Sime~GenTM is a trademark of Sime~Gen, Inc. all rights reserved. The Sime~Gen universe is an original creation of Jacqueline Lichtenberg, copyright by her, all rights reserved. Mention or discussion of copyrighted characters and terms in this critical essay is not intended, nor should be interpreted, as a challenge to those copyrights.
In the Sime~Gen novels, Simelan is the language of the Simes, which reflects the perceptions of Sime senses. Jacqueline Lichtenberg gives very few actual words of Simelan in the text of her novels. However, she uses a different method to create the sense of difference -- using regular English words in special restricted meanings.
In particular, she gives special meanings to the ordinary words "kill" and "need." In Simelan, "kill" is restricted only to death brought about by the transfer of selyn, while "need" is restricted to the condition of a Sime who must have transfer, having used up more than half of his or her monthly supply of selyn.
In one of the paper fanzines, Jacqueline wrote a lengthy article on the importance of following this convention in writing fan stories. On the surface it would seem that JL is simply discussing why it is so important to observe the convention in writing fan stories. However the essay can also be read at another level as a discussion of the power of language to shape a person's thought processes. This notion is not new, and can be found in fiction as far back as George Orwell's terrifying dystopia 1984. The whole point of creating Newspeak was to prevent people from thinking objectionable or disloyal thoughts by removing the words with which to think them. If there are no words for those concepts, thinking them becomes difficult if not downright impossible. If only acceptable concepts can be constructed and discussed in the language, thought can only follow acceptable channels.
A somewhat more positive use of this concept is found in Jack Vance's The Languages of Pao. In this slender but powerful novel a whole society is reshaped through the introduction of new languages which make new thought-patterns possible. The original Paonese language was polysynthetic, with relationships emphasized and the first-person pronoun reduced to marginality. The result was a stable, even stagnant, society in which everybody knew their place without ever really thinking about it. This society of two-legged sheep proves such easy prey that one small gang of bandits from the nearby world of Batmarsh is able to conquor it with little more than token resistance. The leader of Pao then turns to a wizard from another world whose language centers around the self, with every expression stated in relation to the self. This wizard constructs three lanuages and teaches them to select young Paonese. There is one for a warrior cast, which emphasizes action and in which "stranger" and "enemy" are a single word. Another is for the technical class, and emphasizes measurement and accuracy. The third is for the merchants, and emphasizes gaining and acquiring. These languages so restructure the thought patterns of the people who learn them that they are able to expell the Batch bandits from their world. But then the warriors start to turn on the others, considering them to be inferior people fit only to serve. The hero must then defeat them and replaces the three languages with a mishmash of all of them, known as Pastiche, which will combine their strengths without leading to persons hyperdeveloped in one area and underdeveloped in the others.
Susette Hadyn Elgin's Native Tongue also deals with this concept. When the women began to speak the "women's tongue" La‡dan, which is designed to reflect womens' perceptions of the world and provide words for distinctively female experiences and concepts, their whole reality is changed. Able to express and discuss with one another the things they are experiencing, they no longer chafe in the constraints of a language designed by men for men's experiences.
In all these cases, we are still dealing with human beings like ourselves, who have the same sensory systems, the same biological processes, etc. But the Simes, although they are descended from Ancient humans like ourselves and have most of the same basic drives, also have additional biological processes and senses which we do not possess. These are so important to their survival that the Simes must be able to talk about these things quickly and effeciently, especially in their earlier stages when all Simes were roving bands of hunters. So their language must reflect this difference. Without special terms which refer only to those unique biological processes and nothing else, they would not be able to carry on the communications processes that permits the band to survive. So the words "kill" and "need" are set aside for these particular processes, and other words that were previously synonyms are used for the more mundane senses that those words had held before. This reflects and reinforces in the speaker's mind the distinction between those sensations and processes that are the result of selyn movement and those which are not. Things having to do with selyn are of vital importance to the continued existance of the Sime in a particular way in which other things are not. The kill is life wrung from death, while other acts of making an organism dead do not have that terrible gravity. Similarly the agony of that sensation of selyn-depletion is set apart from the other requirements of life and given special importance by having a word reserved for it alone. So the Sime is better equipped to survive, and the bands which develop their language to most adequately reflect their situation are more likely to survive and nurture more newly changed over Simes (for in a sense changeover is a second birth), which means that these special linguistic characteristics are passed on to new generations of Simes. (This is one of the nice things about cultural adaptation. One can pass cultural traits on to persons who are not necessarily one's biological children).
But what importance does all this have for us the readers, who are Ancients and not Simes? As JL says, she is using this language convention to open a window onto this world in which some of the basic parameters of existance are changed. By using these distinctions in the language, these differences are reinforced for us so that we can experience a heightened sense of identification with the characters, and hopefully to come away from it with a few lessons in what it is like to be in a totally different biological situation. On the surface the "kill/need" convention may seem to be a trifling nitpick, but it has deep psychological ramifications.
I believe that JL is trying through her fiction to raise her readers to a higher level of sensitivity and compassion, to encourage us along the road towards greater levels of personal development and soul growth. And we certainly need it, in this century which has witnessed some of the greatest atrocities and massacres in human history -- most notably the Holocaust, but also the horrors of the killing fields in Cambodia, the infamy of Stalin's Purges, and most recently the "ethnic cleansing" in the fragments of Yugoslavia, not to mention the slaughter that happens every day on the streets of our cities right here in America. If even a few of us become able to put ourselves in another's place and see that person as a worthwhile human being in spite of differences, perhaps that will give us the courage to stand up and speak out for what we know is right. And at the most fundamental level, tyrants and criminals are cowards. If enough moral pressure is brought to bear, perhaps we can make this world just a little bit better a place to live in.
This page last updated January 30, 1999
Tell me what you think
Back to the Sime~Gen Universe page
Back to my reading page
Back to my homepage