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Láadan is a feminist constructed language created by Suzette Haden Elgin in 1982 to test the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, specifically to determine if development of a language aimed at expressing the views of women would shape a culture; a subsidiary hypothesis was that Western natural languages may be better suited for expressing the views of men than women. The language was included in her science fiction Native Tongue series. Láadan contains a number of words that are used to make unambiguous statements that include how one feels about what one is saying. According to Elgin, this is designed to counter male-centered language's limitations on women, who are forced to respond "I know I said that, but I meant this".
|Created by||Suzette Haden Elgin|
|Setting and usage||experiment in feminist linguistics, and featured in Elgin's novel Native Tongue|
|Sources||a priori language, with influences from Navajo and English|
Láadan is a tonal language. It utilises two distinct tones:
- lo – /lō/ or /lò/, a short, medium or low tone, represented by a single unmarked vowel
- ló – /ló/, a short, high tone, represented by a single marked vowel
The word "Láadan" has three syllables: "lá-" with the short vowel /a/ plus high tone; "-a" with the short vowel /a/ and no tone; and "-dan".
Láadan does not allow any double [i.e. long] phonemes. Whenever two identical short vowels would occur side by side in a single morpheme, one of them has to be marked for high tone. When adding an affix would result in two identical vowels side by side, an epenthetic /h/ is inserted to prevent the forbidden sequence. The language will allow either "máa" or "maá," but not "maa". These combinations can be described as:
- loó – /lǒː/, a long, low-rising tone, represented by a double vowel, the second of which is marked
- lóo – /lôː/, a long, high-falling tone, represented by a double vowel, the first of which is marked
(Some people analyze these tone sequences as tonemic as well, for a total of four tones.)
Elgin prefers an analysis of the language as having no long vowels and a single tone, the high tone (distinguished from "neutral, baseline pitch"), but she acknowledges that linguists using other formalisms would be justified in saying that there are two tones, high and low (or unmarked or mid).
Láadan has five vowels:
- a – /ɑ/, an open back unrounded vowel (as English calm),
- e – /ɛ/, an open-mid front unrounded vowel (as English bell),
- i – /ɪ/, a near-close near-front unrounded vowel (as English bit),
- o – /o/, a close-mid back rounded vowel (as English home),
- u – /u/, a close back rounded vowel (as English boon).
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/|
|Plosive||b /b/||d /d/|
|Fricative||voiceless||th /θ/||lh /ɬ/||sh /ʃ/||h /h/|
|Approximant||w /w/||r /ɹ/||l /l/||y /j/|
Láadan lacks the consonants /p, t, k, ɡ, s, z, f, v/. However, it uses b, d, sh (/ʃ/), m, n, l, r, w, y (/j/), h with the same phonetic value as English. In addition to these, three digraphs require further explanation:
Most Láadan sentences contain three particles:
- The speech-act particle – this occurs at the beginning of the sentence and marks it as either a statement (bíi), a question (báa), et cetera; in connected speech or writing, this particle is often omitted. They are:
- Indicates a declarative sentence (usually optional)
- Indicates a question
- Indicates a command; very rare, except to small children
- Indicates a request; this is the usual imperative/"command" form
- Indicates a promise
- Indicates a warning
- The grammatical tense particle – this occurs second in the sentence and marks it as either present tense (ril), past tense (eril), future tense (aril) or hypothetical (wil); without the tense particle, the sentence is assumed to have the same tense as the previous sentence.
- The evidence particle – this occurs at the end of statements and indicates the trustworthiness of the statement. They are:
- Known to speaker because perceived by speaker, externally or internally
- Known to speaker because self-evident
- Perceived by speaker in a dream
- Assumed true by speaker because speaker trusts source
- Assumed false by speaker because speaker distrusts source; if evil intent by the source is also assumed, the form is "waálh"
- Imagined or invented by speaker, hypothetical
- Used to indicate that the speaker states a total lack of knowledge as to the validity of the matter
Láadan is a verb–subject–object (VSO) language. Verbs and adjectives are interchangeable. There are no articles, and the object is marked by the -th or -eth suffix. The plural number is shown only by the me- prefix to the verb. The particle ra following a verb makes it negative. Separate clauses are joined by the particle hé.
|Láadan||literal translation||idiomatic translation|
|bíi ril áya mahina wa||statement present-tense beautiful/beautify flower observed-truth||The flower is beautiful|
|báa eril mesháad with||question past-tense plural-go/come woman||Did the women go/come?|
|bíi ril lámála with ruleth wa||statement present-tense stroke/caress woman cat-object observed-truth||The woman strokes the cat|
|bóo wil di le neth||request hypothetical speak/say I you-object||I would like to speak with you, please.|
|bíi aril meleyan ra lanemid wáa||statement future-tense plural-be-brown negative dog received-truth||I hear the dogs will not be brown|
|bíi ril le an hé eril ne bethudeha wa||statement present-tense I know embedded-clause-marker past-tense you cave-at observed-truth||I know that you were at the cave|
Láadan has an agglutinative morphology, and uses a number of affixes to indicate various feelings and moods that many natural languages can only indicate by tone of voice, body language or circumlocution.
|(-)lh(-)||disgust or dislike||hahodimi: "pleasantly bewildered"; hahodimilh: "unpleasantly bewildered"|
|du-||to try to||bíi eril dusháad le wa: "I tried to come"|
|dúu-||to try in vain to||bíi eril dúusháad le wa: "I tried in vain to come"|
|ná-||progressive aspect||bíi eril dúunásháad le wa: "I was trying in vain to come"|
|-(e)tha||natural possessor||lalal betha: "her mother's milk"|
|-(e)tho||customary or legal possessor||ebahid letho: "my husband"|
|-(e)thi||possessor by chance||losh nethi: "your money (gambling winnings)"|
|-(e)the||possessor by unknown provenance||ana worulethe: "the cats' food"|
|-id||denotes male (otherwise female or gender neutral)||thul: "mother/parent"; thulid: "father"|
The speech-act particle, at the beginning of a sentence, can also carry several suffixes, which expand on the overall state of the sentence. For example, bíi begins a statement, but bíide begins a statement that is part of a narrative; bóoth begins a request made in pain; báada begins a question that is meant in jest.
Pronouns in Láadan are built up from a number of constituent parts. The consonant l marks the first person, n the second person and b the third person. Usually, these are followed by the vowel e. However, the vowel a is used to designate someone who is loved (lhe- is prefixed to describe someone who is despised). The suffix -zh is used to mark a plural pronoun for numbers up to four, and -n for numbers beyond that. Therefore, lazh means "we, several beloved", and lheben means "they, many despised".
- Joshua Foer, "John Quijada and Ithkuil, the Language He Invented", The New Yorker, Dec. 24, 2012.
- Atlas Obscura. p. 23. ISBN 9780761169086.
- Elgin's blog
- Elgin, Suzette Haden, & Diane Martin. A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan. Madison: Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1988.
- Jones, Mari C. and Ishtla Singh, Exploring Language Change: Routledge, 2005; pp. 169–182.
- Official website
- Elgin's Láadan introduction
- Láadan lessons (moderately paced lessons in Láadan)
- A Láadan Sampler
- Some Láadan (PDF) (The text says that "wo-" is a plural marker. This is an error; the plural marker is "me-", while "wo-" is a relativizer.)
- Lesson One of Láadan Made Easier
- Láadan Working Group
- How to count in Láadan