Native Tongue (Suzette Haden Elgin novel)

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Native Tongue
First edition
Author Suzette Haden Elgin
Cover artist Jill Bauman
Country United States
Language English
Series Native Tongue
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher DAW Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 320 pp
ISBN 0-87997-945-3
OCLC 44270270
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3555.L42 N38 2000
Followed by The Judas Rose

Native Tongue is the first novel in Suzette Haden Elgin's feminist science fiction series of the same name. The trilogy is centered in a future dystopian American society where the 19th Amendment was repealed in 1996 and women have been stripped of civil rights. A group of women, part of a worldwide group of linguists who facilitate human communication with alien races, create a new language for women as an act of resistance. Elgin created that language, Láadan, and instructional materials are available.



"Native Tongue" follows Nazareth, a talented female linguist in the 22nd century - after the repeal of the 19th Amendment. Nazareth is part of a small group of linguists "bred" to become perfect intergalactic translators.[1]

Nazareth looks forward to retiring to the Barren House - where women past childbearing age essentially go as they wait to die - but learns that the women of the Barren Houses are creating a language to help them break free of male dominance.

Author's comments[edit]

Elgin has said about the book:

Native Tongue was a thought experiment, with a time limit of ten years. My hypothesis was that if I constructed a language designed specifically to provide a more adequate mechanism for expressing women's perceptions, women would (a) embrace it and begin using it, or (b) embrace the idea but not the language, say "Elgin, you've got it all wrong!" and construct some other "women's language" to replace it. The ten years went by, and neither of those things happened; Láadan got very little attention, even though SF3 actually published its grammar and dictionary and I published a cassette tape to go with it. Not once did any feminist magazine (or women's magazine) ask me about the language or write a story about it.
The Klingon language, which is as "masculine" as you could possibly get, has had a tremendous impact on popular culture -- there's an institute, there's a journal, there were bestselling grammars and cassettes, et cetera, et cetera; nothing like that happened with Láadan. My hypothesis therefore was proved invalid, and the conclusion I draw from that is that in fact women (by which I mean women who are literate in English, French, German, and Spanish, the languages in which Native Tongue appeared) do not find human languages inadequate for communication.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Quotations from the book[edit]

  • ...Showard began a steady dull cursing, bringing Job's beard into it as well as the private parts of the Twelve Apostles and a variety of forbidden practices and principles. —DAW 1984 edition, page 46.
  • ...religion offers one of the most reliable methods for the proper management of women ever devised; religion offers a superb cure for the woman who might otherwise tend to be rebellious and uncontrolled. —DAW 1984 edition, page 130.
  • But she resented him; oh, how she resented him! And she resented him most at times like this one, when his total authority over her and over those she loved forced her to debase herself to him. She would choke on what she had to do now...but she had no other strategy available to her. She erased the anger from her face, erased the scowl to which he had objected, and let her eyes fill with the soft puzzled tearfulness that was considered appealing in women. And she sank to the floor beside Thomas' chair and leaned her head against his knee, and for the sake of her daughter, she disciplined herself to beg. —DAW 1984 edition, page 148.
  • Rachel was ashamed now, deeply ashamed, and she knew that she had lost. There was no hope of salvaging this. She had succeeded in turning it into a fight, and one of their better fights at that. She went on only because she no longer had anything to lose. —DAW 1984 edition, page 150.
  • Women had always had to be up and down all night long; if there weren't sick children, there were sick animals or sick people of advanced age. If there were none of those, there would be children with a bad dream, or a storm that meant someone had to get up and close windows—there was always something. A nurse only extended her ordinary female life when she learned to be instantly awake at a call, on her feet and functioning for as long as she was needed, and instantly asleep as soon as she could lie down again. It had never kept nurses, or women of any kind, from listening respectfully as the physicians whined about how their vast incomes were justified by the fact that they were awakened during the night to see patients. They would have said, "It's not the same thing at all!" As of course it was not. Women had to get up much oftener, stay up longer, and were neither paid nor admired for doing it. Certainly it wasn't the same thing. —DAW 1984 edition, page 210-211.
  • Gentlemen, let me tell you what gynecology is. What it really is. Gentlemen, it is health care for your fellow man—whose women you are maintaining in that state of wellness that allows the men to pursue their lives as they were intended to pursue them. As this country desperately needs them to pursue them. There are few more distasteful burdens, few more severe impediments, a man can find himself saddled with than a sick wife, an ailing mother, a disabled daughter—any female in poor health. It is the gynecologist who sees to it that a man does not have to bear that burden or struggle against that impediment. Gentlemen . . . I know that you have all heard jokes about the gynecologist "serving" women. They are ignorant jokes. By keeping women healthy, the gynecologist serves man; few duties are more essential to this nation and its people. —DAW 1984 edition, page 225-226.
  • ...he was not a brilliant man, but he was not so foolish that he didn't know how large an account of bitterness he'd run up with her in the years of their marriage. He'd had a lot of fun doing it, but he knew it hadn't ever been any fun for Nazareth; like all women, she had no sense of humor whatsover. Like being colorblind, or tonedeaf. A curious deformity. —DAW 1984 edition, page 235.
  • Then consider this, please: to make something "appear" is called magic, is it not? Well, . . . when you look at another person, what do you see? Two arms, two legs, one face, an assortment of parts. Am I right? Now, there is a continuous surface of the body, a space that begins with the inside surface of the fingers and continue over the palm of the hand and up the inner side of the arm to the bend of the elbows Everyone has that surface; in fact, everyone has two of them.
      I will name that the "athad" of the person. Imagine the athad, please. See it clearly in your mind—perceive, here are my own two athads, the left one and the right one. And there are both of your athads, very nice ones.
      Where there was no athad before, there will be one now, because you will perceive the athad of every person you look at, as you perceive their nose and their hair. From now on. I have made that athad appear . . . now it exists.
      Magic, you perceive, is not something mysterious, not something for witches and sorcerers . . . magic is quite ordinary and simple. It is simply language.
      And I look at you now, and I can say, as I could not say three minutes ago,—"What lovely athads you have, grandmother!" (from "The Discourse of the Three Marys," author unknown) —DAW 1984 edition, page 242.
  • It won't be hard for them to teach the babies that elderly women and barren women are witches, horrid old repositories of wickedness to be feared and avoided—that's been done before, and it's always been a smashing success! —DAW 1984 edition, page 251.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Native Tongue at The Feminist Press". Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Glatzer, Jenna (2007). "Interview With Suzette Haden Elgin". Archived from the original on 2007-06-12. Retrieved 20 March 2007. 

External links[edit]