Forbes India – Láadan’ And ‘Nüshu’: These Languages Were Invented By And For Women



Read, spoken and written exclusively by women, “Nüshu” is a language developed about 1000 years ago in the province of Hunan, located in southern China.
Image: fizkes / Shutterstock

Do you speak “Láadan” or “Nüshu”? If you have never heard of these terms, don’t worry: few of us have! In any case, whether you are male, female or non-binary, these two languages specifically created by or for women give us an example of how language can be linked to culture.

How about a little immersion into the history of languages spoken and invented by women? That’s the idea that the Babbel platform had on the occasion of International Women’s Day, as it delved into two unusual and little-known languages.

“Most gender specific language”

Let’s head to China, to discover a language read, spoken and written exclusively by women: “Nüshu.” The  language was developed about 1000 years ago in the province of Hunan, located in the south of China.
This dialect is inspired by the characters of Chinese writing. Why was it not understood by men? The women who practiced it passed it on among themselves from generation to generation in the greatest discretion and especially away from male society.

Discovered by chance in 1984 during an exploration in Jiangyong (Hunan) by Professor Gong Zhebing and his students, this language has been studied extensively, until scholars were able to decipher it and determine its origins. The story of this language then made news around the world and was even awarded the Guinness World Record title for the “most gender-specific language.”  

“Men played no role in the production or dissemination of its writings and it was often used to write stories that challenged the conventional male morality,” explains the Guinness World Records website.

Words for expressing women’s emotions

“Hysterical.” This is a word that many feminists dropped from their vocabulary a long time ago. Considered a disease in the 19th century, hysteria was exclusively associated with women (“hyster” meaning “uterus” in Latin). While hysteria is no longer considered a disease (at least officially), a woman is still often called “hysterical” as soon as she gets angry… or simply dares to raise her voice.

And that’s where “Làadan” comes in. This “language” was invented by the American novelist Suzette Haden Elgin in the early 1980s. Her starting point was the idea that no existing language can authentically express the emotions and sensations experienced by women. In particular “anger with reason, but with no one to blame, which is not futile” or “bama.”  

So where can we read this famous “Làadan”? In the science fiction novel “Native Tongue” by Suzette Haden Elgin, published in 1984. The pitch? A group of women linguists and feminists of the 22nd century decide to develop a language in order to protest against a government that wants to take away women’s right to vote.

It’s an approach that has nothing random about it, since the feminist science fiction author went so far as to learn about linguistic relativity, a theory that outlines that differences between languages inevitably lead to differences in intellectual and emotional structuring and thus worldview, notes Babbel.

From Làadan to “mansplaining”

While they may not have created a language of their own, as Suzette Haden Elgin did, contemporary feminist activists and intellectuals have developed a whole arsenal of vocabulary to describe concepts (such as “female gaze”) or even point out male behaviors with macho tendencies.

In the United States, people came up with the now famous series of words substituting “man” for a part of the word: “mansplaining” (men’s annoying tendency to explain to women how the world works), “manspreading” (referring to those males who stretch out their whole body in the subway) or “manterrupting” (in reference to men who constantly cut off other speakers).

Effective terms that have even become used in other languages.

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