Linguistics and Science Fiction: A Language and Gender Short Bibliography

By Hardman, M. J. | Women and Language, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Linguistics and Science Fiction: A Language and Gender Short Bibliography


Hardman, M. J., Women and Language


Budiaril laad len medonilaadeth hal el dan ededidethuhaa. We will look at the worldviews imaged in science fiction (SF) created languages

I have just finished teaching a course entitled Linguistics and Science Fiction. In this course we looked at the topic from three points of view: SF created languages and the worldviews imaged therein, which statement a student rendered into Laadan, the headline above; SF with linguistics and/or linguists as major plot devices; and, thirdly, how SF writers in English manage to construct worlds where derivational thinking, basic to English, does not function. In summer 1999 course information will be available at http://grove.ufl.edu/~hardman/, or I can make the information available via e-mail (hardman@ufl.edu).

For the pleasure of the readers of Women and Language I would like to share the list of novels that we used as texts, plus some of those that the students abstracted to share with the class. All these novels relate to language and gender, in one way or another. A good many of them I learned of originally through the James E. Tiptree Award for gender bending science fiction. (For a description and listing see http://www.tiptree.org/index.html.)

Suzette Haden Elgin has said (Linguistics & Science Fiction 1996), Linguistics is our best tool for bringing about social change and SF is our best tool for testing such changes before they are implemented in the real world, therefore the conjunction of the two is desirable and should be useful. This particular set of novels certainly gives her statement validity. Enjoy! (To subscribe to the Newsletter, Linguistics and Science Fiction, contact ocls@ipa.net)

Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue trilogy: Native Tongue (New York: DAW Books, 1984); Judas Rose (New York: DAW books, 1987); Earthsong (New York: DAW books, 1994).

      Native Tongue and Judas Rose deal with the
   development, distribution and effects of the
   woman-created language Laadan. Both are
   complex novels with fascinating insights into
   linguistics and into the way in which language
   creates reality. The major characters are linguists
   whose livelihood is discovering the grammar of,
   and acting as interpreters for, alien languages.
   Earth depends on alien trade, so it also depends on
   the linguists. The third volume is something of a
   disjuncture in both content and style with the first
   two. The aliens are gone and instead of Laadan,
   audiosynthesis is the science fiction element. I use
   the first two in my Language and Gender courses.

Nalo Hopkinson. Brown Girl in the Ring (Werner: Aspect 1998).

      Caribbean creole set in a future collapsed
   Toronto, this book takes us out of our own world
   by a consistent and most beautiful use of Creole
   itself in the dialogue. The students loved it. This is
   a first novel by a young author. The major
   character is a young woman resisting her own
   talents, which are of an SF nature.

Ursula K. Le Guin. Left Hand of Darkness, 25th Anniversary edition. (New York : Walker, 1994).

      We used two major works of Ursula Le Guin,
   this one from 25 years ago. The 25th anniversary
   edition contains an appendix that deals
   extensively, in fiction form, with the issue of the
   generic masculine. On the planet of Winter the
   people are only sexed beings once a month, and
   which sex depends on circumstance and chance;
   people have quite ordinary and extensive
   experience being both sexes. An Earth ambassador
   recounts his experiences. A marvelous thought
   experiment and a classic of SF.

Ursula LeGuin. Always Coming Home; composer, Todd Barton; artist, Margaret Chodos; George Hersh, geomancer; maps drawn by the author. (New York: Harper & Row, 1985).

      LeGuin's second volume that we used is more
   recent. She employs in this text the "carrier bag"
   style of writing--really quite fascinating and a
   beautiful book to hold. … 

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