a-holes, but what was so great about the women? They spent generations building a language meant to change the world, but they intend for it to be a woman's world. It's like they didn't think that trying to teach men a better way was worth their time.

78sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 11, 2011, 7:13 pm

Ch 12 made me feel nauseous.

Tad -- I think you are on to something, not reaching at all -- the set up is too bizarre otherwise.

Jasmyn -- I wonder if she's written any fiction with sympathetic men and women? Anyone know?

I found myself asking does this novel have any of the things in it I care about (in novels)? Character development (no), Story (some), Plot (not really), Pattern. rhythm (no!) -- is it prophetically insightful? (No, it's written with way too much anger for that) Fantastic, as in reaching beyond the known in a worthwhile and creative way? (maybe a little) -- but really the main thing that is dragging me on, is that I know I can come here and discuss it and because there is a sort of mesmerizingly gruesome road-kill interest factor as in 'what awful thing will she think of next?'

79Aerrin99
helmikuu 11, 2011, 7:40 pm

I agree that her flat characters - men in particular - weaken the book. My sense was almost that she just didn't care about them at all. They are caricatures because, to Elgin, they aren't really the point. They are simply a wall off which to bounce her ideas about women and language.

80Citizenjoyce
helmikuu 12, 2011, 12:32 am

#75 Tad, I think you're absolutely right, the men are not real characters but just a metaphor for patriarchy. Feminists have always said that misogyny is as harmful for men as for women because by denying the feminine in themselves men's lives are depleted. The men in Native Tongue don't love their wives and have no tender feelings for their children or even for each other. Tender feelings are weak. They're manly men who care only about making money and managing time. Looks like everyone looses in their society.

And no, I don't think that's how she feels about actual men. I read that she has 12 grandchildren. You can't have that much of a family and not care about half of them. Well, I guess some could, but I don't think anyone with the feeling she has about loving kindness would.

81alcottacre
helmikuu 12, 2011, 3:12 am

#79: I agree with you Aerrin, and I think that part of the reason I had such trouble getting into the book at first was due to the flat characters. Now that I am midway through the book and not expecting any character development, the book is going more easily for me.

82gennyt
helmikuu 12, 2011, 10:03 am

I've taken ages to get into the book too. Have now finished chapter 10 and starting to get a bit more involved with the story - but I agree with all the above comments about flat and unsympathetic characters. I can't say I've found any of the women so far much more sympathetic or well developed than the men. I've found it very disjointed, with different people appearing in different chapters, but now the chapters are beginning to return to some of the earlier introduced characters, at least there seems a bit more continuity.

It seems to me that in terms of 'world building', Elgin has spent less time convincing showing how the gender inequality became accepted, and far more time so far on setting up the divide between linguists and non-linguists - the mutual distrust and disdain, the secret cynical compromises, the question of which group is (and which sees itself to be) slave or master in this social arrangment which is perceived as necessary to maintain the ever expanding trade with alien races. One thing I do find interesting and believable is the recognition (which too many varieties of sci-fi and fantasy seem to conveniently ignore) that communication is going to be a real issue when encountering other races or species.

Is Elgin inviting us to compare and contrast the way linguists and women are treated - as both providing something which society cannot do without (translation; procreation)? - The former seem to have acquired power thereby but the latter have not - or have they? (I'm not yet far enough in to see what the secret work in the Barren Houses is all about and how far that is women claiming back power that has been taken from them).

83markon
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 2011, 10:33 am

#75 I find myself wondering whether, in creating such one dimensional beings, she was actually not trying to portray men at all but, instead, a metaphor for patriarchy.

#82: Is Elgin inviting us to compare and contrast the way linguists and women are treated - as both providing something which society cannot do without (translation; procreation)?

Now that totally makes sense to me! (Also, I keep reminding myself that she is not a fiction writer. I see lots of articles and books about language & linguistics, but I think this trilogy is the only fiction she's published.)

84aulsmith
helmikuu 12, 2011, 10:47 am

78 I wonder if she's written any fiction with sympathetic men and women? Anyone know?

Elgin really isn't that great a fiction writer. The Native Tongue series are really her best. I couldn't read the others at all and I barely got through the third one of this series. I think Native Tongue is much better taken as an allegory, like Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, rather than as a character driven novel. I think she's exaggerating to make a point.

BTW, if any of you have read Handmaid's Tale, I'd be interested in what you think of that as compared to Native Tongue.

85sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 2011, 11:45 am

I just read The Handmaid's Tale a few months ago -- Among the many differences the two most critical to me are that Atwood considered the scope more carefully and narrowed her focus to the one woman, Kate/Offred through whose eyes the reader experiences the horrors of Gilead. Secondly, the situation, infertility, is at the root of what is happening. Interpreted as punishment for sinfulness, a religious faction manages to seize enough power to take over a part of the US. Farfetched? Yes and No -- we don't know what massive infertility would do to people. Children of Men was another chilling and frightening view, a much more moving one in many ways, as PD James attempts to show what the psychological effect of having no children in the culture would have on people. (That we live, literally, for our children and their future.) It is my view that it is equally possible that women , especially fertile women, could become tremendously powerful in such an event, it seems bizarre in the extreme to me to depress, oppress and stress women out since that is a known factor in infertility!!!!-- so far, all women-repressive cultures are based on women being fertile and producing plenty of children, so we simply have no idea. I'd like to see that novel! I am intrigued by Bujold's idea that successful out-of-uterus parturition (is that the right word???) might have a positive effect on women's lives --

Back to the topic --Although Offred's character isn't really developed, we are led to care very much about her plight, at least I was. I read 'the story' in the hopes that she would get away. Also -- while plenty of people act terribly, they aren't entirely without kindnesses and goodness. The people of Native Tongue are all uniformly flat -- and it gets more and more tiresome irritating and annoying as I read along more unbelievable really than the premise -- Secondly, the scenario in NT is just too convoluted and many-layered and complex -- I could almost see a novel about Michaela only, say, just probing a small part of this crazy world. But with so much going on I end up with too many questions. The most crucial one still remains this weird premise that women were found inferior -- all this decades before space travel and the rise of the linguist. It would have been so easy to simply have a novel about the pressures on these families to produce offspring quickly in this future environment that would have been less extreme, but more believable OR equally plausible to posit some situation where women had a real motivation for inventing their own language -- the discovery perhaps that by using certain words certain ways that they could modify male behavior in significantly and manipulate them? A different novel entirely of course ...... I don't know. Among the many problems these two, character development and scope just strike me as the most egregious.

Atwood, on the other hand, has the instincts and skill of a real story-teller, keeping us hooked AND the intellectual chops to keep our attention on an intriguing idea. And her big heart. As I mentioned less directly earlier - love, the ability to love and be loved, the need for it, the longing for it, the difficulties of giving and getting enough of it, can't EVER be fully set aside in a fictional work or it just comes out dead. It's at the core of being human - the only 'alive' thing in this book is around the passionate love all the lingoes have for language -- they really do have a thing for it -- but that's it, nothing else.

Oh my goodness, I didn't mean to go on like this!

86markon
helmikuu 12, 2011, 1:56 pm

It's been ages since I read the Handmaid's Tale, but Atwood is a much better novelist than Elgin. I tend to like her short stories better than her novels. We'll see what I think when we read Handmaid's Tale this summer. Have any of you seen the movie?

I loved Children of Men - I called it a dark nativity. I did not like the movie - it captured the grimness of the situation, but IMO changed the plot much too much.

87amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 2011, 2:15 pm

I've seen The Handmaid's Tale and it's not bad, just very...80s.

88sibylline
helmikuu 12, 2011, 2:48 pm

>86 markon: -- Agree about book/movie tinkering with Children of Men.

89avatiakh
helmikuu 12, 2011, 5:54 pm

It's been a long time since I read The Handmaid's Tale but my preference would be for Atwood's book, mainly because it is a dystopian society and there is one main protagonist.
I finished Native Tongue yesterday as I wasn't looking forward to slogging it out for another week or so. I found the large cast of characters distracting, and I had to reread the first couple of chapters when the book caught up to that part, I hadn't even noticed till then that almost all of the book was set in the past.

90Enraptured
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 13, 2011, 11:22 pm

I preferred The Handmaid's Tale to Native Tongue, I think because I was able to care about the main character. I'm having trouble feeling much of anything for the characters in Native Tongue, although some of the ideas are interesting.

The world in The Handmaid's Tale doesn't seem any more plausible to me than the world in Native Tongue, but having a sympathetic main character makes a huge difference. The world also seemed more focused in The Handmaid's Tale, which made it easier to see it as symbolic rather than something the author is trying to present as realistic. In Native Tongue, there's the way women are treated, plus the linguists, plus the aliens; it feels very crowded, which makes it harder to see it as a world focused around the main character's story like in The Handmaid's Tale. (Native Tongue also has a lot more characters than The Handmaid's Tale, which might contribute to the crowded feeling.)

(As for Children of Men, I actually preferred the movie. But they were so different that I basically saw them as two separate stories.)

91Deedledee
helmikuu 14, 2011, 10:01 am

>>78 sibylline: there is a sort of mesmerizingly gruesome road-kill interest factor as in 'what awful thing will she think of next?'
I'm with you - the treatment of breast cancer, taking away a woman's child, etc. etc. It's like Elgin thinks if she makes it brutal enough we'll get her point about the terribleness of the society.

92sibylline
helmikuu 14, 2011, 10:43 am

>91 Deedledee: Thanks Deedledee! I suddenly feel like askiing if anyone, so far, can think of anything useful, positive, wise -- anything on that side of the spectrum? Also WHY is this book considered important? I mean, we all agree it is a pretty terrible novel, as a novel, so.......? What, if anything, does it contribute? I'm glad we're reading this first since I know everything else is going to seem fun -- sort of the way the weather is -- we've had temps mostly below 20 for the last 2 1/2 months and today it is 45! I went for a walk without a hat, coat unbuttoned! I know it's just a teaser, but it means it can't last forever!

93Aerrin99
helmikuu 14, 2011, 10:56 am

In the book's defense, I actually /really/ enjoyed it - even as I agree with most of the criticisms here. I don't want to talk too much about later details, but I will offer that if anyone wants to read my review explaining why, I posted it last week here in my thread, and I'd be happy to discuss details there (or here when we're later in the group read).

For me, it was partly about what I approached the book expecting, and also just a personal interest in linguistic theory. I think its treatment of linguistics as one of the key sciences in science fiction - by someone who knew what they were talking about in that arena, anyway - is a huge part of why it's considered important.

94TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 14, 2011, 12:27 pm

>92 sibylline:: Lucy, the constraints of the reading schedule make it hard to talk about the book as a whole here, so I'll put my response over on Aerrin's thread.

95aulsmith
helmikuu 14, 2011, 12:53 pm

I think I can talk about some of the important things without spoiling the end.

1. This book was one of the first to explore linguistics as a science in science fiction. This included the idea that it will take a lot of hard work to communicate with aliens. We're not going to just be able to turn on a universal translator.

2. This is a book about women scientists working together on a project to save the world. There are probably others, but I can't think of any of the top of my head, and this might be the first.

3. The trilogy together presents a portrait of women working together over generations to free themselves from male domination. While I'm not fond of these books as novels, I still find that image an important reminder of how we've gotten as far as we have and what we need to do to get further along.
I think it was even more important and significant at the time it was written.

96amanda4242
helmikuu 14, 2011, 1:54 pm

So, would it be fair to say that its worth is more historical than literary?

97Citizenjoyce
helmikuu 14, 2011, 2:03 pm

I too, while I did not like the style or rather the lack of characterization in men, liked and am glad I read the book. Again, you have to finish it to see how well she does write when she's not concentrating on the men. I think it had literary worth because it makes us think and it presents representations of women that we might not have encountered before. The last part of the book, while written in the 1980's has things to say about the worth of all women in a society that I don't think have been emphasized much until this century.

As for mesmerizing road kill interest, this does't even approach the harshness of The Holdfast Chronicles, and I loved them.

98TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 14, 2011, 3:12 pm

>95 aulsmith:: I think that Elgin gets a lot more reputation for #1 than is actually true, perhaps because she was credentialed and not a "writer". Vance, Delaney, even Foster to some extent, were looking at linguistics as science long before she was. In fact, by the late 50s we had books that seem explicitly defined by the first three of Elgin's hypotheses. The fact that alien languages weren't just a "my word for your word" type of thing goes back (at least) to Catherine Moore in the 40s, right down to needing the mind of a child.

I think your #3 is the general area where Elgin's influence was most prominent. She created something that, because of the time and place, had a lot of emotional and intellectual appeal and has become somewhat symbolic. I don't think that, alone, makes for a particularly good book (which is why, imo, even the scholarly analyses now use terms like "dated") but as an historical image of the times and a touchstone reminding people (as you note) of the situation, it is fascinating and influential.

From my point of view, her fourth hypothesis that women would adopt a women's language, thereby implying that they felt a lack in our current languages, was the novel concept. The fact that she feels it was disproved doesn't change the impact of the original idea. (Interestingly, I don't think the failure of the experiment actually disproves the idea, though many seem to draw that conclusion.) This aspect of the book, which I felt she did write well, is the one that is thought provoking. The fact that, for me, the quality of the vehicle carrying this idea was too poor to ignore hasn't stopped me from thinking about what it means for our languages and wondering about what would happen were Laaden to be adopted.

Edit: typos

99aulsmith
helmikuu 14, 2011, 9:17 pm

96: Literary is in the eye of the beholder. Different aesthetic communities have different standards. By my standards, Native Tongue is a better book than Handmaid's Tale, because I think Elgin's world-building is better than Atwood's, but by other standards expressed here, the opposite is true. So I can't answer your question.

98: Vance's The Languages of Pao does deal with linguistics, but it's a really terrible novel, much worse than Native Tongue. Delany in Babel-17 talked about language but didn't use linguistics as a science (though he did write a wonderful novel). Which Foster (M.A. or Alan Dean or someone else)?

I haven't read much Moore. What book/story were you referring to.

100TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 15, 2011, 10:58 am

>99 aulsmith:: The criterion you chose was not "good novel" but "first", so I'm not sure how things change based upon the quality of the Vance.

I won't disagree about The Languages of Pao not being a good novel. However, I think Native Tongue...as a novel...is quite poor also: all of the male and most of the female characters are completely two-dimensional, the backstory absolutely requires suspension of disbelief, the plot is cluttered, the hard science is faulty by 1980s standards, even some of the social situations are problematic. The novel hangs on the hook of an interesting social premise (her four theories), a constructed world that is well done if you ignore the history, and (imo) a lot of right-place-right-time appeal. Whether that hook is strong enough to support the flaws is a matter of opinion: no in my case and I'm assuming yes in yours.

Again, I think reputation exceeds reality: this book has a reputation for occupying a certain niche and that reputation tends to be asserted as reality. However, upon re-reading the story (which I just did over the last couple of days), there is actually little of the science of linguistics in it. Even her central premises, Sapir-Whorf and Gödel applied to languages, are only cursorily explored at best...and then only by the reader extending the novel on their own in light of where common knowledge has it going.

Perhaps they are given in-depth treatment in the following volumes, but that is just speculation and I cannot consider that in evaluating NT as a standalone.

As I see it, a canon has grown up around this book that goes farther than the book actually does. I mention this because I think that dismissing Delany, who specifically based his book up Sapir-Whorf, in that manner is, perhaps, defining a distinction that doesn't truly exist.

ETA: touchstones fixed

101souloftherose
helmikuu 15, 2011, 11:12 am

I have really enjoyed reading all the comments here but I feel a little out of my depth as I don't seem to have much brain this month (perhaps I am the Winnie-the-Pooh of readers).

I just got to the end of chapter 17. It feels like Elgin really wants us to hate Aaron and Thomas at this point. Although I agree with people's comments that the characters overall seem quite flat, this chapter had me almost squirming in my seat as I read. I found Nazareth's thoughts afterwards interesting in the context of the discussion about Elgin's hopes for a language for women:

"And there were no words, not in any language, that she could use to explain to them what it was that had been done to her, that would make them stop and say that it was an awful thing that had been done to her."

102aulsmith
helmikuu 15, 2011, 12:34 pm

100: I said in message 95 "one of the first" not "the first". I see how my points about Delany and Vance don't make sense (I forgot to reread my message before plowing in), so I'd be happy to count them among the first. I think narrowing Elgin to just exploring Sapir-Whorf is unfair, but I haven't read the books since the 80s, so it might be fair for Native Tongue. I do know that both Tim and I, at the time, thought that Elgin was writing best about the whole science of linguistics compared to the other things we'd read, which included the Vance and the Delany. (And we're both pretty well educated in linguistics and pretty well read in science fiction.) So, I don't think I'm overly affected by the "canon that has grown up around the book." You are certainly free to discount Elgin, if you think the Delany and/or the Vance (or the other authors you mentioned) did it better, but I think she has the reputation she has for a reaction at the time the books were written, not some backward-looking interpretation.

103TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 15, 2011, 12:59 pm

>102 aulsmith:: I'm not discounting Elgin. Nor have I said (nor do I think) that Vance and Delany did it better. Putting it in a positive construction, I think she did as good a job and probably better of injecting linguistics into science fiction as they did; I think she was a better writer than one, though worse than the other.

However, there is a cult status about Elgin that tends to discount the earlier authors unfairly by implying that she got this whole thing started when, in fact, it got started about 25 years before her. Over the last few weeks, I've probably read 50 articles by or about Elgin and a surprising number credit her with introducing linguistics to science fiction...a dismissiveness that I find disappointing.

I'm not certain what you mean by the last sentence so, while I would say that I agree whole-heartedly that she had the reputation she has for a reaction at the time the books were written, not some backward-looking interpretation, I don't know if I'm agreeing with what you think or just my spin on those particular words.

Edit: typos

...and some more typos

104TadAD
helmikuu 15, 2011, 1:35 pm

Slightly changing the subject...

Two questions have been occurring to me today, probably because: a) I re-read Native Tongue mostly yesterday, b) I'm waiting for something at work and have a lot of time on my hands. :-)

Going back to Aerrin99's comments in >54 Aerrin99:—expecting real-world (i.e., non-Linguist) people to learn a new language seems...well...ambitious. I wonder what the success of attempting to inject Láadan-ish words and concepts into existing languages instead would have been? If you think about it, a substantial number of people would know what was meant by, "I grok that," so the concept has some validity.

The other thing is that I was reading through the Láadan dictionary. Some of the words are female oriented—women may or may not feel the need for them; I inherently don't have an opinion. Some of the words, usually emotional words, don't seem to be inherently female oriented, but the definition stipulates that a woman is feeling it, so I'm assuming she postulates that women feel what is being described slightly differently than men do. Some words are defined without reference to gender. However, none that I saw are defined as male oriented though, by extension of earlier categories, there are male oriented emotions. If one is trying to construct a language that will change the male/female dynamic by giving voice to emotional content, would that not be a necessary component? I can think of a couple of situations most men could relate to instantly where I don't know if women would experience the same thing or not. I'm not faulting Elgin on this, btw, she was taking first steps. I'm just curious what others think.

105pammab
helmikuu 15, 2011, 8:59 pm

And to piggy back on 104's question about whether there are concepts that different genders experience differently, how do people feel about the construction of gender in Native Tongue? There's been some discussion here of Elgin writing off men, but to what extent is that a product of her world, of her story, of her version of feminism, of her version of gender?

For my part, I found Native Tongue all a bit too second wave and gender essentialist for my tastes. Elgin sets up a clear dividing line between men and women, and make that one of only two social identities that matter. I know I'd have loved to have seen that muddied a bit (again for my part, preferably with some shades of queer and trans, shaken in just to see what would have come out the other side -- this world doesn't leave space for people on the edge, either).

106amanda4242
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 16, 2011, 10:59 am

#105: Now that you mention it, I do think she made things a little to tidy with a binary gender system that is exclusively heterosexual. The very religious society she set up on Earth wouldn't be too keen on anything but the traditional man/woman thing, but since the women are so unhappy with the men you'd think that the at least some of them, especially those in the Barren House, would turn to each other for a romantic relationship. Maybe she didn't want the general public to think that feminist equals lesbian? Personally, I think I would have liked the women more if they had been capable of loving in a more than just "all women are my sisters" kind of way.

107Citizenjoyce
helmikuu 16, 2011, 4:36 am

I'm very linguistically challenged so I would make no attempt to use laadan, but there are some great words there:

áazh love for one sexually desired at one time, but not now

abathede clitoris aba=fragrant + thede= jewel

azháadin to menopause uneventfully zháadin=to menopause

áwithid male baby, male infant áwith=baby + -id=suffix for male - as opposed to English in which a word is assumed to be male unless identified otherwise

aye love which is an unwelcome burden

héena sibling of the heart hena=sibling by birth

lalewida to be pregnant joyfully lawida=to be pregnant

lowitheláad to feel, as if directly, another's feelings (pain/joy/ anger/grief/surprise/ etc.); to be empathetic, without the separation implied in empathy lo + with=person + láad=to perceive

radiídin non-holiday, holiday more work that it’s worth, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help

radutha to not-heal, medicine or treatment which does not heal ra=not + dutha=heal

raduthahá not-healer

raduthahálh non-healer with evil intent

ramimelh to refrain from asking, with evil intent; especially when it is clear that someone badly wants the other to ask ramime=to refrain from asking + lh=give negative connotation

ranem non-pearl, an ugly resentment or situation which worsens & festers, an ugly thing one builds layer by layer as an oyster does a pearl, such as a festering hatred to which one pays attention ra=non+ nem=pearl

rathóo non-guest, someone who comes to visit knowing perfectly well that they are intruding and causing difficulty ra=non- + thóo=guest








108TadAD
helmikuu 16, 2011, 8:59 am

>107 Citizenjoyce:: When looking at your list the first, áazh, caught my eye.

For some reason it made me think of Islandia, a sentimental favorite of mine, with its division of love into ania (commited/marital love), amia (love of friends), and apia (sexual love).

Hmmm, I guess that's not really apropos of much, just a random thought.

109sibylline
helmikuu 16, 2011, 9:03 am

Great points all!

For my part, if she had simply written the story of Michaela, kept the focus and pov firmly there, the discoveries, all of it, I might have gone for it hook line and sinker. What is also fascinating about her is that she is as good at body language as the best of them, better, in fact so she can fool everyone, men and women. It argues too that the 'lines' are likely to some degree to be baloney. It's kind of sad -- the rigidity in the story prevents it from coming alive. All I know is whenever the story turns to Michaela I get interested.

And it continues to be thoroughly unbelievable that some of these smart men and women wouldn't fall in love and rebel! These men are awfully 'obedient' not like too many men I know! I do see how coming up against so many aliens would make a culture/a world want to define itself very clearly, that there would be a lot of pressure, even, to simplify and present a united front.... but she doesn't really attempt to use that as a reason.

And it's also so remarkably peaceful, these aliens, just want to trade? What's going to happen when the Klingons turn up?

It truly is a lousy novel qua novel -- But it is a bad novel written by a very intelligent and thoughtful and intensely visionary person so it has a compelling aspect to it, an energy. Completely worth reading with in this kind of context, which, frankly, is a 'schoolroom' context -- I'm reading it as a historical/philosophical/speculative/feminist document more or less.

I thought the hand-holding was code. Ditto the four private bedrooms. I can understand that Elgin didn't want the book pegged as lesbian feminist science fiction.... talk about the power of language to sideline something!

110TadAD
helmikuu 16, 2011, 9:16 am

>109 sibylline:: I had the same thought about the private bedrooms, Lucy, that she was hinting but trying to keep the book from being dismissed as "lesbian fare" by segments of the public that objected. I missed the hand-holding thing; it went right over my head.

I wish it we were at the 22nd.

111aulsmith
helmikuu 16, 2011, 9:33 am

103: I didn't understand what you were reacting against in replying to my post. I think we're basically in agreement, except that historically I think I understand why Elgin is given credit and Delany and Vance are ignored, especially by feminist critics. It, however, is not fair (or true) to leave the others out when discussing Elgin's role.

109: Agreed that there is a lot of coded female/female sexual loving relationships in the book. As to smart men and women rebelling, I would ask you how many smart men rebelled against the gender system in the 19th century (and if they did rebel, let any other men know they were rebelling).

112Aerrin99
helmikuu 16, 2011, 2:23 pm

Also agree about the coded lesbianism. I was fairly convinced that Michaela and Nazareth felt both love and attraction for each other, although I don't know whether I'd go so far as to claim an affair - but I think it's there for interpretation in the text.

113jasmyn9
helmikuu 16, 2011, 4:05 pm

I saw that between Michaela and Nazareth also. Michaela commented that she went out of her way to find reasons to touch Nazareth and that Nazareth was the first person she looked for when she entered a room at Barren House.

114sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 16, 2011, 6:32 pm

My word! >111 aulsmith: In the US a large number of Quaker men, for one, including those involved in helping to finance and found women's or coed colleges such as Swarthmore in the 19th century -- many many of the lovers, friends and husbands of women in the movement in the 19th century in the US -- too many to mention, in fact, many unsung. Plenty of other non-Quaker men as well, of course - I don't know if I'd call their actions a rebellion, more like quiet (and not-so-quiet) support of the movement. I've just bought a book by Henry Wentworth Higginson yesterday in fact, a man who corresponded with Emily Dickinson and was a passionate believer in women's rights.

I really popped by to say I've finished NT. I'll wait to comment, but I feel relieved to be done. Not a waste of time to read it, but not much of a pleasure or even all that enlightening.

115pammab
helmikuu 16, 2011, 6:30 pm

Oooh, I didn't even mean to bring up discussion of lesbian subtext! I was trying more to point to how very oppositional the world that Elgin draws is. I actually think there's a very strong argument to be made that gay and/or lesbian relationships further uphold that fundamental opposition/distance between the two camps of "men" and "women". (I mentioned the queer/trans bit because for me, Elgin's black-and-white world becomes much more interesting when I start engaging in thought experiments to introduce queer, trans, and intersex characters -- what sort of place is left for people who don't fit into that clear binary in that world? ...but that is probably off-topic for this conversation.)

We've talked a bit about the demonization of men already, but does anyone have any thoughts on why it's so oppositional? Was that really so part-and-parcel with the feminism of the 80s, or are there other mediating influences there?

116sibylline
helmikuu 16, 2011, 6:36 pm

For my money the oppositional aspect is a device of the novel to make sufficient 'reason' for Laadan to exist and thrive. That's it. If relations were better there would be no need or reason for it. It's one of the issues I have with the novel -- that is too artificial a device for me, too limited.

117aulsmith
helmikuu 16, 2011, 8:23 pm

115: There were a group of feminists in the 80s who felt that all penetrative sex was rape and that men (as a general category) were the problem that women had. (Basically the set up in Handmaid's Tale.) I don't remember Elgin being that radical, but it may be in the later books.

114: Glad about the Quakers. But, of course, they weren't in the mainstream. I guess the point I'm making is that to buck the system openly a man had to risk ostracism, and there aren't a whole lot of men willing to do that, even if they're smart and in love with a smart woman. I'm not sure it was common enough in societies that are set up the same as the one in Native Tongue that there was any obligation on Elgin's part to show it as part of her world.

118sibylline
helmikuu 16, 2011, 9:20 pm

Quakers were mainstream enough to spearhead and sustain the abolitionist movement over a long period of time as well to provide the foundation of the women's movement through a profound and steady support of women's education. A few people can have a profound effect on a great many. Not too far from the point Elgin makes, I'd say.

119aulsmith
helmikuu 17, 2011, 8:28 am

118: Well at least I understand where you're coming from.

Elgin is portraying a world where reliable male allies are extremely hard to come by. Since it's very much like the world I grew up in, I don't find it strange or in need of alteration.

120TadAD
helmikuu 17, 2011, 10:02 am

Does anyone remember if the book said what age male children were removed from the nursery?

121Prop2gether
helmikuu 17, 2011, 12:48 pm

#120, nope, but being simplistic here, I'm just reading the novel and enjoying it thus far. And, again being simplistic, I don't find the time lines and "history" as farfetched or impossible, so it makes it easier for me to stay with characters. At this point, my fascination is with the ongoing "battle" between the linguists and the government. The discussion between two men of what constitutes child abuse was intriguing, especially considering that both groups ostensibly have the same goal: communication with alien beings. Hmmm. Maybe the most alien beings in the novel are men and women.

122ronincats
helmikuu 25, 2011, 8:42 pm

I want to thank everyone who has made this an extremely interesting and stimulating discussion, mainly during my absence (I had my mother coming out to visit for the latter part of the month--sent her home yesterday.) My special thanks to the ideas and comments put out by aulsmith (messages 33 and 95), Aerrin, Citizenjoyce's referral to the influence of the defeat of the ERA (message 69), Sibyx's raising of the question of where do men put their feelings, and Tad's multitude of comments and resources, as well as those of everyone else.

One of the things I wondered was if there would be a generational split regarding the book, such that those of us who lived through the initial surge of feminism in the 60s and the fight over the ERA might have a different perspective than those who didn't. There was some evidence of this, but not anything rigid.

Like many others, I was fascinated by the linguistics concepts in the books. In the 70s I formally studied psycholinguistics, and as a school psychologist dealing with multi-linguistic populations, it has continued to be a strong interest of mine. I've always agreed with Kenji Hakuta in The Mirror of Language that data seems to show that being bilingual goes beyond simply knowing two languages but that the structures and ideas of two languages are so different that they force the child to think in more complicated ways than if they had only one language.

There are two more books that follow Native Tongue, The Judas Rose and Earthsong. Aerrin, stop reading here, because I know you are planning to read them and I going to give the synopsis.

In The Judas Rose, the women reach out through nurses to distribute Laaden to other women, and actually work through the nuns in the Catholic church and a Laaden bible. By the end of the book, Nazareth is looking forward to the use of Laaden continuing to keep the women of the Lines, and all the women who used it, immune to the state of violence that men struggled with so incessantly, that it would continue to provide women with the patience necessary to bring the men out of the endless loops of violence begatting more violence. Now that Laaden was out in the open and considered "harmless", boys in the general population would also be exposed to it from babyhood. "If she lived long enough, she would be so interested to see what they were going to be like--the first human men who had learned Laaden as infants and toddlers." "We never dared teach our male children" but out in the world and out in the colonies it would be different. And the book ends right after that with the minutes of the "alien" assembly reviewing their policy of engagement with humans, and deciding that their intervention had not reduced the unacceptable level of violence in human society, and now must consider what their alternatives are.

Earthsong begins as all the aliens, and their interstellar commerce, inexplicably leave Earth and earth space and colonies. And at the end of the book, there is reason to believe that the end of the plague of violence has begun.

Elgin has written other science fiction. Her first books starred Coyote Jones, a trouble-shooter who gets sent to some very interesting planets in The Communipaths, Furthest, and At the Seventh Level. The last, in particular, has strong themes regarding language and women.

Then there is the Ozark Fantasy trilogy, a delightful tale of a colony of inhabitants from the Ozarks, with Grannies and Magicians--and then it gets serious in the last book. But her use of language is masterful.

And then Yonder comes The other End of Time has Coyote Jones meet up with Planet Ozark.

Any other final thoughts? I've set up the thread for the Le Guin book--check the Future Women thread.

This book has done exactly what I hoped--stimulated broad and varied discussion about the concepts upon which it is based. Thank you, everyone!

123Citizenjoyce
helmikuu 25, 2011, 10:27 pm

I was so pleased with the end of Native Tongue in the way it showed the older and barren women to be important in the care of the upcoming generations, which is what anthropologists now say is the reason for women continuing to live past menopause. Perhaps this goes along with what you said, Ronicats, about the book possibly having a bigger impact on those women who had lived through 60's feminism. We're realizing the importance of women throughout the lifespan which, alas, some modern people do not.

Thanks for the synopsis of the follow up books. Tad must be happy now to know that men were finally taught Laaden from birth.

124TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2011, 10:56 pm

These discussions may have run their course...I know I'm a bit weary from the long conversations in PMs and other threads. However, if there are those who finished late and still wanted to talk, here are five questions among several I posed in other venues that ended up generating the most moderate to heavy (54 PMs on one) conversation.

Keep in mind, these were discussed without knowledge of where the books went after NT, so that was the only framework for answering.

1) One of Elgin's four premises is that language changes society, not vice versa. Given the redefinition of the term "adult" that occurred on page 1 of the novel, do you think this is a premise that stood up to her experiment?

2) If you postulate that Elgin's theories are true, particularly that language structures perception, then do the girls who grow up fluent in Láadan perceive themselves differently when speaking Láadan than they do when they speak English? Or, does the mindset of self worth permeate them and cross the barrier of whatever language they happen to be using?

3) I argue that the ending of the book relies upon a very heavy deus ex machina of only Thomas noticing the existence of a functioning women's language. (NB: You may disagree. Others did, though I think they came around in the end. If you do, why?)

However, let's say she didn't resort to that device. Given the happiness of the women at the end in what is, in its essence, a harem-like existence...and given the contentment of the men in the book with that same existence...do you think it mattered? More specifically, had more men noticed the existence of Láadan (not the purpose), would it have changed the outcome of segregating the sexes into disjoint units in any material way?

4) Do you think English is a perfect male language...or, a more restrictive version of the question...do you think Elgin would have argued that it is? I assure you it is extremely poor at expressing things males feel but does that matter? Or is that aspect irrelevant because you contend that men don't want to express those things, so English is perfect?

5) What do you think of the subtext that women should (or would choose to) live without men, completely if possible?

Do think she's contending that:

a) heterosexual women should deny sexual attraction because it's less important than independence;

b) that sexual preference is learned, not biological, (please note, I am not saying that) so it won't matter as long as they have frozen sperm or working parthogenesis;

c) something else.

125TadAD
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2011, 10:54 pm

>123 Citizenjoyce:: which is what anthropologists now say is the reason for women continuing to live past menopause

If that is the only reason that anthropologists are giving, then they strike me as extremely unimaginative and unobservant.

Tad must be happy now to know that men were finally taught Laaden from birth.

Not being able to hear tone, I'm not sure what to make of that comment. Whatever. It does plug what I see as a gaping hole in her logic, so if you want to say I'm "happy" in that sense, fine.

126sibylline
helmikuu 26, 2011, 9:16 pm

I am mulling over some of your questions Tad -- they are good ones. Alas, not this evening. Maybe tomorrow.

>123 Citizenjoyce: Kinda speculative, no? About the beneficial grannies, I mean. My guess is that if men lived longer all families would benefit too. It's more likely to be accidental that women live a bit longer than men, due to a different hormonal cocktail. In the bad old days, 1/3 of the women were gone btw due to dying in childbirth which was hardly useful to their offspring.

127sibylline
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 27, 2011, 11:38 am

Rereading your post I see that you are more or less finished, worn out etc. with the discussion. I'm sorry I missed the 58 posts! It might have been a lot more had I been there, so maybe it is just as well. But I'm going to briefly wade in, for what it's worth.

1) So this is a wee bit annoying -- I can't find my book to see what is on Page One. (that was easy)

2. Do bilingual people apprehend the world differently? I do know of a south american tribe who refuse to learn abstract words/concepts for color, number and time. They seem to be quite sure they are fine without them. It is, btw, a peaceful society punctuated by moments of unbelievable violence......

Back to 3) I thought it was a bit tidy, only Thomas being sharp enough to notice. I would say the culture(s) was/were headed toward segregation.

4. Perhaps the 'something else'?
There is something archetypal and, it could be argued, unfortunate that there is a nexus of trouble between men and women which links to sex and violence. Helen of Troy etcetera.

I think it likely that sex does mean something different to men than it does to women. I don't just mean enjoyment, but the need to HAVE it to feel right with the world and the self. I call it 'biological oppression' as it is only since the early part of the 20th century that women could be more 'present' sexually -- before that, most of the time between onset of menses to menopause women were either virginal (untouchable), married (for good to someone else or else),pregnant,
post-partum, nursing, terrified of another pregnancy, or depressed due to miscarriage, death of infant, or simply dead. This leaves countless generation of men, eternally frustrated and angry, by all the 'obstacles' women put in their way.

For some eye-popping mind-changing info I highly recommend the books of Susan Blaffer Hrdy. (that's how it is spelled).

We are all so lucky to live now. I also fully expect, unless our world culture suffers a horrendous blow that sets us back, that gradually as good medical practices surrounding all aspects of childbirth, from reduced # of children birthed (since you would reasonably expect even one to survive) to the firm expectation of surviving childbirth, not getting pregnant when it is not desired etc. then the biological oppression which was nobody's fault will lift and men and women will get along better and better. In developed countries this is already the case. Tad, my husband and countless other marvelous men, being all the proof I need.

128ronincats
helmikuu 28, 2011, 6:01 pm

Ah, at last, some uninterrupted time where I can work on constructing a thoughtful response to Tad's questions without being distracted!

1. The definition change being that women are no longer considered "adult" but "deemed legally minors". Section one sets out limitations that are almost identical to those seen in British law in the 1700s and 1800s.

The question is, does the novel support the premise that language changes society? In my field of psychology, we have had to deal with such dyadic pairings forever--nature vs. nurture, cognition vs. language--and this seems one more. The school of thought I follow is a constructivist/dynamic model that asserts that, basically, you can't have one without the other! It's not either/or, it has to be "and". The factors interact and build on one another and truly cannot be separated in real life. Given that, however, another essential and core aspect of psychology, and especially therapy, is that the language you use strongly affects the "reality" you see. Much of therapy is the learning of "new language" to replace old ways of thinking and conceptualizing the world, whether Ellis' irrational beliefs in Thinking, Changing, Rearranging or Bandler and Grinder's The Structure of Magic: a book about language and therapy or De Shazer's Words were Originally Magic or Elgin's own The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense-- the words you use in describing and creating your own personal reality determine how you respond. And so creating and internalizing a language that conceptualizes the world and interpersonal interactions in non-violent ways could actually, if it became a viable language, result in a society that was less violent. That is the long term goal of Láadan, to spread throughout humanity to stop "the plague of human violence" that eventually left the rest of the universe to isolate humanity and even to consider annihilating it.

2. Again, speaking on general principles, and alluding the the quote in my summary from Hakuta, when learning a new language, you don't perceive yourself differently when speaking that language than your primary language. What happens is that you add other ways of conceptualizing reality to your cognitive structure as a result of learning the new language, and end up with more complex cognitive structures as a result. So the girls would not perceive themselves as different when speaking in English, although they may find themselves limited in what they are able to convey. However, this could be considered to work in the opposite direction as well. While it is difficult to express violent thoughts in Láadan, if one is bilingual, then one can always move over to English to express them because they exist in the structure of English and so in the cognitive structure. And as long as one is bilingual, it is difficult to see how the acquisition of one would diminish the violence of the other, unless there were also societal pressures to finding alternative ways of conceptualizing and solving conflict.

3. Truth is stranger than fiction? Consider how busy the males are. Consider how their time is broken up, and almost all their socializing is with other males. Consider how disregarded the Barren Houses and their inmates are. Consider how in his role as Head, Thomas is one of the very few in position to see the big picture, and even he, if the men were not "gossiping" at his birthday bash, would not have had access to all the pertinent data. The fact of Michaela being there in the perfect spot at the perfect time would be more of a coincidence, if it were not for the fact that the entire book is spent setting that exact situation up.

4. No, English is not a perfect male language. Although the preponderance of meaning and metaphor will come from those with power in a society, there are always expressions that come from slaves and chattels that are subsumed into a language as well. If capitalism, the barons of commerce, etc., are the driving force for new and expanded language in a society, there are still spaces, especially in the polyglot that is English, for the weak and powerless to insert some terms.

5. In the future books, it becomes clear that the goal of the women is not to live without men but to cleanse them of the virulent violence/domination that is poisoning their interaction not only with the women but also with the rest of the Universe. That said, I think it is much easier for most women to conceptualize of an all-woman society than for men to do the same. And in fact, what the men are describing are not women who have withdrawn from them physically, but women who no longer evoke violence/domination from them. I see that as different.

Sib, it's the biologists/anthropologists. After they become barren, women have no further role in species survival, while men continue to be capable of impregnation. So while they no longer have a biological reason for society to support them, the anthropologists have deduced a societal purpose. It was not about women living longer than men, but living past menopause. Great points you made too, thanks.

129TadAD
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 1, 2011, 1:27 pm

>128 ronincats::

#3: Sorry, but I can't buy that for a second. Too many highly observant (at least where communication is concerned) beings seeing young girls who should have no common tongue but English chattering away. Too many girls too young to understand "secret language" mentioning a word here or there to the young boys...who grow up to be men. Too many young boys at that age when they are absolute sponges for picking up communication seeing girls making finger talk.

Keep the secret for a short time while it's isolated to the Barren Houses?...of course. Keep it once you start teaching it to all girls from birth generally?...fantasy.

#4: I probably wasn't clear enough on my question. It really wasn't who created the semantics of English or whether it was a pure male/power language or had weak/powerless mixed in.

It was more a question whether men, gender acculturated as they are, find the same comfort level in English that women find in Láadan? ("Comfort" being defined as "meets ones needs.")

There was some interesting discussion around this centered on Elgin's statement: "many words of Láadan cannot be translated into English except by lengthy definitions." It wasn't hard to show that this is not limited to women's concerns. I can easily define separate situations where men feel distinct emotional sets (in fact, the underlying emotions may be somewhat opposed) but for which the only English words are generic catches like "embarrassed". True expression of the differences in emotional content would only come with lengthy definitions. In that sense, is English really a male language, or is it simply a language with poor emotional capability regardless of gender, or is it both because men don't want to convey emotion (in some people's view)?

#5: I don't read it that way. Yes, the men don't see the women as withdrawing (as opposed to the men kicking them out) because Elgin's men are too stupid to see their noses in front of their faces. However, they do see the women as physically removed. Both James and Thomas at the end explicitly state the women would be around when they were needed for translating or wanted for sex; otherwise, they would not be welcome.

130Aerrin99
maaliskuu 1, 2011, 9:56 am

I just finished The Judas Rose a couple of days ago - one thing of note to mention (although it definitely does not come out in the first book) is that it is not actually long before men start to recognize this 'secret language' - they presume it's Langlish and laugh at the women trying to speak it.

I don't think this meshes all that well with Elgin's description of Langlish as a pointedly preposterous language or the disaster that would have come if Thomas had lived, having noticed it, but she at least doesn't pretend that the men just never ever notice it.

131ronincats
maaliskuu 7, 2011, 6:05 pm

Oh dear. I was just reading through the list of new Early Reviewer books being offered and couldn't resist copying one of them to here.

The Sex Doll by Anthony Ferguson (McFarland)

Description: This scholarly study of the centuries-long history of fornicatory dolls examines the enduring obsession with creating an idealized, silent female sexual object and the manifestations of this desire through the ages in mythology, literature, art, philosophy and science. This particular sexual impulse has been expressed in a great variety of forms such as statues, mannequins, sex dolls, and gynoids (robots). In particular this study focuses on the evolution of the sex doll through its original incarnation as a sack cloth effigy, through the marketing of inflatable dolls, to the current elaborate cyber-technology figures, in an attempt to discover the hidden drives and desires which fuel this ongoing fantasy of creating a perfect, powerless, silent partner.

132Citizenjoyce
maaliskuu 7, 2011, 7:45 pm

Now if only the men could figure out a way to send them out to make money, they'd be the perfect wives.

133TadAD
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 8, 2011, 1:18 pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

134TadAD
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 8, 2011, 1:20 pm

Wow, this just got a little too cutting to be a pleasant place to be. Xing this thread.

135ronincats
maaliskuu 9, 2011, 12:09 am

My apologies to Tad (and I will make them to him personally), as that kind of response was not the reason I posted the book description. I guess I should have gone ahead and explained when I posted. From the "Oh dear" beginning, this book description both horrified and fascinated me--my only exposure to such things has been Otto in the Airplane movie. But what it made me think of was the discussion here as to whether men really wanted that type of woman--a silent, compliant type. This seems to be evidence that indeed some men do--men that I think most of us would believe to be emotionally stunted or handicapped in some way. But I am also reading Suzanne's book, Chasing Goldman Sachs, and that got me to wondering about another type of man (with whom I have absolutely NO experience). There at least seems to be a type that is really into power. The type who seem to sublimate everything to control and power, the type of self-centered greed that was in great evidence in that book, in some of our politicians as well, who have the affairs and trophy wives rather than real relationships, even if they started with real relationships (yes, I'm thinking of you, John Edwards). And then I wonder--are there comparable women? There must be, but I suspect in lesser numbers for many, many reasons, including testosterone and socialization. I suspect that were power relations reversed, it would be much more common in women. Is violence more power-linked than gender linked? Contrary to the conclusions reached in The Postman?

This is probably way too abstract to be of any interest to anyone else, but it's what seeing that book description led me to and why I posted it. I have no desire to denigrate men as a group, or to make people uncomfortable. When I have argued, it has been for a point of view about what the book is saying, not ever anything personal. For me, it has really been about the ideas, and I have enjoyed the stimulation and discussion and the differing views. Sometimes ideas can make people uncomfortable, but i would hope to be able to express them in ways that are respectful and inclusive of everyone of you, and to ask the same of all of you. To the extent that I have failed at this, I personally apologize to all of you.