We Have Always Spoken Panglish

by Suzette Haden Elgin
Reviewed date: 2008 Sep 18

I enjoy science fiction stories about linguistics and language. We Have Always Spoken Panglish disappoints me.

It really is about language. Dr. Alyssa Miche from the US Corps of Linguists (USCOL) is on the planet Estrada-Blair doing linguistics research. She notices an oddity: the native Losheffans of Estrada-Blair claim that Panglish is their native language, and that they have never spoken any other language. That is impossible because Panglish wasn't introduced to Estrada-Blair until the planet was discovered by humans. Panglish itself was artificially created out of an amalgamation of Earth languages. A native speaker of Panglish is as realistic as a native speaker of Klingon or Elvish or Esperanto.

Dr. Miche digs further. Every Losheffan claims that Panglish is his first and only language. No historical records of a native Losheffan language exist. Dr. Miche investigates, trying to find out why all knowledge of the Losheffan language has been lost. What she finds is that the language was not lost but deliberately suppressed. The knowledge exists in the minds of a few holdouts, who are content to let the secret die with them.

And what's the big secret? There is none. It's just stupid pride--the Losheffans see their culture being subsumed into the greater culture of the galaxy, and they view their native language as their last and only valuable possession. So of course they supress that knowledge from their own people, rather than foster and encourage its use as most dying cultures do. One old woman who still speaks the original language finally talks to Dr. Miche. The old Losheffan rambles on about how valuable the language is, and how she will never let it fall into the hands of outsiders. Of course, when she and her contemporaries die, the language will be permanently lost.

We Have Always Spoken Panglish is unsatisfactory. I expected something other than just plain stubbornness and cultural observations. This story isn't really science fiction except for the setting. It could just as easily be told about a dying tribal language on Earth. There's nothing particular SF here.

We Have Always Spoken Panglish is available online.

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