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Láadan and woman's speak

From:Peter Clark <pclark@...>
Date:Saturday, May 20, 2000, 6:34
        While browsing through some of the Láadan links, I happened to
come across Elgin's reasons for constructing Láadan. The spark of the idea
was Cheris Kramarae's hypothesis that existing human languages are
inadequate to express the perceptions of women. (Has anyone read
Kramarae's book, "Women and Men Speaking"? I would be interested if
someone could do a book report on it, or at least state a brief outline
for the hypothesis, with supporting evidence.)
        At this point, I started to do some thinking. Since, in just about
every language group, women compose 50% of the speakers, one would think
that over time, new words would be invented to fill this need. After all,
from what I understand, Kramarae and Elgin are not just talking about
things like, "Oh, wouldn't it be nice if there was a word for that feeling
of steely tightness of nerves and muscles, as though I am about to start
to run a race?"
        All languages are productive, even dead ones like Latin, which
still churns out new words (true, most of these are relegated to
scientific journals, but the productive _system_ still works). Yesterday,
I coined a new Russian word, because I had forgot that "fear" is
"strakh." I remembered, however, that "terrible, frightening" is
"strashny," so I took the adjective->noun ending "nost'" and came up with
"strashnoct'". :)
        To my way of thinking, the fact that a language does not have a
word is not a condemnation of the language. I have not met any Russian
speakers who are distressed by the fact that "dirt" and "mud" are the same
word. At first, it was a little inconvinient for me, who wanted to make a
wet/dry distinction, but for everybody else, it's not a problem. Now,
let's say that suddenly, 50% of all Russians suddenly wanted to express a
wet/dry destinction. How soon do you think it would be before a new word
developed, or an old word was re-formed in some way?
        Thinking of English, I have found that there are several things
that I would like to name, but have no words for. See my example above. In
the past, I have used "excited" (which implies more exhiliration than what
the feeling possesses), "ready" (which lacks the emotional),
"psyched" (which seems _too_ emotional), or "ansy" (which makes it seem
too jittery).
        But perhaps that is why some of us conlang, to provide those
missing words. Enamyn "tolcr" suits quite nicely. It fits the
calm, quite, but tensed excited feeling that I wish to describe. However,
when I consider this word, I understand that English's lack of this word
is not exactly a handicap; I can and have explained it before, but because
there is not a word for it does not mean that I am somehow crippled by
this lackage. What Kramarae seems to be suggesting (I can't say for sure,
having never read the book) is that women are _severly_ crippled,
handicapped even, by the fact that they cannot express themselves
adequately. (Heck, I feel that way every day--but then, that's because I
am surrounded by Russians. :) So does this theory run along the same lines
as saying: "Because I cannot speak Russian fluently, and because I do not
know enough Russian words to adequately convey what I wish to convey, I am
handicapped in my ability to express myself." Comments? Women?
        Hmm--I recall reading somewhere about some southern African tribes
(Zulu or relates) where the women have a seperate "dialect" or extension
to the common language. IIRC, the theory behind its development was that
this extension began as something of a code, something that the menfolk
would not understand. And of course, on the other side of the chromosome
divide, there is the men's language in Australia among...I forget which
tribe. Curses--I can't remember any names today. Saturday. Although if my
faulty memory still serves, there are only about 250 words in the men's
language, which makes it more of a code or extension than a
language. Anyone know the grammar?
        By the way: is anyone who has read the description of Láadan
slightly miffed at how she describes "lh" (which, from the description,
sounds like an exagerated lateral fricative, like Welsh "ll") as "not
especially pleasant to hear"? Well, I suppose if I followed the
description exactly (with the "exaggerated smile" as well), it does sound
harsh, but I prefer to pronounce /L/ (I _think_ that's the correct
SAMPA) with a minimal of lip movement.
        Hmm. Láadan has an interesting vowel system:
                I       u
                 E      o
(Examples given: bIt, bEll, cAlm, hOme, dUne.) Front vowels lax, back
tense. Consonants are also interesting:
/b d/
/m n/ (also a syllabic /n/ as a plural prefix to verbs that begin with d)
/T S Z h/
/y L l/
/r/ (American, it seems, as the example given is "furry"--how would are
British counterparts pronounce this? For me, it is retroflex rhotic
schwa. I hope I got the description right. This also happens to be one of
my least favorite sounds; instead of worrying about triffles like English
spelling, why don't we all work together and work to change this sound to
something more aestetically pleasing, like a trilled /r/? :)
        Hmm...just browsing over the speech/act act morphemes, I really
like "waálh"--assumed false by the speaker, who assumes that the source
had evil intent in giving false information. Too bad Enamyn doesn't have
evidence morphemes.
        The -id suffix (maleness) is not a surpise; almost to be expected
to counter the "patriarchy" of European languages. (And hey, it's supposed
to be a _woman's_ language, but I still can't get over the feeling that
this is more of a comeback at -ess and -ette.)
        So: does anyone have a word list of Láadan? Actually, what I am
interested in are the "extensions": the words that are meant to convey
what most languages do not have a word for. And I hope that the
definitions are a little more clear than "what a woman does during the
sexual act." Without turning our beloved CONLANG into a smut list, this is
a rather vague definition, and not very helpful at describing _which_ act
is being performed or _what_ the woman is doing.
        One parting comment: would someone mind explaining me what
Goedel's theorem is? The bit about "for every record player there are
records it can not play because they would lead to its indirect
self-destruction," sounds like someone was smoking a little too much weed
one day. :) If I played, say, a record covered with sandpaper, then
I would wreck the needle, but the player itself would not
_self_-destruct. Perhaps this would be better off-list, however.
        Ok, enough out of me. Back into the hole from whence I
crawled. :) (That's another thing about living in Russia: I have started
to feel the need to start saying "whence" and "whither" and "hence" and
"thence" again. Mmmm...motion... :)