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Re: Láadan

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Thursday, November 28, 2002, 2:50
Peter Clark writes:
 > On Wednesday 27 November 2002 05:25 pm, Tim May wrote:
 > > SHE used to subscribe to CONLANG, and discussed her intentions with
 > > Láadan in early 1995.  I have a gzipped tarball of list archives
 > > 1993-1996 (which Taliesin sent me, and from which I know all this).  I
 > > can forward this to anyone who's interested, as I'm not aware of
 > > archives from this period being online anywhere.  Elgin's first post
 > > was on 1995-02-25 and discussion of Láadan follows soon after.
 >         Please do. Maybe pick out some of the more interesting posts--for instance,
 > did anyone raise the point that the theory she was testing goes against
 > common sense (e.g., that women are 50% of the language speakers, and thus 50%
 > "responsible" for the vocabulary and expressions)? I'd be interested in
 > hearing her response.

Okay, I've sent copies of the archive to Peter and Padraic.  It's
somewhat difficult to follow and condense the threads, but Elgin's
single most relevantly informative post on Láadan is probably this

>Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 09:13:04 -0600 >From: (george elgin, suzette elgin) >To: >Subject: questions > >I have been greatly impressed by the ongoing discussion of various points >about LAadan (and the larger issues you have raised); very useful, very >insightful. My thanks to Richard Kenneway, who has several times now stated >points exactly as I would have liked them to be stated. I want to try to >clear up a few lingering bits of confusion, as briefly and concisely as >possible. And I want to do two housekeeping-type things here, before I >forget. First, my mailing address is PO Box 1137, Huntsville AR 72740-1137, >USA, should you need it. Second, if days go by and no posting from me >appears, it doesn't mean I'm ignoring my mail (or, worst of all, turning >into a linguistness); I 'm often on the road on business, and I'm not set >up to access my computer when away from home. And as we move into spring >and summer I will often have to postpone mail because work getting our >gardens underway is a dawn to dark matter. I just want to be sure you >understand why there are gaps in my correspondence with you. > >First item -- the "sexual act" discussion. I said earlier that perhaps I >should not have brought it up, and I was serious. It is the single best >example of the problem, which is why it's used; however, the opportunities >for embarassment and confusion surrounding it are so large that care is >required. (For example, a posting or two appeared recently to which I >could only have said back, "If that is accurate, I've been doing it all >wrong for more than forty years.") The reason women, asked about the >matter, usually say "I have no idea" is because they know from experience >that if they try to explain it will take hours and at the end of all that >linguistic struggle they still will not have made any progress in getting >their meaning across; it's too much work, for too little reward. That is >what I meant by "commotion." It's a sensitive issue. > >My entire intention when I constructed the "to-female-sexual-act" word for >LAadan, was to complete "Penetrate" is to "human-male-during-coitus" as >".....?.........". is to "human-female-during-coitus." I have been told by >some women much younger than I that they think the f-word is accurate for >both genders; for me, and for most women I know, that word has firmly >attached to it the semantic feature "plus-penetration"; clearly, there are >dialects for which that's not true. However, even women who would accept >that word are in a linguistic bind in that it is still not considered >suitable for public use. I perceive that some women have extended the >LAadan word to a broader purpose than my original intention; that's fine -- >that's what happens with languages. My own experience is limited to >heterosexual lovemaking, which means I can't say anything useful about >whether the LAadan term is appropriate for lesbians; however, the >morphology is there and ready to be used, and a lesbian group did send me a >glossary of LAadan words they had constructed. > >As a number of you have accurately said, it is possible to say anything at >all in any language at all provided you keep talking long enough; >absolutely. The problem is that women (I am speaking here of women who use >the languages with which I am familiar), trying to talk about things that >matter to them, constantly run into the same wall: "Will you PLEASE get to >the POINT?" As Richard Kenneway says, for a language to serve the needs of >its speakers well, it must be possible for them to discuss things that >matter to them *easily.* I cannot easily give you an English equivalent for >the LAadan "to-female-sexual-act," nor would I feel comfortable giving you >the necessary two or three detailed paragraphs. Very roughly, then, and >very inadequately indeed, I would say that the closest equivalent in >English is "to actively and passionately grasp and enclose completely." >That's not right; it's the best I can do at the moment. It is most >assuredly not passive, and many men have reacted to it (in discussions >where I was present) with a lot of uneasiness and sometimes outright anger. > >Second issue.... I will try to answer the question about what my intention, >goals, etc., were when I first set LAadan loose in the world. I had been >asked to review a book on male/female communication by Cheris Kramarae >(Women & Men Speaking) for *Language*; in that book I found the "muted >group" hypothesis and the information that women from all corners of the >world had proposed that existing human languages were inadequate to express >their perceptions and were seeking some solution to that inadequacy. I >constructed LAadan as a possible solution, and put it into the *Native >Tongue* novels. At the same time, I set up a thought experiment, with the >following hypothesis: "If it is true that women badly need and want a >language constructed to more easily express their perceptions, they will >either take up LAadan and use it, or they will decide that LAadan is still >inadequate and will -- the example having been set -- construct an >alternative to LAadan and use that alternative in its place." I set a ten >year limit on the experiment, and constrained it as best I could -- that >meant I could not make the experiment public; it meant I had to leave the >language strictly alone myself -- I couldn't fool with it and make changes >that would have constantly altered the variables ; it meant I could not >"promote" the language; it meant I could not have participated in this >conlang list and discussed the language.... And so on. I turned it loose, >very grateful that DAW had accepted the first novel in the series and that >SF3 (an organization in Madison, Wisconsin) had published the first grammar >and dictionary; it seemed to me that that constituted a more than fair >"launch." And then I waited, and observed. The ten years is over, the >hypothesis -- in the form stated -- has been proved false, and I am free to >discuss it. (I don't want to impose on the members of this list with more >detail. I put a complete account in my linguistics and science fiction >newsletter a few issues ago; if anyone wants to read that, just let me >know and I'll send you a photocopy. NOTE: Please be sure you either put >your snailmail address in your request or send it to me; I can't mail >photocopies to an email address.) Anthony Burgess, very early on, put >something in the London *Times* to the effect that "LAadan is a clever >idea, but it won't make any difference, because women don't care enough." >In terms of the hypothesis as I stated it, he was right. > >Now, about the "better for women" or "better than English" etc. ad >infinitum. The proposal in feminist literature is that existing languages >with which the writers are familiar -- usually that means Indo-European >languages -- lack the resources for easily and effectively talking about >things that matter deeply to their female speakers. I perceive that to be >true for English and for French and for Spanish, for example. Let's just >restrict the discussion to English for the moment. My intention was to >level the playing field. That is, it was intended to provide women with a >resource that men *already have* -- lexical items they could use to discuss >things that mattered to them. For English-speaking men, English already >provides that resource; for English-speaking women, LAadan was an attempt >to give them the same communication advantage. (Limited, I hasten to admit, >to communication with others who speak LAadan -- although it was my hope >that having examined the way LAadan handled a given lexical item would help >women express it more easily in their natural language.) > >In my experience, it is exposure to another language -- not to one's own -- >that provides insight. For example, consider the courses where I was >teaching grammar to native speakers of English and to native speakers of >Navajo, Hopi, Lakota Sioux, and Kumeyaay. It was only after I had told >them that the closest literal translation into Navajo for "I was riding a >horse" is "The horse was animaling about with me" (and that it was >considered gracious of the horse to be so acommodating) that English >speakers suddenly said, "But wait -- it's not the horse that's in charge, >it's the person!" Learning about the Navajo made them realize that in >English riding is something that a human being does TO the horse. And it >was only when the Navajo students heard about English that it occured to >them how Navajo percieves that concept. At which point I had to stamp out >the "Lo, the noble Indian!" reaction in the Anglo students by bringing in >the Hopi translation, which is "I was using the horse to go about with" -- >same grammatical markings as for "I was using the spoon to eat with." And >so on. You have to step outside the forest to see the trees. I hoped, >therefore -- as a separate matter from the experiment I've described above >-- that exposure to LAadan would clarify English and make it more useful to >its speakers. It's possible that that may have happened. > >About concepts being lexicalized -- being given a surface shape in sound or >writing or sign -- if they are "important enough to the culture." You'd >need to rephrase that a tad. Concepts are lexicalized in our existing >cultures if and only if they are important enough to those who hold the >power in the use of language. Senators; presidents; chairpersons; heads of >corporations; the persons at the top, in every field. At the moment, in the >overwhelming majority of cases, those persons are male. Men still have the >vast majority of power over what words are recognized and become current in >the language. That is not stereotyping, or male-bashing, it is a simple >statement of the facts. I am in a bit of a bind here, because the last >thing I want to do is to seem to be doing self-promotion.... I don't know >quite how to handle it. Suffice it to say that I believe Deborah Tannen is >quite wrong, and that I perceive the sudden spate of "discoveries" about >the cognitive differences between men and women as very alarming because it >seems to be the first steps toward exactly what I laid out in *Native >Tongue*; it makes me very uneasy. My opinion: there are two varieties of >English -- dominant English and dominated (subordinate) English. Because >the dominant role in interactions, especially public ones, is so often held >by the male speaker, we far more often observe males speaking dominant >English and females speaking subordinate English. This has nothing to do >with gender, and everything to do with power. In my opinion. Many eminent >personages disagree with me and claim that it is a matter of biological >gender; I think they are wrong. > >Finally (and none too soon!), please take care with the business about it >being sexist and stereotyping and so on to claim that one gender is better >able to "handle certain words and concepts" than the other. (I'm >summarizing.) Notice -- I never suggested that, not in any way; notice how >easily that conclusion gets laid at my door nonetheless. What I have been >saying is not that men can think certain thoughts/handle certain ideas >better than women can, or vice versa, but that men -- because of the >linguistic resources available to them -- can more easily EXPRESS the >thoughts and ideas that they consider most important. There is no evidence >that men and women differ in their cognitive capacity, although attempts >are being made to frame some current research in neurology and >neurophysiology that way. There's no evidence that the genders differ in >their expressive capacity. There is a great deal of evidence that the >genders differ in power, that that difference has effects upon the >language, and that those effects are detrimental to women's ability to >adequately express themselves aloud and in writing. Ability to "think" or >to handle ideas doesn't enter into this discussion. > >That's not everything you asked, but it's too long already. Very quickly >... postage for a LAadan grammar and dictionary to Europe could not >possibly be more than five dollars; if you send too much I'll reimburse >you. LAadan doesn't lack a word for father -- the word "thul" means >"parent" and the male suffic "-id" is available if one wants to specify >that the parent is male. (I posted this already, but saw the question again >... maybe the posting didn't get through.) Thank you again for all your >interest and for the fascinating discussion.... > >Suzette Haden Elgin >


Tim May <butsuri@...>Archive (Was: Láadan)
Peter Clark <peter-clark@...>