(Copied with permission from Suzette’s SFWA website to preserve for posterity’s sake.)
by Suzette Haden Elgin
Chapter Five, pages 69-70
She cut straight through the common room in the main house, to make up some of the time she’d lost, her mind occupied with memories and the grim set of her mouth demonstrating that they were not pleasant. A foolhardy young man stood up at the sight of her and took one step in her direction, presumably intending to exercise his rights and demand that she explain her presence there; behind him, someone murmured quietly that if he wanted to be a perfect ass that was okay, but please wait till a larger audience could be brought in for the occasion, and he sat down and let her pass. With an elaborate air of not having noticed that she was there at all, of course. Nazareth ignored him, because she was in a hurry, and because she was reasonably sure that as soon as she was out of earshot his peers would explain to him about demanding house passes from women who’d been coming and going on Household business for ninety years.
When she got to the parlor, much out of breath, she found the other women seated in their rockers, their fingers moving sedately to the rhythms of needlework they’d been doing so long that it was fully on automatic, with carefully composed faces. Chatting. They were talking about daylilies? Yes … daylilies. And Nazareth realized that she’d forgotten her needlework bag, which would have hurt the feelings of the nephews who’d given it to her, but they were all off at negotiations and would never know. And it didn’t matter, because she was always prepared. She reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a quarter-skein of yarn and a crochet hook. Her emergency kit. Lavender yarn, suitable for one’s nineties.
“I am too sensible to waste your time saying that I’m sorry,” Nazareth observed, providing them with the contradictory figure free of charge. “After all, I’m only twenty minutes late. It could have been an hour.”
“It could have been a day,” agreed Sabyna. “”That would have been much worse.”
“Or a week.” Quilla stared blandly at Nazareth, wisps of hair as always drifting out of her carefully constructed crown of braids in all directions. “In a week, though, we’d all have run out of yarn and given you up.”
“I am sorry,” Nazareth admitted, drawing up another chair, and they all agreed that no doubt she was, not that that made it any better, and she agreed with that and made a comment about the daylilies.
The meeting was not about daylilies. It was about the strategy for moving the womanlanguage Láadan out at last to women who were not members of the Lines. It had been Nazareth, just home from the hospital and barely moved in at Barren House, sitting on a plastic crate in the basement, who had first insisted that Láadan was ready to use. Time, she had said, for it to be spoken among the women, and learned by the girlbabies….
Chapter Eleven, pages 148-149
Gentlemen: We have now presented to you the first forty semantic units of the interplanetary signal-language PanSig, in three major sensory modalities, together with a brief historical introduction to the system. At this point, it is our experience that someone inevitably rises to make what we at D.A.T. call “the Krawfkelliga Proposal”, in honor of the first staff trainee to suggest it. In order to save time for all of us, we are going to run that proposal past you and get it over with; it goes like this:
Since the inventory of shapes on which the PanSig vocabulary is based is necessarily limited, each shape should be used more than once, as a mechanism for increasing the vocabulary. For example, take the triangle, which has been assigned the meaning- equivalent [LET’S DO BUSINESS TOGETHER]; that’s one shape used, and only one semantic unit gained. Suppose we take as vocabulary items one triangle, two triangles, and three triangles, assigning to each of them a meaning-equivalent; then we’ve still used only one shape from the inventory, but we’ve tripled our vocabulary for that shape. And so on through the entire set of meaningful shapes…
Gentlemen, this seems so intuitively obvious and so right — certainly, if we were using PanSig only with human beings it would be the first step we’d take! But if we were communicating with human beings we wouldn’t need PanSig, remember? Gentlemen, the Krawfkelliga Proposal was tried, and it failed in the most spectacular fashion. It will not work. We will be grateful if you will refrain from bringing it up again in this course.
The reason it won’t work is that nothing in the optic system of humanoid Aliens — much less nonhumanoid Aliens — guarantees that the Alien looking at one square or one triangle or one circle (from the Terran point of view, that is) is not already seeing two or more of that shape. Furthermore, we have no way of knowing whether the number of shapes seen remains a stable number over time, the way it does for us. Where the nonhumanoids are concerned, you must remember that we have no way of knowing even if they see the same shape we see: all we know is that, like us, they distinguish among the shapes and see them as differing and unique items. But how many do they see? Gentlemen, for all we know they see hundreds, or thousands! Let us not complicate matters any further than they are complicated already by the simple facts of the situation.
Reprinted by permission of The Feminist Press, at The City University of New York, from Suzette Haden Elgin, The Judas Rose. Copyright 1987 by Suzette Haden Elgin. Available with a new afterword by Susan M. Squier and Julie Vedder in 2002 from The Feminist Press. No part of this excerpt may be sold, reproduced, transmitted, or used in any way without prior written permission from the Feminist Press at The City University of New York.
Copyright © 2002 by Suzette Haden Elgin
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