What might an anarchist language look like? I created one, inspired by Ursula le Guin

  • Posted on: 22 February 2018
  • By: thecollective

From The Conversation

The Dispossessed is set on two human worlds: the planet Urras, which resembles 1970s Earth; and Anarres, the moon of Urras, home to a unified anarchist collective. Anarres was settled from Urras by people seeking a better, fairer life, and the resulting collective has been largely isolated from Urran cultures for about 150 years.

Anarres is a planet without property, laws or money; but it does have an advisory bureaucracy and some shared conventions, one of which is the language Pravic. This language was devised by the first settlers, to make the everyday casual ownership which pervades human languages almost impossible to articulate.

Anarres is, of course, a utopia; so it slotted well into Utopia 2016, an exhibition at Somerset House for the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia. The event showcased a series of utopian visions presented by a range of artists. Two of these artists, Onkar Kular and Noam Toran, proposed that the utopia of Anarres could be presented as a teaching space which they called Night School on Anarres. The teaching space was designed to showcase the planet and its culture, offering the people of Earth a window into a working anarchistic society.

But the night school was also intended to offer realistic lessons in Pravic, so the project needed a realistic language to teach. This was not going to be easy. Le Guin had described some key features of the language in her book but, apart from a few names, she provided no close detail of how the language worked.

This is where I came in. I teach a module on the BA English Language and Linguistics course at King’s College London in which the students design and describe their own constructed language, or “conlang”. The module is an opportunity for students to show their knowledge of how language works (or could work) in the abstract, but it also gives them a chance to be creative in their reasoning.

Kular and Toran asked me to generate a version of Pravic for the project. It had to be as close as possible to the language described in the book; it had to be easy enough to teach the basics in one hour; and it had to feel like a real human language.

The final design incorporated almost everything le Guin stipulated about Pravic in the book. The designed language makes it difficult to assert ownership: possessive pronouns (“my”, “your”, “their”, etc.) are out, but simple words like “have” and “give” must also be excised.

Expression of self also has to be restricted: people would not “do” things (this creates ownership of the action), things “are done” by people. Consequently, the whole language is expressed in the passive voice.

Another device to reduce selfhood was taken from Malay: the pronouns “I” and “you” were replaced by noun phrases expressing roles, with default roles being “a speaker” and “the listener(s)”. A version of this was used by the Faceless Men in Game of Thrones.




Teaching Pravlish.
© Onkar Kular

In the end, though, an anglicised version of Pravic, Pravlish, was used for the lessons. After being shown a video travelogue and introduced to some simple Pravic conventions (no pronouns, no ownership, the actor in an action is given last, and “People don’t do things, things happen to people”), the students were asked to translate some difficult sentences into Pravlish – for instance, Julius Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered” and Louis XIV’s “It is legal because I wish it”. The solutions offered were ingenious and entertaining.

In The Dispossessed, Ursula le Guin gave us an honest look at how anarchism might work in a real world with real human beings. I like to think that the Night School project did the same for a new audience. Linguistically, the project showed that language is not just a coding tool we use to give and get meaning; rather, it has an active role in producing these meanings. And so the conventions we build into our language affect what meanings are possible.

category: 

Comments

This is essential stuff. Also, so-called Individual egoists need to understand they are not individuals as 'I' needs others in order to be. Stirner, without friends, family, community would have been miserable. Without others, humans die inside. Collectively, I is happier, on the whole. The ego/individualism as with language is the antithesis of anarchy. Anarchy is 'we.'

Who are you to say that Stirner would have been miserable on his own without family or friends? Community togetherness as a requirement for happiness, even the concept of happiness is naive, totalitarian and hierarchical, and a major spook.,.

Show me a person who has existed on their own and has not gone suicidal, depressed, 'mad?' Union of egoists is a possibility if the union ever happens in the real world and for a significant amount of time: to grow food, construct buildings etc. I doubt a union of egoists would last that long as your fundamentalist individualism would kill any collectivity and you would return to anarcho-communists bullshitting about how it all went pair-shaped. Then you start over: slagging off the commune, leaving with another union of egoists, only for it all to fail again and again and again. Stirnerism is the ultimate spook. I don't even know you so-called egoists post here anyway, as anarchy is also a spook according to Stirnerites.

This is not about solitary confinement, though there have been cases of prisoners who endured years in a dark cell and emerged still sane; but I digress, this is about non-attachment to other people's materialism and only basing a relationship on psychological and emotional interactions which do not require the physical presence. Easy! Now concerning those herd mentality folk who form clubs and bands, I apply this condition to their complaint, that a band should not let materialistic concerns interfere with their aesthetics, their music will suffer, and those bands which broke up because some Stirnerian amongst them criticized their togetherness it was about the ill-matched psychic combination of their creative energies, possible their creativity was decayed and reformist Pat Boone and Bing Crosby based sentimental drivel music, who knows, but it had no rage or vitality, it was bleached and leach drained years earlier in some domestic nanny-infested fortress run by a frustrated priest, but definitely corrosive on the ear drums, like harp music near a waterfall. I hope this answers all your genteel bourgeois doubts adequately.,.

questions. Interestingly, the one country that is so fucked up about individualism and morality is the USA. So hooked on individuality that other peoples are not allowed to be their own collectives such as indigenous such as black African Americans. So, who is authoritarian control? The union of power egoists who have rampant individualists have got together to rape, murder and plunder...because all that matters to them, is them. I bet it ain't egoists who help the homeless. Ask people who help, they will talk about community, togetherness, etc, all collective communal values.

Could also be made by fascists and communists. The egoists and individualists have not been the ones doing the raping murdering plundering and pillaging.

Me and Le Way acknowledge that we are a social species at the level of habituated weight, so does Stirner, what we are trying to do is create novelty against habit via individuation as well as correct the problematic pressures of the social when it goes full reified retard.

And also 5.55 (oOoo, the number of the moron), ultimately there should be no division between "band" and "audience". That whole binary entertainment structure should fade away, every person should become their own musical director, even if it's beating on a tin bucket with a stick and chanting poetry,.,

Critics of Stirner always miss the point. There is actually a section in "Stirner's Critics" on this.

Egoism isn't about whether or not a particular person in their particular contingent desires and needs, either desires or needs other people. The point is that each of us has a perspective which constitutes the entire source of one's particular desires and values, and that no reference to generalities (humanity, society, nature, God, morals...) can take away from this self-referential, desire-based source of meaning. All such references to "higher" goods are ways for certain people to subordinate other people to their own particular desires and values.

This doesn't mean that people are 100% self-generating, that desires never have social sources, or that people are never dependent on anything outside themselves. But no such connections entail moral subordination to a "higher good". We literally cannot get away, existentially, from the egoistic nature of our desires and perspectives - even when they are other-directed.

So for example, we all need air to breathe, this doesn't mean that we worship Airness or insist that Air is Higher Than Ourselves. Everyone needs water, whereas only some people drink beer - this doesn't mean that water has ethical primacy over beer, or that someone who lives their life worshipping water is superior to someone who lives their life worshipping beer. A hobbyist becomes a different person, a different bundle of affects, through the mixture of their human energies with those of a computer, a car, plants, books, stamps... this doesn't mean we can't talk about their hobby as a desire.

Solitary confinement drives people mad. But this doesn't necessarily mean that nobody can live alone. There are hermits who choose to live alone. Hikikomori also sometimes live alone, though this is done out of self-protection. Most people seem to need human contact as part of their desire, their way of life. But they also need air, food, water, etc - and maybe particular objects, particular contexts. None of this changes the fact that what they're expressing is their own desire and need as a particular being - that this desire and need has no inherent reference to any higher category, but rather, relations are secondary constructs arising from desire.

once again, another of Stirner's critics who has understood nothing about Stirner or his writing. when you decide that "anarchy is 'we'" you have decided what is best for everyone, which, even as a non-"individualist egoist," i reject as presumptuous and authoritarian. you are not the boss of anarchy, collectivist pontificator.

how bout that union of egoists. nevermind, stirner didn't write about that...

I haven't read the Dispossessed in a few years, so forgive me if this is slightly garbled, but isn't part of the point of the book that the Anarchist society has drifted severely towards group think. One of the main characters friends is driven to suicide because they are an artist and "too individualistic" to fit in. I thought Le Guin was commenting on the potential for anarcho-communism to drift towards Bolshevism, what with the Bolshevik style insults: "profetarian" etc. The reason the subtitle of the book is "an ambiguous utopia". Take the individual out of anarchism and you get authoritarianism. Le Guin was hardly the first anarchist to make this point.

That's not what I got from it at all but then again, the war grabbed my attention and the whiny artist grabbed yours ;)

If you didn't pick up on the conformity of anrres and informal state heirarchy you should read it again, or you maybe you are just into authoritarian communism. Viva La Revolucion! Let's go to war!

I don't thing that by excluding words such as possessive pronouns will magically produce a self-less person who desires no possessions, such thinking is putting the cart before the horse, the language before the psychology. It may make for entertaining play amongst bored college students but has no practical use in the real world.,.

For instance, is taking the words 'panic' and 'fear' out of a language going to produce peaceful harmony in a society. Rather, reduce and return fear to its natural place as an instinctual selfpreservative reflex to danger and not a manipulative political tool, this is how power can be redistributed.,.

dismissing anything constructive; IT'S ALL A SPOOK! IT'S ALL A SPOOK! IT'S ALL A SPOOK! The spook is a spook. Individualists (egos) in any project are like a cancer. They are not 'happy' to leave the project; no, they have to spread their cancerous thinking by infecting the project. Then they complain that fuck all ever gets done. Fuck me, humans would never have left Africa and survived with the Stirner mind-set.

The Khoisan never left, and they are Stirnerian in their nomadic lawless harmony, and their ruling entity is the praying manic, the unspookiest and coolest of all creatures,.,

down to the individualist ego who decides it not working (not working in the way they want it to work). They argue like fuck, cause the band to start arguing and that's the end of that. What band? There is no band, only a spook, right! Does an egoist parent just decide to dump their children because it no longer works for the egoist? I mean, you can't keep the family together out of any moralism, especially moralism that is not 'egoist moralism.' Oh, I forgot, the family is a spook, relationships are spooks, children are spooks. Death is a spook. Life is a spook. What Stirner says is a spook. If I say it is a spook, then it's a spook. Spooky as fook.

Oh you have taken this 'spook' far too literal and objectively. Time to bring it all back to you own personal psychological dependency on an external object of worship or fetish, that's all. Not everything is spooky if you are discerningly self-aware,.,

You all should check out the Native Tongue series, its author Suzette Haden Elgin was linguist and she wrote a language I would call anarcho-feminist called Láadan, and even published dictionaries. Ursula le Guin was a fan of Suzette Haden Elgin.

There's a memorial event for Ursula happening soon. https://www.facebook.com/events/167392214036485/

This issue came up awhile ago in my long Emile-pwning engagement. Emile suggested that indigenous languages do not embed separate subjects and objects. He gave the example of Algonquin I think. And I researched this and found that the language does indeed have a different structure, it embeds actors in processes, but it still involves distinct entities and actors. So the word-order is very different (so "she opened the door for him" becomes "past she-for-him opendoor (him-)for") which foregrounds relations and process, rather than subject-verb-object, but it doesn't eliminate distinct objects. Some languages (Yoruba, Quechua) have features which alter knowledge-claims relative to the western norm - you can't say "I know" but have to mark it in terms of how you know ("I experienced it directly", "I heard from such-and-such", "I read in a book"). Having to think about how you know something stops ontology becoming separate from epistemology.

The signification of roles within statements (e.g. different forms of address depending on social position) happens in a number of indigenous languages, though I think it has reactionary implications (consider things like formal and informal "you" in European languages (e.g. tu/vous) - formal "you" is used upwards and informal "you" downwards). It can easily reduce the entire person to a role, intensifying social alienation (see e.g. Sartre on waiters). It embeds an assumption that someone *is* their socially conventional role - there's no difference between the two... imagine what this does if there's socially conventional gender roles for example.

Getting rid of pronouns might have very interesting effects. Pronouns have a special place in Lacanian psychoanalysis, as one of the sources of an illusion of an integrated self. (Autistic people famously struggle with pronouns and some prefer to refer to themselves by name). I wonder what we could use in place of pronouns, instead of roles. It might be better to develop language which avoids the implication of a single self. Referring to "the" self as a cluster of forces, emotions, entities, with "self" as more of a spatio-temporal site. So instead of "my anger" we'd say "the anger-flow manifesting at this point" and instead of "my shirt" we'd say "the shirt-object manifesting proximate to the body-object manifesting at this point". This also enables statements of the kind "the anger-flow manifesting at this point collides with the relaxation-flow manifesting at this point" without imputing a single agent.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
Human?
a
u
4
3
T
G
c
Enter the code without spaces.