Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Shaper-Worf Hypothesis"

This is today's freebie, inspired by a backchannel prompt from [personal profile] janetmiles. The title is NOT a typo.

"The Shaper-Worf Hypothesis"

Growing up Klingon in a human colony,
Worf knew more about languages
than most people realized.

He spoke Klingon, of course, and Standard,
but he had also learned the old Russian language,
which had led to dabbling in a few others from Earth.

Then in Starfleet he had picked up even more
from his fellow students, bits of sultry Orion
so well suited to initiating a mating ritual
when flung along with a well-placed fist,
the harsh rasp of Vulcan whose sounds
fit his deep voice so well, even if
the logic of it tied his mind in knots.

That was the thing about language.

Worf had come to discover that it
shaped the way he thought, and that
he thought differently when he was
speaking Klingon or Standard,
Russian or Orion.

He suspected, too, that it influenced
other people as much as himself.

The Shaper-Worf hypothesis emerged
slowly, coalescing from his wrestling matches
with Vulcan phonemes and philosophy,
his tussles with Russian and
purely intellectual orgies in Orion.

No one suspected it of him;
they looked at Worf and saw only
a Klingon warrior, which was
usually as he wished.

Sometimes it stung, though, like the time
when Q had mocked him, as if being
a capable warrior required only brute strength.

Eat any good books lately?

It had been a test of Worf's control
not to laugh in his face.

Worf rarely spoke of his suspicions;
he just ... noticed things, sometimes.

So it was that he saw the vine wreaths,
worked in sharp metal but unmistakable
all the same, hanging between the breasts
of the formidable sisters Lursa and B'Etor.

Worf remembered that particular symbol
and the language wrapped around it,
which he had come across in his studies
at Starfleet -- an odd twist of Earth's history,
a language for women, so alien to Klingon
that it made him feel as if he were trying
to see the back of his head without
benefit of a mirror.

He wondered how the Duras sisters
had learned Láadan, whether they had
taken up with some human woman
in one of those nonviolent perversions
that Klingons sometimes speculated about in
crude whispers accompanied by cruder gestures.

Then again, perhaps it had not been a gift
between allies or lovers. Perhaps it had been
hurled like a curse, or a matter-antimatter grenade,
and foolishly caught because Lursa and B'Etor
would never allow anything of potential value
to slip through their fists, not realizing
how dangerous it was until too late.

Worf was convinced that this inner clash between
Klingon and Láadan had contributed to their downfall,
that somehow the language had shaped their own destruction,
caught in a loophole of vines as they died for the Empire
in something less than perfect glory.

Poring over the report of their deaths
made him angry, and he could not help thinking
bama: anger for good reason, but with no one to blame,
and which was futile because nothing could be done about it.

Not wanting to meet a similar dire fate
(which is to say, failure, rather than death)
Worf kicked himself back into Klingon and did
what any self-respecting Klingon warrior would do.
He went down to the firing range in search of
DoSmey: targets scattered all over the place.

* * *


The Sapir-Whorf theory of linguistic relatively states that language influences thought. In my observation, this is half the equation: language influences thought (it is easier to think about and discuss things which already have words and grammar to express them) and thought influences language (people make words, and more rarely adapt grammar, to discuss things of importance to them).

Worf, Lursa and B'Etor are Star Trek characters.

Bama is one of several Láadan words for anger, declined on the basis of reason, blame, and futility.

The Klingon language has some interesting grammatical constructions, one of which indicates a bunch of things scattered all over the place.

A reality tunnel is a worldview, and language is one of the things which shapes it. People in a foreign situation may do things to shore up their preferred reality tunnel. Worf shoving his thoughts back into Klingon is one example of that.

Once upon a time, I sat on a panel with Suzette Haden Elgin in which we discussed invented languages. At that particular table was also someone representing the Klingon language, and since Suzette was the inventor of Láadan, discussion naturally turned to a comparison of the two -- one extremely masculine and warlike, the other extremely feminine and peacelike. We were all intrigued by what might happen if the two came into contact, with some people favoring the idea that Láadan would obliterate Klingon, and some suggesting that it would instead be like a matter-antimatter explosion. In your head. So that long-ago discussion played very strongly into this poem. Also the Láadan dictionary touches on the idea of the record that breaks the record player, and expands into the premise that there are languages a culture could not contain or it would self-destruct. This is one exploration of that in action.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, gender studies, linguistics, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing

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