The Languages of Pao

Book Recommendations: Language over Culture

I love recommending books to people, so I figured I might start doing it here in the form of curated lists- a group of recommendations all revolving around a central theme. This week we’re going on a linguistic tangent.

Shakespeare in the Bush, by Laura Bohannon
Nonfiction Essay

This short essay shouldn’t take too long to read. It’s one of the classic texts of cultural misunderstanding. The author, anthropologist Laura Bohannon, attempts to tell the story of Hamlet to an audience of Tiv tribesmen in Africa, only to have them interpret the story in an unusual way.

220px-languages_of_paoThe Languages of Pao, by Jack Vance
Science Fiction

This is the classic linguistic science fiction novel. It was first published in 1957 in Satellite magazine, followed by an expanded novel version in 1958. The Languages of Pao is based in the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis– the idea that the structure of a language affects the speakers’ culture, perception of the world, and even mode of thought. Jack Vance takes it one step farther, however, and postulates social engineering via language. The planet Pao is a heavily populated agrarian backwater. Its ruler, the Panarch, decides to try to reform the population by hiring outside consultants to craft new languages- a warrior language, a scientific (more…)

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