Babel-17

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Babel-17 is a 1966 science fiction novel by American writer Samuel R. Delany in which the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis (that language strongly influences thought and perceived reality) plays an important part. It was joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966 (with Flowers for Algernon)[1] and was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1967.[2]

Delany hoped to have Babel-17 originally published as a single volume with the novella Empire Star, but this did not happen until the 2001 reprint.

Contents

Plot summary

During an interstellar war one side develops a language, Babel-17, that can be used as a weapon. Learning it turns one into an unwilling traitor as it alters perception and thought. The change is made more dangerous by the language's seductive enhancement of other abilities. This is discovered by the beautiful starship captain, linguist, poet, and telepath Rydra Wong. She is recruited by her government to discover how the enemy are infiltrating and sabotaging strategic sites. Initially Babel-17 is thought to be a code used by enemy agents. Rydra Wong realises it is a language, and finds herself becoming a traitor as she learns it. She is rescued by her dedicated crew, figures out the danger, and neutralizes its effects.

The novel deals with several issues related to the peculiarities of language, how conditions of life shape the formation of words and meaning, and how the words themselves can shape the actions of people.

Language

The language portrayed at the center of Babel-17 contains interesting linguistic features including the absence of a pronoun or any other construction for "I". The heroine finds her perceptions (and even her physical abilities) altered once she has learned Babel-17. In this it resembles a number of other science fiction novels which deal with language, such as Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin, The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and the short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang.

References

Publication Information

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