Láadan Conlang Critique


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: Láadan, 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 Láadan language appears.

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

Láadan 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 “ébril”), a long rising tone (“oóbemid”) and a long descending tone (as in “Láadan”). 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”).

Láadan 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.

Láadan is a verb-subject-object language, unlike English; and, it has Speech Act Morphemes (for instance, “bíi” indicates a declarative sentence, “báa” 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. “Wáa” indicates that the information is assumed true, and “waá” that it is assumed false… If you haven’t a good ear for tones, Láadan is not for you…

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

Láadan 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 Láadan were spoken in real life, those five suffixes of possession would soon be reduced to one or two by everyday speakers.

Láadan 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. Láadan introduces affectivity into pronouns (how feminine!). In real life, “beloved” pronouns would probably become “familiar” ones. In one of the Láadan 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 Láadan 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.

Láadan texts are a little bit shorter than their English translations. Although Láadan 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 Láadan which indicates that the language is supposed to be a feminine one.

Could Láadan 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

Posted by Jonathana Tegire on 16:52 5/9/02

In reply to: Laadan posted by Frank Legros on 17:39 5/9/02

Airanasin, sunena!

I myself have taken a look at san nahadana Laadanai. From what I have seen, it has a good flow to it. I love the fact that with prefixes there are no double consonants.

Its consonants are not too harsh, except for [lh]. It’s vowels are indeed similar to those of san nahadana Tegirenai. It’s suffixes and verb conjugations are simple and straightforward, so far as I have seen.

You may not care for my opinion on this subject, but as a semi-experienced language creator (I’ve half-developed 6 to date), I would rate this language at a 7 out of 10 for appeal and utility. I’d love to see the script (if any) that goes with it.

Hemoneava hanarate hiniranatal!

Jonathana Tegire

Posted by Frank Legros on 20:30 5/10/02

In reply to: Laadan posted by Jonathana Tegire on 16:52 5/9/02

Jonathana Tegire wrote:
“You may not care for my opinion on this subject, but as a semi-experienced language creator (I’ve half-developed 6 to date), I would rate this language at a 7 out of 10 for appeal and utility. I’d love to see the script (if any) that goes with it.”

Take it easy, Jonathana! I’m less experienced than you are as a language creator, since I haven’t made a website yet for any of my own half-developed creations… I hope to be ready next fall. And I do care for your opinion on conlangs, of course.

Personally, I prefer languages with more consonant clusters, but “des goûts et des couleurs, il ne faut pas discuter” as we say here, in the Land of the Three Hundred Cheeses. And I like the Tigerian fonts, especially the cursive one.

Wouldn’t it be good if some ladies posted their opinion on Láadan on this board, too? After all, the language has been designed for them.

Frank Legros

Posted by Mark Rosenfelder on 14:12 5/9/02

In reply to: Laadan posted by Frank Legros on 17:39 5/9/02

Nice review… Haden Elgin often generates controversy, tho’ I enjoyed her book The Language Imperative. Descriptions I’ve read are often at a loss to explain what’s so female-oriented about Laadan.

There’s a page in her book where she gives a set of words which might be useful for expressing female experience. Maybe I’ll type in some of it at home. In general they struck me as the sort of labored contrivance people invent for humorous effect– Sniglets or The Meaning of Liff are full of them. I actually did something like this for Verdurian: I invented a number of words for describing varieties of aesthetic experience or attitude toward life– this is one reason there’s three words for ‘cynical’.

One thing I never quite got in her theories is why she seems to think that existing languages don’t reflect female experience… don’t women produce at least half of all utterances?

As for the pronouns… I agree with you about necessary hypocrisy… I kind of suspect that Haden Elgin is a child of the ’60s, when people thought they’d try total honesty, with mixed results.

I’m not sure that “beloved” affixes wouldn’t work, though. I expect they’d work like diminutives in Spanish; and perhaps her “despised” affixes would work like the pejorative ones in Russian. You can tell exactly how someone is feeling about you when they say your name in Russian. 🙂 I might also mention the useful old word “Sirrah” in English.

Conlangers sometimes assume, I think, that people will actually use the words according to their dictionary definition. But people go well beyond this, with all sorts of metaphorical extensions, nonce expressions, and ironies. Surely “na” (‘beloved thou’) could also be used in sarcasm, and “lhene” (‘despised thou’) in affectionate banter?