Contented Reader

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Native Tongue

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Native Tongue

Suzette Haldin Elgin

The Feminist Press

I was turned off when I started reading this book, by what seemed to me to be heavy-handed feminist rhetoric- “In a world where women’s rights have been REPEALED BY LAW….”

But then I remembered that 1984 was very different than 2011.  Now it seems obvious to me that the constitution will never be amended to return women’s legal and social status to the Victorian era.  But then, when sexism was still rampant, the peak of the Moral Majority’s quest for power?  Maybe not so much.  This was about the same time when Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, which has a similar premise, wasn’t it?

And once I accepted the central premise and allowed the book to carry me along, and once I got past the world-establishing of the initial chapters, I was surprised at how much I did enjoy it.  Yes, Elgin is writing this book to persuade as much as to entertain, and it comes through to the book’s detriment.  But there’s still a lot to like here.

When I borrowed this old science fiction book from the public library, I was already aware that Elgin had developed the real women’s language Laadan, which is a cornerstone of this novel, and I was aware of her proposition that English (and most languages) was developed mostly by men, for men’s reasons, and that is it essentially a foreign language that puts women at a disadvantage when they try to communicate in it.  And I thought that proposition was bullshit.

But as I read the book, I sort of began to see her point- that women are disparaged for talking a lot, at length, about ‘trivial’ things, in part because there aren’t simple ways to say many of the things that women are saying when they talk, so it takes a paragraph to express an emotion instead of a word.

I sort of see her point, but that doesn’t mean I am going to learn Laadan.  Probably.

If you, reader, are an earnest feminist, you should definitely definitely read this book.  I see that there are several sequels, as well.  If you’re a man… frankly, I doubt you’d see much merit in it, but if you’re curious, you’re welcome to give it a try.




Written by Contented Reader

August 25, 2011 at 6:40 am

Posted in Reviews


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