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Poem: "The Power of Language" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Power of Language"
This poem is from the July 3, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] erulisse, [personal profile] gingicat, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] mdlbear, [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, and R.R. It also fills the "guests" square in my 7-1-18 card for the Winterfest in July Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the series An Army of One.


"The Power of Language"


The vaulted space of the Lacuna
sighed and clamored with the sound
of many tongues, the flutter of many hands.

They shared the common language of space,
of course; there was no going offworld
without learning that one.

They had their own hometongues,
though, because every planet had
at least one and many had several --
languages spoken by one group
or another, heard in houses
rather than city halls.

Then they had their own languages.

Nobody had ever written them down before,
but if you put a bunch of humans together,
they will make words no matter what barriers
might try to stand in the way of it.

There were languages of
sensory experience, all smells
and colors and textures.

There were languages of
numbers more subtle and
complex than equations in
a math book could capture.

There were languages of
the flesh, body glossaries
of flapping hands and
averted eyes.

They were all different,
and yet related, brains
tending toward center
as they found new ways
to communicate with each other.

The languages, like all lifeforms, evolved.

They made words and phrases to express
the experiences that set them apart from
the Galactic Arms, that united them
with others in the Lacuna.

They made labels for those
who wanted them, broke apart
labels for those who did not.

These were just words,
and words could be changed.

People created slang,
flinging ideas between
stations and ships
and even species.

Some stuck.
Some didn't.

The AYES from
the Carinan fleet
and the Orion fleet
had their own codes,
their own programs,
and yet the same core.

Only once had humanity
discovered how to create life,
far back in the Diaspora, and
all that came after descended
from that first vital spark.

No matter how their makers
tried to keep them apart,
the AYES could always --
somehow -- build a bridge.

AYES were better at coding
anyhow: they were made of it.

So bits of this, too, leaked
into the everyday language
of the humans, words and
numbers and signs.

It attracted attention.

When did the strange ones
not attract attention?

They were not easy with it.
They did not trust it.

Far too many of them
had been hurt by it in
the past to accept it now.

They did not trust the linguists
sniffing around the edges
of the Lacuna.

They did not like
the anthropologists
or the ethnologists
any better either.

They told the psychologists
what they could go do with
themselves and an airlock.

It was Hootowl who realized that
some of them, just maybe,
might be useful.

"If you want to study us,"
he said, "then you have
to pay us first. You have
to show us that you can
do something for us."

The old woman in
the video looked at him
over the rim of her glasses.

"We can teach you," she said,
"the power of language. We can
take what you're already doing
and help it along, because we
know how languages evolve.
You won't have to wait as long."

So Hootowl let in that one ship
with the senior linguist and
her gaggle of graduate students.

They flocked around the people
of the Lacuna. They watched
and they listened to everything.

Never once did any of them
say, "You're doing it wrong."

They just took notes on what
people were doing and how
those things fell into patterns.

There was a vocabulary
of hand flapping, and while
it wasn't universal, it was
pretty widespread.

There were sad flaps
and happy flaps and
angry flaps -- all of
the basic emotions.

The colors and equations
had their own meanings too.

The bandchatter of the AYES
wove into around and through
the words of the humans and
the body language of all kinds.

When one of the local men
knocked up the senior's daughter,
the two women just smiled and said,
"Now we can really get started."

* * *

Notes:

“Let’s give people with autism more opportunities to demonstrate what they feel, what they imagine, what comes naturally to them through humor and the language of sensory experience. As we learn more about autism, let’s not forget to learn from those with autism. There are poets walking among you and they have much to teach.”
-- Chris Martin, Unrestricted Interest

“Years before doctors informed me of my high-functioning autism and the disconnect it causes between person and language, I had to figure out the world as best I could. I was a misfit. The world was made up of words. But I thought and felt and sometimes dreamed in a private language of numbers,”
-- Daniel Tammett

"I think we use a lot of words and labels when trying to describe people: ones with autism, ones without autism. In general, I think that labeling people is a major issue, and people don't understand the power of language."
-- Nikki Reed

Studies done on human beings have a fraught history. Modern ethics stipulate that a study must offer some benefit to the subjects and little or no risk. When there is no urgency, the standards are very high; but in the case of life-threatening situations, more risky attempts become acceptable if the person gives informed consent, because doing something might be better than doing nothing. Neurovariant activists frame it as "Nothing about us, without us." However, it remains true that you can't find out about a group without studying that group; so if the people of the Lacuna want to learn about themselves, either they do some studies or let someone else do so.

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