One of the things I’ve noticed about bloggers is that, in addition to politics, many seem to be attracted to science fiction. That has never been necessarily true for me. But a few years ago I stumbled on a science fiction trilogy by Suzette Haden Elgin. The first two books in the series, Native Tongue and The Judas Rose really grabbed me. Here’s the publisher’s synopsis for Native Tongue:
Set in the twenty-second century, the novel tells of a world where women are once again property, denied civil rights and banned from public life. Earth’s wealth depends on interplanetary commerce with alien races, and linguists a small, clannish group of families have become the ruling elite by controlling all interplanetary communication. Their women are used to breed perfect translators for all the galaxies’ languages.
Nazareth Chornyak, the most talented linguist of the family,…longs to retire to the Barren House, where women past childbearing age knit, chat, and wait to die. What Nazareth comes to discover is that a slow revolution is going on in the Barren Houses: there, word by word, women are creating a language of their own to free them from men’s control.
So what Elgin does with these two books is to help us understand the role that language can play in both oppression and revolution. One of the very small ways I’ve experienced that is my frustration that our current language has only one word for the verb “to know.” Due to the patriarchal nature of our culture, Women’s Ways of Knowing have been ignored or discounted. I remember what an earth-shattering event it was for me to read that book as an adult and begin the process of reclaiming all that I “knew.”