The language was created to perform another test of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, among other things to determine if a language reflecting the way women think would be able to shape a new culture. A close hypothesis was that Western natural languages may be better suited for expressing the views of men than women.
The language was included into Elgin's Native Tongue science fiction series.
As for evidentials unlike in Lojban most Láadan sentences contain three particles: 1. The speech-act particle – this occurs at the beginning of the sentence and marks it as either a statement (bíi), a question (báa), etc. In connected speech or writing, this particle is often omitted.
According to Elgin, this requirement is to counter "male-centered" language's limitations on women, who are forced to respond "I know I said that, but I meant this".
|Bíi||Indicates a declarative sentence (usually optional)|
|Báa||Indicates a question|
|Bó||Indicates a command; very rare, except to small children|
|Bóo||Indicates a request; this is the usual imperative/"command" form|
|Bé||Indicates a promise|
|Bée||Indicates a warning|
2. The grammatical tense particle occurs second in the sentence.
Without the tense particle, the sentence is assumed to have the same tense as the previous sentence which in Lojban can be expressed using.
3. The evidence particle occurs at the end of statements and indicates the trustworthiness of the statement.
|Láadan Evidence Act Morpheme||translation||Lojban equivalent|
|wa||Known to speaker because perceived by speaker, externally or internally||, ,|
|wi||Known to speaker because self-evident|
|we||Perceived by speaker in a dream|
|wáa||Assumed true by speaker because speaker trusts source|
|waá||Assumed false by speaker because speaker distrusts source; if evil intent by the source is also assumed, the form is "waálh"|
|wo||Imagined or invented by speaker, hypothetical||,|
|wóo||Used to indicate that the speaker states a total lack of knowledge as to the validity of the matter|
This brings up an interesting question:
- What is the correct evidential in Lojban (assuming normal experiences) for a sentence like mi xagji? za'a? se'o?
Unusually for constructed languages, Láadan is a tonal language. It utilizes two distinct tones:
- lo – /lō/ or /lò/, a short, medium or low tone, represented by a single unmarked vowel
- ló – /ló/, a short, high tone, represented by a single marked vowel
The word "Láadan" has three syllables: "lá-" with the short vowel /a/ plus high tone; "-a" with the short vowel /a/ and no tone; and "-dan".
Láadan does not allow any double [i.e., long] phonemes. Whenever two identical short vowels would occur side by side in a single morpheme, one of them has to be marked for high tone. When adding an affix would result in two identical vowels side by side, an epenthetic /h/ is inserted to prevent the forbidden sequence. The language will allow either "máa" or "maá," but not "maa". These combinations can be described as:
- loó – /lǒː/, a long, low-rising tone, represented by a double vowel, the second of which is marked
- lóo – /lôː/, a long, high-falling tone, represented by a double vowel, the first of which is marked
Some people analyze these tone sequences as tonemic as well, for a total of four tones.
Elgin prefers an analysis of the language as having no long vowels and a single tone, the high tone (distinguished from "neutral, baseline pitch"), but she acknowledges that linguists using other formalisms would be justified in saying that there are two tones, high and low (or unmarked or mid).
Láadan has five vowels:
- a – /ɑ/, an open back unrounded vowel (as English calm),
- e – /ɛ/, an open-mid front unrounded vowel (as English bell),
- i – /ɪ/, a near-close near-front unrounded vowel (as English bit),
- o – /o/, a close-mid back rounded vowel (as English home),
- u – /u/, a close back rounded vowel (as English boon).
Láadan lacks the consonants /p, t, k, ɡ, s/. However, it uses b, d, sh (/ʃ/), m, n, l, r, w, y (/j/), h with the same phonetic value as English. In addition to these, three digraphs require further explanation:
- th – /θ/, a voiceless dental fricative (always as in English think, never as then),
- zh – /ʒ/, a voiced postalveolar fricative (as English pleasure),
- lh – /ɬ/, a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative (as Welsh llan).
Láadan is a verb–subject–object (VSO) language. Verbs and adjectives are interchangeable. There are no articles, and the object is marked by the -th or -eth suffix. The plural number is shown only by the me- prefix to the verb (wo- is used in some versions of the language). The particle ra following a verb makes it negative.
|bíi ril áya mahina wa||statement present-tense beautiful/beautify flower observed-truth||The flower is beautiful|
|báa eril mesháad with||question past-tense plural-go/come woman||Did the women go/come?|
|bíi ril lámála with ruleth wa||statement present-tense stroke/caress woman cat-object observed-truth||The woman strokes the cat|
|bóo wil di le neth||request hypothetical speak/say I you-object||I would like to speak with you, please.|
|bíi aril meleyan ra lanemid wáa||statement future-tense plural-be-brown negative dog received-truth||I hear the dogs will not be brown|
Láadan has an agglutinative morphology, and uses a number of affixes to indicate various feelings and moods that many natural languages can only indicate by tone of voice, body language or circumlocution.
|(-)lh(-)||disgust or dislike||hahodimi: "pleasantly bewildered"; hahodimilh: "unpleasantly bewildered"|
|du-||to try to||bíi eril dusháad le wa: "I tried to come"|
|dúu-||to try in vain to||bíi eril dúusháad le wa: "I tried in vain to come"|
|ná-||progressive aspect||bíi eril dúunásháad le wa: "I was trying in vain to come"|
|-(e)tha||natural possessor||lalal betha: "her mother's milk"|
|-(e)tho||customary or legal possessor||ebahid letho: "my husband"|
|-(e)thi||possessor by chance||losh nethi: "your money (gambling winnings)"|
|-(e)the||possessor by unknown provenance||ana worulethe: "the cats' food"|
|-id||denotes male (otherwise female or gender neutral)||thul: "mother/parent"; thulid: "father"|
The "speech act" particle, at the beginning of a sentence, can also carry several suffixes, which expand on the overall state of the sentence. For example, bíi begins a statement, but bíidebegins a statement that is part of a narrative; bóoth begins a request made in pain; báada begins a question that is meant in jest.
Pronouns in Láadan are built up from a number of constituent parts. The consonant l marks the first person, n the second person and b the third person. Usually, these are followed by the vowel e. However, the vowel a is used to designate someone who is loved (lhe- is prefixed to describe someone who is despised). The suffix -zh is used to mark a plural pronoun for numbers up to four, and -n for numbers beyond that. Therefore, lazh means "we, several beloved", and lheben means "they, many despised".
- Official Láadan website
- Elgin's Láadan introduction
- Láadan lessons (moderately paced lessons in Láadan)
- A Láadan Sampler
- Some Láadan (PDF) (The text says that "wo-" is a plural marker. This is an error; the plural marker is "me-", "wo-" is a relativizer.)
- Lesson One of Láadan Made Easier
- Láadan Working Group
- How to count in Láadan
- Gender role in language
- Elgin's blog
- Elgin, Suzette Haden, & Diane Martin. A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan. Madison: Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1988.
- Jones, Mari C. and Ishtla Singh, Exploring Language Change: Routledge, 2005; pp. 169–182.
- la kreig.daniyl.:
- What does it mean for a language to have a gender? --
- It has words for womanly things. That doesn't make it womanly, just gender-neutral. English may be "male" in some way, but Láadan strikes me as neither.
- Láadan is clearly feminine; the pretty purple they used for the web page looks like a breast cancer site.
- But is the vocabulary purple also? The vocabulary is indeed worth examining; it has specific terms for things like "discord in the home", "anger, for good and not futile reasons", "pain or loss which comes as a relief by virtue of ending the anticipation of its coming", "contentment despite negative circumstances", "the female sexual act", and "the act of relinquishing a cherished / comforting / familiar perception".
- The foundational assumption of Láadan is that women's perception of the word is fundamentally incommensurable with men's. So if purple meta-means what I think it meta-means, the answer is yes.
- What does it mean for a language to have a gender? --