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Native Tongue

by Suzette Haden Elgin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Native Tongue (1)

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9592616,817 (3.79)2 / 95
It is the year 2205 and the women of Earth are once again property. Two women, Nazareth and Michaela - one a brilliant linguist, the other a rebel servant - are destined to challenge the power of men. What neither woman realises is that a revolution is already underway: women, hidden away in Barren houses, are slowly creating a language of their own to free them from men's control and make resistance possible for all women. As Michaela and Nazareth's worlds collide, each of their secrets threatens to reveal the presence of a women's native tongue.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Kind of interesting but I got to a point where I couldn't be bothered to finish it. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
Too Many Unanswered Questions.

I read Elgin's Native Tongue because it was touted as on par with Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale. While it treats similar topics, it is not as good as either of those classics.

A major flaw for me is that the book's main premises are unexplained. First, the novel begins with excerpts from (fictional) constitutional amendments which repeal women's right to vote, and transform them into legal minors. While a similar premise is carefully and plausibly explained in The Handmaid's Tale, here in Native Tongue, the whole legal maneuver rests on one scientific paper which is never explained or even alluded to again. Why did this paper, which claimed to prove that women are the intellectual inferiors of men, carry so much weight? What was the proof? Were there protests? We'll never know.

Secondly, the plot revolves around the linguistic Households, or Lines, thirteen families which have cornered a monopoly on translation, crucial to Earth's rapid exploration and colonization of the galaxy. The Linguists claim to possess a genetic difference that justifies their monopoly; the government suspects that's a fabrication. We never find out if either option is true.

Elgin is also skeptical of "test tube" babies. Hers are not quite human, while we know now that babies conceived in vitro are indistinguishable from the more traditional kind. However, one must keep in mind that her "tubies" are more like Huxley's, spending the entire gestation in vitro and "decanted" instead of born, something we have (fortunately) not yet attempted.

Finally, the book ends with the separation of men and women, physically and linguistically. Is this the solution Elgin advocates? If so, it is an incredibly cynical one. It is true that in a world where men and women play segregated roles, they can't "speak each other's language," but if they are able to interact in a more egalitarian fashion, they should grow in understanding. "Separate but equal" was debunked decades before Elgin penned this tome, and I am surprised and disappointed to see her wind up at that lame conclusion.


( )
  stephkaye | Dec 14, 2020 |
I seriously tried with this. Again and again. There were some great parts but overall it felt like a requirement, a slog, not a pleasure. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin is a highly recommended classic dystopian novel which was originally published in 1984 and is currently being re-released. This is the first book in a three book series.

In 2205 the Nineteenth Amendment has long been repealed. Men hold absolute power. Women are treated as children who must always be supervised by men and any of their actions require male approval. The only value women hold is to provide children. The current world-wide economy depends upon trade with other cultures, including alien. The Chornyak family is a powerful family of translators who raise their children, daughters included, to be linguists. All their members speak multiple languages and are used as translators in sensitive negotiations.

Nazareth Adiness is a brilliant linguist and the most talented of the Chornyak family. As with all translators she has been working since she was young and is a valuable asset to the family, yet she still has to endure an arranged marriage as a teen and the expectation that she will have a large number of children (while still working). Once women are past child bearing years or deemed infertile, they are moved to Barren House, to keep the older women from causing any drama in the main house.

Unknown to any man is that the useless older women of Barren house have been working together to make up a secret language of their own, a language that will only be taught to women and one they can use to communicate with each other without the men's interference. The women are preparing for a coming revolution where they will remove themselves from the control of men.

It's rather surprising to me that I never came across Native Tongue before this reissued edition. The world building depicts a misogynistic society in a realistic manner. We currently have cultures/societies where women have no rights and men are in control. It is an interesting concept, but certainly Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is over all a better novel with more depth and clarity of characters. The society is too divided here, too bad versus good, with men versus women, and all men bad. It is interesting, certainly the discussion of languages was interesting, but it also was a bit too simplistic.

First, I was engrossed in the narrative and found the whole concept fascinating, but I can't say it was especially well written as a novel. The character development is superficial. Perhaps the main issue I had was the implausibility that the Nineteenth Amendment would ever be repealed and all women would just submit. Even today there are women who fight back against certain societies that have patriarchal cultural expectations to control women. Not all women will submit; there will always be some women who will fight for their freedom and rights. I'm highly recommending it for some of the science fiction concepts presented.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Feminist Press at CUNY.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2019/07/native-tongue.html ( )
1 vote SheTreadsSoftly | Jul 15, 2019 |
An interesting set up, but her agenda got in the way of what could have been a good story ( )
  JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elgin, Suzette Hadenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armstrong, OenaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bauman, JillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marín Trechera, RafaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shapiro, SusanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Squier, Susan M.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vedder, JulieAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is the year 2205 and the women of Earth are once again property. Two women, Nazareth and Michaela - one a brilliant linguist, the other a rebel servant - are destined to challenge the power of men. What neither woman realises is that a revolution is already underway: women, hidden away in Barren houses, are slowly creating a language of their own to free them from men's control and make resistance possible for all women. As Michaela and Nazareth's worlds collide, each of their secrets threatens to reveal the presence of a women's native tongue.

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