Posted by Frank Legros on 17:39 5/9/02

In reply to: (none)

Hi, Mark

"Anyone want to critique conlang?" I do! Here is one critique which I wrote this afternoon: LŠadan, a language created by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.,
Ms Elgin, a respectable grandmother, is currently Director of the Ozark Center for Language Studies in Huntsville, Arkansas. She was formerly a professor of linguistics at San Diego State University. Ms Elgin was interested in the hypothesis that existing human languages are inadequate to express the perceptions of women. There also occured to her the possibility that if women had a language adequate to express their perceptions, it might reflect a quite different reality than that perceived by men. Ms Elgin has written novels in which the LŠadan language appears.

Well... let us see what is the result of these interesting ideas:

LŠadan has interesting characteristics: it is a tonal language, which is quite unusual for a conlang. It has four tones : a short low or medium unmarked tone, a short high tone (as in "ťbril"), a long rising tone ("oůbemid") and a long descending tone (as in "LŠadan"). Pronouncing the tones entails a little bit of training: you've got to say "LAH-ad-an" quickly several times to pronounce the word correctly. Except for tones, phonetics are easy, even "lh", the only sound which has no English equivalent (it seems to be the same than Welsh "ll").

LŠadan has "b" and "d", but not "p", "t", "k", nor "g"; it has "th", but not "s". Some Australian languages have "th" but not "s"; but I don't think that any natlang has no surd occlusives at all. There may be some violation of linguistic universals here.

LŠadan is a verb-subject-object language, unlike English; and, it has Speech Act Morphemes (for instance, "bŪi" indicates a declarative sentence, "bŠa" indicates a question) and Evidence Act Morphemes, which indicate how an information is known to the speaker: by direct perception, in a dream, assumed true because speaker trusts source, imagined or invented, etc. "WŠa" indicates that the information is assumed true, and "waŠ" that it is assumed false... If you haven't a good ear for tones, LŠadan is not for you...

As far as I know, some native American languages have Speech Act Morphemes.

LŠadan has many case-suffixes. The system is complete, regular and easy, as in Finnish or Turkish. Possession is indicated by five different suffixes, indicating possession by reason of birth, by reason of chance, etc. I guess that if LŠadan were spoken in real life, those five suffixes of possession would soon be reduced to one or two by everyday speakers.

LŠadan has 36 pronouns, which are combinations of 12 basic elements ("l" for first person pronouns, "a" for beloved persons, "zh" for several). "Lazh" means "us, several beloved persons". Every pronoun has a different form, depending on whether it refers to neutral / beloved / honored / despised person(s). There are two plurals: "zh" for several (2-4), and "n" for more than four, as in Tokharian (I can't remember if it's Tokharian A or B) and Quenya. LŠadan introduces affectivity into pronouns (how feminine!). In real life, "beloved" pronouns would probably become "familiar" ones. In one of the LŠadan texts, "The extremely Old Woman", the mother says "na" (beloved thou) to her child, who says "ne" (neutral thou) to her. The mother says "lhene" (despised thou) to her own senile mother. A repulsively vulgar attitude: why don't they all say "na"? A little hypocrisy is necessary in every human culture. Things which cannot be said are expressed by intonation, body language, etc, but never explicitly by words, as in the LŠadan texts. In French, for instance, a daughter-in-law uses respectful "vous" when she speaks to her mother-in-law, whatever she actually thinks of her. In real life, social conventions oblige people to use polite language, even when their true feelings are negative.

LŠadan texts are a little bit shorter than their English translations. Although LŠadan has few consonant clusters, it isn't a really euphonious language. Whole sentences are pronounced in the unmarked first tone, which renders them rather metronomic to the ear.

If you want to indicate specifically that something is male, you use the suffix -id. Parent: thul; male parent: thulid). This may be the only aspect of LŠadan which indicates that the language is supposed to be a feminine one.

Could LŠadan be spoken in real life? I think it could, because, in spite of its shortcomings, it has real qualities: it is regular, precise, concise and straightforward, and rather easy to pronounce. This feminine language isn't effeminate (I know it's a bad pun, but I couldn't resist... ).

Frank Legros

To make a reply, or see replies, see the index page.