Addressing Xenophobia in the New Literatures in English
Edited by Dunja M. Mohr
Dunja M. Mohr
The problematic nexus of language, thought, and reality perception has been at the centre of speculation in utopian, dystopian, and science fiction from the beginning. Starting from a Judaeo-Christian background, early utopias speculated about the retrieval of the imaginary and idealized protolanguage, envisioning a perfect language everyone can understand. In contrast, modern science fiction (sf) novels foreground alien languages or modes of non-verbal communication and the inherent problems of translation. Novels using linguistics as a major plot device draw heavily on either the weak or the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and its premise that speaking a different language precludes seeing another culture’s reality. Examples dealt with in this essay are Jack Vance’s dystopia The Languages of Pao (1958), Samuel R. Delany’s sf novel Babel-17 (1966), Ian Watson’s sf novel The Embedding (1973), and especially Suzette Haden Elgin’s transgressive utopian dystopian Native Tongue series (1984-1994).