Secret Chick Language
July 30, 2003 10:57 PM   Subscribe

Ever wonder what women are really talking about? Now's your chance to find out! Learn the secret woman-language of Láadan, and drive the ladies wild!
posted by majcher (28 comments total)

posted by woil at 11:15 PM on July 30, 2003

English has no word whatsoever for what a woman does during the sexual act
Ok, we need a word for "lying back and thinking of $country_of_origin". Suggestions?
posted by Freaky at 11:46 PM on July 30, 2003

you mean lying back and thinking how the ceiling needs painting?
posted by quonsar at 11:54 PM on July 30, 2003

I found an interesting criticism of Láadan here and here.

There also occured to her an interesting possibility within the framework of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (briefly, that language structures perceptions)

The sci.lang FAQ entry for Sapir-Whorf is here.
posted by donth at 12:06 AM on July 31, 2003

How can she see through the paper bag though, quonsar?
posted by dg at 12:07 AM on July 31, 2003

My God! I can't understand what the hell they're talking about when they're speaking my native tongue, and now I have to learn a constructed language to figure it out?!? Forget it -- not worth it. I'll just resign myself to always being wrong and/or apologetic.

(BTW, dg, given just a little more thought, you would realize that it's quonsar wearing the paper bag...)
posted by wdpeck at 12:18 AM on July 31, 2003

wdpeck, you are right - I gave up long ago trying to understand more that about 10% of what women say. In any case, no matter how many languages you learn, you will still end up wrong and/or apologetic - more often than not it will be both.
posted by dg at 12:25 AM on July 31, 2003

English is a device constructed by the penisocraty to oppress and demean women!
posted by spazzm at 1:16 AM on July 31, 2003

Wait, so do any of those shitty stories count as secret woman language?
posted by cohappy at 1:17 AM on July 31, 2003

From the first link:

She had read in Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, Bach the proposal that for every record player there were records it could not play because they would lead to its indirect self-destruction. It occurred to her that if one squared this one would get a hypothesis that for every language there were perceptions it could not express because they would lead to its indirect self-destruction. etc.

What a horrible misapplication of the analogy Hofstadter presented. The original record player analogy described how a theoretically perfect record player that could reproduce any sound (i.e. a "complete" record player in terms of sound reproduction) must also be able to reproduce the sound that would hit some resonance frequency to cause it to self-destruct, preventing it from being perfect (or "complete"). The analogy was meant to introduce the concepts behind Godel's incompleteness theorem. But language was never intended to be a "complete" system--new words are invented all the time, and everyone--male or female--has had ideas and feelings that they feel cannot be adequately described by language. And the whole "square-and-cubing leading to even more self-destruction" notion is utter hogwash--how does one square an analogy or hypothesis? Times like this make me embarassed to have majored in the humanities.

The second link donth posted brings up some of my objections to this female language nonsense. If one language is so inadequate, what's another language going to do? Is English really all that male-centric, aside some some of its archaic (and trivial) conventions like not having a graceful gender-neutral third-person pronoun and having suffixes like -man in 'fireman', and so on? The fact that there are many female writers who use the language so much more expressively than I ever can seems to debunk this need entirely.

I'm surprised that Elgin uses the discredited Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (along with its fiascos like the whole Eskimo-snow deal) to support her advocacy of a need for a "female language". About the only evidence these days supporting the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf is that there is no equivalent expression in Klingon for "I got laid this weekend."
posted by DaShiv at 1:37 AM on July 31, 2003

About the only evidence these days supporting the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf is that there is no equivalent expression in Klingon for "I got laid this weekend." wrong you are...

"jIH chenmoHta' parmaq cha' jajmey ben!"

The Universal Translator Project might not have "I got laid this weekend," but you can say "I made love two days ago."
posted by Katemonkey at 1:57 AM on July 31, 2003

I knew someone here would pipe up with a translation. :)
posted by DaShiv at 2:05 AM on July 31, 2003

DaShiv: you beat me to it on the Goedel-Escher-Bach quote. Ugh! It reminds me of the stuff from the post-modern French philosophers critiqued by Sokal (particularly Lacan's statement about the erect male organ being equal to the square root of -1).
posted by raygirvan at 3:08 AM on July 31, 2003

I was going to learn this but then I noticed how pretty my nails were and decided not to worry my pretty head about it.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:58 AM on July 31, 2003

I don't like people who suggest that women's experience is that much different, to this (rather ridiculous) extent that they might require a different language to express their ideas. Aargh.

Besides that, although English was originally the product of a male-dominated culture, as the culture has steered away from that, so has the language.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:42 AM on July 31, 2003

This is stupid for all the reasons people have cited; I'd like to emphasize what Mark Rosenfelder says in donth's second link: "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?" Why yes, yes they do.

Of course, the obvious response to all of these quibbles is "Well, you've succumbed to the Patriarchal Paradigm that dominates contemporary science. Poo on you!" To which there is no answer.

The frightening thing is that this woman taught linguistics. I wouldn't have thought you could take a single intro course and still be capable of producing idiocy like this:

It is a sound with a hissing quality, and is not especially pleasant to hear. In Láadan it occurs only in words that are themselves references to something unpleasant, and can be added to words to give them a negative meaning.

Sounds are not "unpleasant" to native speakers (as a group; of course, individuals can dislike sounds just as they do foods or colors). Ask a Welshman named Llewellyn if he finds his name ugly (it's pronounced "lhewelhin" in Elgin's transcription).

Oh, and I've never had any trouble understanding women. Maybe that's because I actually listen to them?
posted by languagehat at 7:47 AM on July 31, 2003

The level of weirdly co-mingled victimhood/arrogance implied by this is astounding... can only men and the author come up with new words?

Additionally, while English may not have single words for some of these concepts, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. How would one word be able to cover the range of activity, involvment and interest demonstrated by women on different days with different partners? One woman might in fact go through her life laying on her back thinking "I'll paint the ceiling peach" while her next door neighbor is busy paddling her partner's ass to the right shade of red in order to warm him/her up for more kinky fun later.

How will one word encompass this and all the other possible variations? What would be the point? The OED2, the largest English-language dictionary, contains some 290,000 entries with some 616,500 word forms. Now, there's lots of slang and regional words that are not included and it many proper names, scientific or technical terms and jargon as a matter of editorial policy.

Accounting for all of this, estimates of the total vocabulary of English start at around three million words and go up from there. Of these, about 200,000 words are in common use today. An educated person has a vocabulary of about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 in a week's conversation. (these are rough estimates and may vary considerably among individuals). (paraphrased from

I'm not saying we don't need new words, or that the English language should be static, but I think I painted a pretty explicit picture above, and could do a better job given time. Most artificial languages just seem, to me, to be all about arrogance.

[on preview] I was wondering when languagehat was going to show up.
posted by Irontom at 7:48 AM on July 31, 2003

Stupid. As languagehat sort of said, productive communication requires listening - plus the confidence that whatever is said will be heard. Something both genders would do well to improve.
posted by widdershins at 8:01 AM on July 31, 2003

Shortcomings in a language can be overcome with changes to vocabulary and grammatical conventions.

Creating a new language on her grounds is absurd.

In fact, the only language change for women I would stand behind would be one of massive simplification and massive syllable reduction. (This is a joke, for those who had their humor removed when they installed their internet connection).
posted by Ynoxas at 9:45 AM on July 31, 2003

What a horrible misapplication of the analogy Hofstadter presented.

Female logic, innit.

runs, hides...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2003

And I thought my jab at Star Trek geeks was a cheap shot. :)

Err, I mean, I'm appalled, inpHilltr8r! etc. *cough*
posted by DaShiv at 11:24 AM on July 31, 2003

In Laadan, there are 12 different words for painting the ceiling, to express the degree of need for the repainting, the degree of boredom with sex that is precipitating the contemplation of ceiling-painting, and the shade of beige that will be used.
posted by adamrice at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2003

Actually I'm kinda surprised that no-one's mentioned Newspeak, a language (fictionally admitedly) designed to constrain / correct the thought processes of the user.

Hmm, are there actually any succesfull examples of artificially manufactured languages catching on in any usefull manner? Maybe some sign languages?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:23 PM on July 31, 2003

Unfortunately, Laadan overlooks a word to say "Change positions. I want to contemplate the sheets."
posted by onhazier at 12:26 PM on July 31, 2003

What, inpHilltr8r, Espersanto doesn't count?

I mean, c'mon, a movie starring William Shatner doesn't count as a "useful manner"?
posted by Katemonkey at 12:41 PM on July 31, 2003

onhazier--Even if the man could understand Laadan (which would ruin the whole conceit), you know he just wouldn't listen.
posted by adamrice at 12:55 PM on July 31, 2003

Meanwhile, here on Earth:
Move to Protect World's Only Women's Language

In a bid to save a special language used exclusively by women of an ethnic group in central- south China, a protection zone will be set up in Hunan Province. The language, on the verge of disappearing, is believed to be the world's only women's language.
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on July 31, 2003

Thanks, languagehat.
posted by adamrice at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2003

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