What Do You Mean, Gens
Can't Learn Simelan?!
Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah have been having a running discussion about one of the "givens" of the Sime Series: that no Gen can master Simelan. Jean, an English professor and somewhat of a linguist, disagrees with this. I sent a pack of their letters, from which the following selections have been taken, out on a round robin. C. J. Cherryh was the first to receive this material, and I think you'll find her contribution of her own theory of language fascinating. More JL/JL discussion and the rest of the rr will follow in Forum #2 (and possibly #3). They got into such questions as the origin of the Simes, the development of Simelan, and why do Gens need Simes. (An introduction to these topics can be found in the lettercol of Ambrov Zeor #10.)
Jean Lorrah to Jacqueline Lichtenberg
I'm a simplifier and a synthesizer. I'm also aware that frequently it doesn't
matter what the technical explanations are, everything works perfectly well without them.
There is our problem with Simelan. There are certain Simelan terms that only a First-Order
channel can fully understand, just as there are certain English words that only a
physicist can fully understand. But when the channel is not discussing channeling and the
physicist is not discussing physics, it doesn't matter that each one has a small
vocational vocabulary that he does not hold in common with the other. If both speak
Simelan, each has an equal command of the language. Either can change the bulb in a
selyn-powered lamp with equal facility; the channel does not have to know the mechanics of
the bulb, and the physicist does not have to know the mechanics of the power source.
Furthermore, if that physicist happens to be a Gen with the intellect of an Einstein, he
might just comprehend transfer mechanics on a mathematical level better than any Farris
First-Order channel ever will. Einstein never actually observed the splitting of an atom;
he dies before the invention of the electron microscope. But he understood it.
Peculiarly, our whole discussion about whether a Gen can master Simelan also evolves
around your refusal to learn the basics of linguistics. Therefore, you do not have the
vocabulary with which to discuss the situation with me! I could claim that therefore you
do not have a command of English. However, you do have a command of English
perfectly adequate to writing compellingly in that language. What you lack is a command of
linguistics. And what your "command of Simelan" argument lacks is the
proper term to substitute for the word "Simelan". It is only a small technical
vocabulary in Simelan that most people, Simes and Gens alike, will never learn and never
require. However, don't discount the possibility of a gifted Gen learning it perfectly, as
you have established that transfer mechanics can be understood on a mathematical level.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg to Jean Lorrah, 3/18/79
From your letter (having read it last night) I have only 2 points to comment on about
language. What makes you so positive I don't know the elements of linguistics? ((I can testify that she's taken at least some rudimentary courses in
linguistics--I found the books when I was cleaning out her cellar to pack for the Great
And secondly, you admit that technical vocabulary can be literally incomprehensible to
those who do not have the concepts in which to define the concepts in which to define etc.
I presume you admit that acquiring concepts is hard, hard work and the reward is a
shifting of perceptivity that literally changes the entire world you live in.
Or maybe you don't admit that. Your idea that physicists and linguists can communicate
on the mundane level because they apparently know the same language is really off the
wall. You are failing to take altered perceptivities into account. I'm SURE that you've
experienced the altering of perceptivities. Come to think of it, I don't recall what
foreign languages you speak. Are you bilingual? Could that be part of our problem? Are you
talking about something you have no personal experience of?
Remember the theory that language LIMITS your conceptualizing or thinking process. That
language shapes thought. Back when I was a teenager and first encountered that theory I
thought it was ridiculous. Then I worked with it a while, and I began to see how it could
be thought to be true.
And for years I was willing to consider it valid. Things can be literally
"unthinkable" if you don't have the machinery in which to think about them. But
even so, I refused to accept that any given individual was BOUND necessarily only to think
in his native language. Most people in this world are multi-lingual (though not in America
anymore.) Even in America, lots of people speak mathematics or physics. And speaking math
or physics is not a matter of plugging a few special vocabulary words into English syntax.
The syntax itself shifts; relationships shift; grammar shifts and vistas open just as when
you learn a language which originates outside the language-family of your native language.
So while a culture may be bound by language, individuals aren't. Now comes refinement.
The truth as I see it now is not that the culture is bound by the language, or the
language generates the boundaries of the culture--but that both sets of limits are imposed
by the people who choose to live within them. It is all a matter of free choice, and you
are responsible for the results of those choices you made--even before you were born.
It IS possible to learn concepts which alter perceptivities. When that happens the use
of language shifts markedly. That is why you can go back and read something you wrote in
high school and not have the foggiest notion what you meant by all that drivel. Or
occasionally, with a writer-type person, you reread something from your teens and discover
how incredibly wise you were and never knew it. Because the unconscious is hooked into the
linguistic faculty in a writer-type person.
I do know it is impossible for a child to learn adult English. I have two of them I've
been watching learn. They're not geniuses, but they're not stupid either.
I also know that life's experiences alter perceptivities. And when that happens, words
take on wholly new meanings.. Femlib consciousness-raising is one common phenomenon which
takes that into account.
We're talking here about groups of humans who share cultures in common and all speak
the same languages. And THEY CAN'T COMMUNICATE! Look at you and me--we have a good 90% of
our parameters in common, and we can't communicate except subconsciously via fiction.
Now consider the GULF that opens when a kid goes through changeover and First Year. The alteration of perceptivities goes far, far deeper than anything you can even conceive of. This isn't just
added senses. I'm talking about the perceptions of the meaning of life, the purpose of
existence, and the multitude of emotional evaluations of that which is for one and that
which is against--the telling of the inimical from the friendly. I'm talking about the
pre-conscious, "reptilian" or most primitive part or the brain. When you alter
the programming of that filter on reality, you alter the entire linguistic structure
within the brain's programming. You alter the very reason for speech itself. And when you
make such drastic physiological alterations in the brain functions, you don't just alter
vocabulary. In the theory that language sets the limits on your reality perceptions, you
also see the function of syntax--the substructure of the language. It is more the syntax
than the vocabulary that sets the limitations. Consider the wide variation in the use of
prepositions from one Romance language to another! These are not random and meaningless
and trivial variations. They have to do with REALITY PERCEPTION.
Now suppose that your reality perception doesn't join one thing to another by Newtonian
mechanics--doesn't relate one thing to another by spatial position relative to a
three-dimensional grid. Suppose your reality perception gives you a squishy universe that
gets distorted as High Field points move about in it. Suppose your reality perception
places one thing relative to another via its field-translucence rather than spatial
One of the fundamental human (or sentient) drives is to COMMUNICATE. In some ways, it
transcends eating, sleeping, and sex in its degree of vital necessity. Sensory deprivation
destroys sanity if continued long enough. Solitary confinement is slower, but in some ways
even worse. Communication is a primal drive.
Now, suppose you've gone through an altering of perceptivities on the order of
changeover, and had a year in a state of psychological adaptivity more pliable than most
babies go through. Now you want to communicate about your new world--which doesn't even
seem new any more, just normal. (If you've ever lived where nobody speaks English, you can
imagine that feeling of NEEDING to communicate and being unable to.) Somebody gives you a
language which can handle your new universe of discourse. Other people speak to you in
that language. WHAT INEFFABLE RELIEF! What joy. What gratification. And then creative play
with the language--and slangs are born, the language lives.
I hope you saw at least some of that Einstein special on PBS the other night. The
demonstration of space warping via gravity was especially apropos of this kind of reality
perception. We perceive reality as neatly squared even when it's warped Simes
perceive that gravity warping--it's their positional sense that allows them to find their
way around inside a space-warp. Gens perceive reality as neatly squared, like Ancients do.
Now always remember that Simes are not Vulcans. It is a human mind that is dealing with
these altered perceptivities. All the psychological blocking, all the human hang-ups come
into play to prevent the full realization of that Sime perceptivity.
Thus kids raised out-T in Rimon's day never actually learn to perceive the world as a
Sime does, because their neurotic blocks (and all kids in those days were insane by our
standards) prevent them from full realization of their faculties. If you can't PERCEIVE
what you are receiving, you can't learn the language based on that perceptivity. That's
the simple human psychology and I run into it every single day.
Basically, that's what prevents you and I from communicating on this issue. There is
some basic PERCEPTIVITY that we do not share.
((JL's original letter--which was 9 pages long--included
references to areas of knowledge such as Tarot symbolism, Kaballah, astrology, and several
other esoteric models of the universe and of human consciousness. JL insists that her
theory of language can't be approached without a background in such studies. Jean has a
background as good as Jacqueline's in this area, but in this argument she seems to be
using only her knowledge of linguistics. Those in the round robin seemed to ignore the
esoteric discussion, so I've chosen to leave out those somewhat confusing references here.
Perhaps we'll include them later if anyone out there wants to get into them in the
lettercolumn. I am, however, including the following section which relates most clearly to
the topic of discussion, and seems most easy for everyone to understand.))
Here's a theory of mine on why all these esoteric systems seem to work for their
adherents, and even seem to be describing the same thing up to a point, and then can't be
compared at all.
Consider an array of dots:
Cut that array into a pattern.
Now cut it into another pattern.
And a third.
It's still the same array of dots: but you can get into a goshawful argument about
whether it's two rectangles with side-points, three lines or one rectangle with two
Reality is like that--it's a huge almost patternless pattern, too complex and huge for
the mortal mind to comprehend as itself alone. And so, everyone who has gained a glimpse
of that huge pattern has done the human thing--tried to break it down into sub-units and
impose a pattern on it in order to communicate about it to others. Language can't handle
the full array because the minds that generated the language can't handle it.
All the sub-patterns are true--but they sound mutually exclusive when you describe them
unless you include a description of the whole array of dots. Even a partial description of
the array of dots makes the three descriptions seem closer.
Language is not a tool that can be used to alter another person's consciousness--to
alter their perceptivities. Yet it's the only tool we have, and we insist on trying.
That's what you're trying to do when you try to show me your point on any Gen being able
to learn Simelan. And that's what I'm trying to do in return when I insist that no
Gen--however raised or however TN-1 4+-is EVER going to be able to speak Simelan in
anything but babytalk.
Of course the Gens think they understand. That's human nature. And the Simes
KNOW that they don't understand, because once each Sime was limited to Gen perceptivities.
Each Sime knows from personal experience, experience of a kind each Gen is barred from,
that the gulf is uncrossable. The wise Sime doesn't tell any Gen about that fact of life,
but merely tries (vain though it may be) to reach across that gulf. In the 4+ range where
all the senses are open and the full perceptivity range is available, it is possible to at
least touch fingertips, to foster an awareness of the other's reality. But that's all--the
language is forever closed to the Gen. That's the price he pays for being Gen.
But nevermind--in other incarnations, he had his turn as a Sime. And he knows the price
the Sime pays.
Sime and Gen are each incomplete. Together they can accomplish more than any pair of
Ancients. That's the theory behind the series. The mutation isn't POINTLESS or is it
random torment. It is the way for an evolutionary advantage that can be obtained in no
other way. The gulf provides an advantage to these two mutants. It's our job to delineate
that advantage in fiction. I have always thought that means convincing the reader that the
gulf exists and is real--can really exist, or isn't so different from something within his
ken. Perhaps that's not necessary; but it would provide a fascinating effect! Especially
if most readers are convinced, as you are (and it seems they are from Katie's lettercol)
that such a gulf can not and does not exist. SF is for that one purpose--to present you
with the reality of the impossible and make you face that reality inside your own
emotions--make it immanent.
And when you FEEL the reality of the impossible, and confront it, you must then know
what you would do about it.
And when you are forcibly moved to that point, then you have taken the first step on an
alteration of consciousness, an altered perceptivity. If you can bring that alteration
into your mundane existence, you can make it real to yourself, and use it to grow with.
Now THAT is the goal of sf; no other form of literature has such potentiality because
all other forms deal only with the real, the possible, the concrete and the mundane. Only
sf/fantasy deals with the patently impossible, the unreal--that is those things outside
the limits we have set upon ourselves by our choice of language.
Only sf/f uses language to transcend the linguistic barrier; and that's why it's the
greatest of all forms of literature, bar none. That's why ST is an evolutionary STEP in
But I don't expect you to understand what those words mean because their meaning isn't
in their definitions.
Katie Filipowicz to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, 3/21/79
((On JL's comment that her fans don't seem to accept the Sime/Gen gulf.))
People do not want to accept the gulf between men and women (yet women alone can have
babies and men alone can impregnate, and I imagine there are a hell of a lot of basic
perceptions built up around those two facts) (historically, I know there are)
(--and the difference between mothering and fathering). (I'm talking about capabilities,
nerves, hormones, maleness and femaleness, not obvious experiences like actual
pregnancy or childbirth. This is the basic male/female polarity.) Anyway, people
won't accept the gulf, because they are confusing equality with sameness. All these women
fans scrounging upward for some sort or equality and searching in some vague way for
sameness--why should they accept what seems the gross inequality of that gap between Sime
and Gen? At least Ancients are born male and female, quite obviously. They are raised to
certain sex roles, and men have no idea what it is like to be women, and vice versa. Simes
have some notion what it is like to perceive as a Gen does. You say it's not "some
notion", they do know, because they have perceived that same way as children. Jean
doesn't accept that, I think, and I have difficulty with it, too. It is so much worse to
find that gulf showing up suddenly, without warning, than to have lived with your given
sex roles all your life. It is so much harder to accept what seems to be inequality. ((Only if you accept the existence of superiority and I don't. JL))
So people (fans) just won't accept that gulf. It comes too close to problems within
Many fans are caught up in trying to understand other people, trying to fit themselves
into society, to relate to others. They are searching for ways to communicate deeply. They
are looking for some universe model where deep perception differences don't really cut
them off, man from woman, generation from generation, USA from China. When you are
searching, you don't want to find that the gulf is there. Or if you find it, you try to
find ways to bridge it. Well, face it, men are men and women are women, and there are
differences, vast basic differences that have nothing to do with sociology. I imagine most
of your fans are searching like this, and they don't want to recognize the
existence of any such gulf. But, I suppose if you don't recognize and accept it, you'll
never know why it is good, will never understand the function of polarity.
((To recognize the magnitude of the Sime/Gen gulf is to
realize that in the real world, we have nothing like it and so no excuse for not
communicating. The unbridgeable Sime/Gen gulf illustrates the unimportance of the
male/female gulf. JL))
Jean Lorrah to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, 3/22/79
Just got your 9-page "note" of 3/18. I'm the one strapped for time, but let
me make just a couple of observations for you to think about, okay? You are simply too
intelligent a person to allow yourself to be so sloppy at using logic. Every point you
make in your letter is true in its individual context, but then you argue that it proves
something it does not prove.
We have been over and over the old argument about linguistic concepts meaning different
things for different people. Yes, it's true that a person blind from birth has a
different concept of "blue" than a sighted person. It's true that a male
will never experience pregnancy, and so has no real understanding of what a pregnant woman
feels. But those facts do not prove that blind people cannot understand English or
any other language; those facts do not prove that men cannot master any human
language because they are not female! And you insist on being blind and deaf to the same
logical fallacy when you apply it to Simelan, saying that because a Gen cannot zlin he
cannot master Simelan. THAT IS A LOGICAL FALLACY. What your argument does lead to,
logically, is that neither Sime nor Gen will ever master Simelan or any other language to
the same degree that every human has communications problems with every other human
because of differences in perceptions. And yes, a Gen will have as many problems as a
blind man with certain concepts--maybe more. If he cares enough, he'll find a way around
his limitations, just as the blind, the deaf, the tone deaf, etc. do. If he doesn't care,
he doesn't care--that is not what we are discussing. Furthermore, the Sime will never
master Simelan by your definition because he does not have a Gen's perceptions--in fact,
he doesn't even believe they exist! Now there is blindness for you.
Note that the argument about the out-T kid who never learns Simelan adequately has no
bearing whatsoever on the above discussion; it is a red herring. The comparison must be
between Sime and Gen from the same background to be valid.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg to Jean Lorrah, 3/26/79
Your letter of 3/22/79 about my apparent illogic. I can't recall ever being offsides on
logic; when that seems to happen the problem lies not in formal logic but in the
Your rebuttal involving men not understanding pregnancy as an experience. You say that
the fact that men can never experience pregnancy does not imply that men can never
understand English. Right you are--English was not invented solely and exclusively by
women for the main purpose of relating all life-experiences to the base experience of
pregnancy. Therefore the understanding of English has little to do with the male/female
experiential barrier. And for that reason English does not suffice to CONVEY the
experience of pregnancy across the barrier--even between a mother and a virgin. English
doesn't have the equipment in which to discuss the experience.
Now postulate a language that does have the equipment because it was invented by women
(raised in virtual isolation from all males) for the express and specific purpose of
describing and relating all of life's processes to the processes of pregnancy. (As we
figure to the base 10 and others figure to the base 12--that kind of base.)
So your rebuttal doesn't fit my argument. You still may be right, but you haven't
proved me either wrong or illogical--you've only proved that two professional English
wordsmiths can't communicate in the very language they are presumed to have mastered.
Postulate a language in which that can't happen, and you've got something like
Vulcanir. The human mind boggles. But Simelan is human (or maybe not, we still aren't sure
if Simes are actually Earthstock humans, you know). It's designed to be used by human
brains--or if it wasn't in the beginning, thousands of years as a living language has made
it useful to the human brain.
The Ancient-Ancient communication gulf is of one kind--based on the mentality,
psychology, culture and neurotic patterns that differ between individuals. Such a
communication gulf exists between any two Gens; likewise between any two Simes.
Between a Sime and a Gen there exists a communication gulf of a different kind,
not just magnitude. I use the similes I use because there aren't any others to use. But a
linguistic gulf based on different sensory equipment is of a different order than that
based on neuroses.
The Sime had Gen-perception when he was a child. The adult Gen has nothing that the child doesn't
have (though he may use it better as an adult.) What you are calling "Gen
perceptions" is the simple psi-order awareness that all humans share, plus human
intuition. The adult Sime has that, too, and believes in it well enough.
Simelan was not specifically designed to be an espers' language, and therefore it
presents no particular linguistic barrier to discussing esper sensitivities in it (not
more than English presents to discussing pregnancy--it neither helps nor hinders.)
It is literally TRUE that no Gen ever masters Simelan.
Take that as a premise and invent the language to go with it. That's sf writing.
Anything less is a cop-out. Assume the impossible is TRUE; now show how it could happen.
That's the essence of sf. Never lose sight of the fact that Simelan is a FANTASY
CONSTRUCT--not a real-world phenomenon.
Simelan and its off-the-wall premises, is the SPOCK of the Sime Series. As GR fought
for Spock against the networks, so I will fight for Simelan. It's the essence of what the
series is all about. Fear. Separation. The uncrossable gulf. Alienation.
The Simelan premise is what makes the Sime Series sf. Not the tentacles.
Apply the same sf techniques to linguistics that the early sf writers applied to
Einstein's light-speed limit to come up with hyperdrive, anticipating tachyons by decades.
Jean Lorrah to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, 3/30/70
When you say Gens cannot understand Simelan you are forgetting that language allows
humans to conceive of things they have never perceived--even of things that do not exist.
The phlogiston theory adequately explains observed physical phenomena--it just happens not
to be true! Look at astrology--a science based on a totally mistaken view of the
universe--and it works! If you can conceive of zlinning, so can Gens. You and I
have never seen a molecule, but we can talk intelligently about them. Now you are
the one confusing language and jargon. There is undoubtably a technical jargon of Simelan
which a Gen really cannot comprehend, unless he studies and learns about it by analogy,
mathematics, whatever. Then he can discuss it intelligently, but will still not have
direct experience of it, and so will not express himself in lay language in the same
metaphors a Sime would choose. Normally though, a Sime and a Gen speaking Simelan
communicate perfectly well about weather, politics, when to plant trin, philosophy, child
rearing--whatever the subject might be. A Sime zlins the terrain and a Gen follows the
road, and they both arrive at the same place.
Thematically, to take an entirely different approach to this matter, Simes and Gens
cannot be completely complementary if they cannot communicate. If a Gen can only talk
"baby talk," then he is no fit companion for a Sime. Then he is no longer human;
he is sub-human, unequal. If you want different but equal, Gens can understand
Simelan. Yes, different--incredibly different--but equal, unless you want to take the
tension of opposites out of your entire series, and have the tug o' war collapse into the
Bah humbug! You are asking me to cop out by accepting a Sime chauvinist elitist
theory of language as Truth with a capital T. You, the same person who will turn around
and with the next breath say that Nothing is ever Absolutely True. If "the Simelan
premise" is what makes the Sime series sf, then the Simelan premise must include the
ability of Gens to understand Simelan ((understand, yes--master,
no JL))--otherwise the basic premise of the series, the reaching across the
gulf for absolutely necessary union, collapses. ((Non sequitur.
JL)) There is no reaching without understanding. ((True.
JL)) Look--you and I would not bother to write these letters to each other if
we did not think we could reach a common ground. ((Maybe you
wouldn't, but I would and do. JL)) If there is no common ground between
Sime and Gen--and that is what you are saying when you say Gens are eternally children
compared to Simes--then all attempts at union are in vain. You have the situation I
described in Penthesilia, with one partner in the union forever behind the other--and the
more intelligent he is, the more he is aware of his inadequacy, and the more unhappy both
partners are. No, Jacqueline--that's not Im. That's not Hal. That's not Kadi. But Hugh may
indeed become convinced of your theory, in the midst of his underdraw depression--that
could well be a factor in his suicide.
As for Gen perceptions--oh, yes, they are too real! Take that as a premise and
create the physiology to go with it--that's sf writing, as you keep telling me.
Have you considered that perhaps what brought me into your universe is precisely the
need for someone on the Gen side to prevent you from losing that beautiful tension between
equals that you started out with? Yin and Yang must be equal, or the world ends.
C. J. Cherryh, to the round robin
I reckon that you start language at the biological level. that the things we really
need to say emanate from compulsions of biology; and the things we don't say emanate from
ditto plus social pressures. Biology and sociology of a social animal get involved at a
very early level, biology and sociology of a symbiont or parasite would be rather
interesting, particularly if the symbiosis is between two species capable of communication
and high-level social patterns . . . particularly in working out the economics of the
thing, in the sense of biological economy: how does the Sime culture regard the
biostructure of the planet, to which they are not as intimately tied as the Gens?
What are their values? Values come into linguistics at a very early level in the
pyramid of which biology is the ground floor . . . i.e., values somewhat tend to express
CONSTELLATIONS of drives, impulses and therefore concepts which we think to be linked
because the gratification or expression of said drives often occur together. This gives us
such imagery as linking hunger and the sex drive--when for another species, one of my own
creation, the regul, sex is linked more directly to self-preservation, and not in the
dynastic sense: a regul without young is totally helpless, even to move. So his values are
set up due to facts of biology, his imagery is different than human. When he says having
young it means being safe personally; when a regul youngling says papa or mama it's
with no warmth at all, just a terrorized desire to serve and live.
So if you want to use what to me is a very bad word--bad in the sense of being a false
word--semantics comes in at a biological level, dictated by biological imperatives.
We don't easily see it in ourselves because we're communicating with human beings. But you
have to understand biology first. And sitting right atop biology as far as understanding
language are drive-constellations, and above that, very tightly meshed with those
layers--social structures which have been devised to satisfy those drives and to control
them and to assure the smooth function of a group of individuals of similar drives.
Some core concepts come out of biology itself: sex; hunger; birth; death; bilateralism;
others come out of drives, others out of drive-constellations; others out of social
behaviors--and right away we proceed to abstract concepts like good and evil, the
productive and non-productive behaviors within the social context, the creative and the
destructive and the simply resting. All of the concepts develop clusters of words to
Then you get merging-words, as differing groups devise ways to bridge concepts.
One band hunts, another farms; their values are different; one conquers the other--you
pass through the nobility/peasant phase and eventually into rich and deep complexities of
And vocabulary is generated for every thought that passes.
No one can think a thing until he can name it.
No one can remember accurately what he has no word for, show a person a furry quadruped
on an alien world, a hopper with bizarre characteristics--he will still mentally tend to
characterize it as a horned rabbit, and eventually the non-rabbity characteristics will
blur in the absence of the real object until he has streamlined and simplified the critter
into a terrestrial rabbit with a horn: more important traits may be forgotten in the
process, simply because there's no connection to any known thing, no name to call it. The
old theory that names hold magic is true; any classroom teacher who tries to get concepts
across to vocabulary deficient children knows the difficulties--and that, by the way, is
the most powerful argument for encouraging bi- and trilingualism in education: if your
native tongue doesn't have it, some one else's may, and you REMEMBER things, because you
have a name for them.
That blurring-reflex, that tendency to drop the unnamable, is a very powerful matter.
It means that when I say something, you will blur out all details that are not within your
ability to compare with your own personal experience: it's universal; I do it; you do it;
we all do it; and therefore we all only hear a fraction of what each other is saying,
It's true when learning another language: first thing a neophyte asks is "What's
the definition of that word." And I'm tempted to pull a Merlin, smile smugly, and ask
for a definition of the question. Wrong question. The question should be: What is the
total gestalt and experience behind that word?--Show me how to live it. You don't define
paterfamilias in Latin; you live it. You don't define savoir faire or panache in
French: you breathe them through your pores. You speak a language--no; if you really speak
it, you exhale it, dream in it, imagine in it, leap realities that can't be joined in your
native tongue, linking them by symbols and half- or bridging-concepts peculiar to the
historical experience and social expression of biology in that culture.
You can't even order a cup of coffee in French without conjuring up a sidewalk cafe, a
leisurely afternoon time, a delight in the out of doors and people-watching--that jusn't
translate to a cup of coffee in a New York diner, shoulder to shoulder and with the haste
and mannerisms that go with the noon break and a very little time to make it back . . . or
Italy, where a cup of coffee buys you the table for the whole mid-afternoon.
If a cup of coffee isn't the same, where are you with abstracts and concepts of
morality and obligation and right and wrong?
There's going to be, in the Sime culture, a special word for special processes, in a
plethora of stages and shades of meaning; a special word for relationships and moralities
and history of experience, telegraphic forms that contain in one word a whole paragraph of
meaning--and by my lights, NOBODY can ever translate a thing, really, from one language
into another; no one can do more than reinterpret in relatively accurate symbols,
sometimes doing great violence to the original images to make the concepts understandable
in terms of the experience of the hearer.
Abused and persecuted cultures develop jargon in a hurry, sometimes argot that is
deliberately meant to make intrusion or eavesdropping, impossible. Take the thieves' slang
of London, trouble and strife and all that.
Fused cultures develop new languages in a hurry. Some angered Roman yells in Hispanic
territory at a barbarian intruder "Aufer dierecte istum caballum porta mea" (get
that expletive deleted nag the blazes away from my gate) and the poor barbarian not
knowing he's being insulted thinks that caballus is the regular word for horse--even to
the extent that Spanish knights were not the equestri they might have been, but caballeros,
which is somewhere between horsemen and naggers.
Odd things do happen.
I wonder where we got nag (1) and nag (2).
Whan that ye droughte of Marche hath pearced to ye rote --
--the whole blamed thing, is bastard Latin, bastard French, and bastard Germanic--and
we put it all together after the caballus rule, and call it English. We do borrow
easily, even to this day, because we are a fused culture. ((The
Simes and Gens will "fuse" their cultures in this depth only after Yone's time.
As for the rule that no Gen can master Simelan,--not surprising, in the absence of the
biological urges. I mean, an outsider can analyze paterfamilias, and maybe use it in a
sentence, but fluency takes years; and fluency in a language in which you are not
biologically structured to feel what others feel--I've discussed this with the Darkover
folks relative to their linguistics, too--would give you eventually a person reared with a
continual feeling of loss, of sense-deprivation at a most basic level. I would think that
a story in which a Gen did master Simelan language with the thoroughness of years
of acquaintance--would also yield you a rather tragic character who felt himself maimed;
while a Sime growing up in the absence of terms to describe what he found happening to
himself biologically would probably experience a great deal of fear and guilt--the taboo
reflex: i.e., what we don't mention or can't name and yet is terribly evident to
us--must be taboo, socially un-nice, verboten--and whether the taboo reflex is cultural or
biological I have yet to decide for myself; I suspect social, but founded deeply on human
biology, the necessity to wipe out non-productive behaviors or to confine them to
acceptable context--sex is one, for instance: unrestrained, we'd be hip-deep in toddlers.
The Sime language probably does have some taboos of its own, and from what I have seen it
does have some dirty words to describe bad behavior: again, it would take someone living
within that culture to really feel how foul it would be--I can translate Latin cusswords
and they just don't have the feeling: son of a smelly sheepskin just doesn't have the
flavor now that it once did. But anyone who lived close to sheep, bless their smelly
selves, would know. Or to say that someone has the morals of a goat--is colorless
to anyone not familiar with goats--and still lacks the wry religious twist the expression
has in areas where the goat is a god of fertility, the unbridled side of a
Anyway, my basic position is that no one can ever really translate anything: he can
just (like the venturer out of Plato's cave of shadows) try to explain what he saw in
terms his friends inside may comprehend.
Ashley McConnell to the RR
((No permission yet to use))
Mary Frances Zambreno to the RR
((No permission yet to use))
Jean Lorrah to the RR (10/9/79)
C. J. Cherryh would be absolutely correct in everything she says if she were discussing
a pre-linguistic mutation. As human languages already existed before the Sime/Gen split,
however, and the people who would become Simes and Gens already spoke them ((this we do not yet KNOW. JL)) most of what she says is simply
not applicable. Simelan will develop along the lines she describes, but it will
develop from a human language or languages. ((This is what I
contest. JL)) And what she calls the blurring-reflex, of course, means that no
two people ever speak the same language. At that level, the argument as to whether a Gen
can master Simelan becomes meaningless, as we all agree that he cannot master it any
better than a Sime, who can not master it either! ((See JL's
note, below.)) Her comment, "I would think that a story in which a Gen did
master Simelan language with the thoroughness of years of acquaintance--would also yield
you a rather tragic character who felt himself maimed," etc. shows that she is making
the same mistake Jacqueline always makes while scolding fans for making it: assuming that
Gens have only the experience of Ancients. Ilyana Dumas is the perfect example; she speaks
only Simelan, but that is not where her tragedy comes from--and she is most
certainly not missing anything!!
((C. J. Cherryh's statement would be true of Ilyana in a
culture where Gens are considered lesser beings. She has made her peace with being Gen. On
the mastery of Simelan, see diagram at right. All I am contending is that there is a
measurable separation "A" between these peaks and that the asymptotic upper
tail of the Sime curve extends beyond that of the Gen curve. JL))
Originally published in Zeor Forum #1.
Zeor Forum: Copyright © 1980 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.
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