Elgin, Suzette Haden
ELGIN, Suzette Haden
Born Patricia Anne Suzette, 18 November 1936, Louisiana, Missouri
Daughter of Gaylord and Hazel Lewis Lloyd; married Peter Haden, 1955 (died); George Elgin, 1964; children: Michael, Rebecca, Christopher, Patricia, Benjamin
Suzette Haden Elgin is a retired professor of linguistics and the author of numerous nonfiction works on linguistics and communication as well as a number of science fiction novels. In addition to her writing, Elgin has founded several associations devoted to the study of linguistics, including the World Verbal Self-Defense League and the Linguistics & Science Fiction Network. Elgin also founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association and served for a time as the editor of its newsletter, Star*Line. She runs the Ozark Center for Language Studies, which she founded in 1980. The Ozark Center provides information on linguistics to the public and publishes the bimonthly newsletter of the Linguistics & Science Fiction Network.
Elgin grew up in Missouri, the daughter of a lawyer and a teacher. She attended the University of Chicago from 1954 to 1956, but quit after her marriage to Peter Haden, who died several years later. While at the University of Chicago, Elgin won an Academy of American Poets award. She also received a Eugene Saxon Memorial Trust fellowship in poetry from Harper's magazine in 1958 and was a corecipient of the Rhysling Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Elgin remarried in 1964 and obtained her B.A. in linguistics from Chico State College (now California State University at Chico) in 1967. She received her M.A. (1970) and her Ph.D. (1973) in linguistics from the University of California at San Diego. While in school, Elgin held a variety of jobs, from folk guitar instructor to French teacher to writer for a local California news station. She became an associate professor of linguistics at San Diego State University in 1972 and retired as associate professor emeritus in 1980.
Elgin's first book, Syntax and Semantics, was published in two volumes in 1972. This title was quickly followed by a number of other nonfiction works on linguistics, including What is Linguistics? (1973), Beginning Linguistics Workbook (1974), and Pouring Down Words (1975). The Grandmother Principles (1998) is a departure from Elgin's previous nonfiction works. This title seeks to instruct today's young women in proper behavior by urging them to imitate their grandmothers. The 21 principles Elgin pushes in this low-key title range from "The grandmother way is the easy way" to "Grandmothers don't have to be politically correct."
Elgin's best-known nonfiction work may be The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (1980) and its successors, which include Success With the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (1989), Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (1993), and The Martial Art of Verbal Self-Defense (1997). Elgin has written and lectured frequently on the topic of verbal self-defense. Her books on this topic deconstruct such familiar verbal attacks such as "If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't want to leave" and "Don't you even CARE about your health?" Elgin uses linguistic techniques from her years of study and research in applied psycholinguistics to show how native English speakers automatically use techniques such as emphasis on certain words, particular word orders, and body language when trying to hurt someone's feelings. She teaches readers how to avoid taking the bait in a verbal attack by a spouse, colleague, or boss, and instead recognize, avert, or turn around a verbal attack in an attempt to have a productive conversation.
The Gentle Art of Communicating with Kids (1996) teaches parents how to express thoughts and feelings to children using appropriate language behavior and communications skills. Elgin instructs parents in the skills needed to defuse verbal battles in order to create a healthy home environment in which both parents and children are treated with respect. She provides models of appropriate language using modern, hot-button issues like dating, sex, and cyberspace.
Elgin believes "language is our best and most powerful resource for bringing about social change [and] that science fiction is our best and most powerful resource for trying out social changes before we make them, to find out what their consequences might be." She views science fiction as a laboratory in which writers and linguists can experiment with language in a way not possible in the real world. Elgin points to the Klingon language that evolved from Star Trek and the Láadan language she created for her Native Tongue novels as examples of linguistic experimentation through science fiction.
Elgin has written two science fiction series in addition to her Native Tongue novels. The Communipaths (1970), Furthest (1971), At the Seventh Level (1972), and Star-Anchored, Star-Angered (1979) center around Coyote Jones, an agent for the Tri-Galactic Intelligence Service, which is responsible for maintaining communications for the Three Galaxies universe. Jones' "mind-deafness," or lack of telepathy, and ability to project powerful hallucinations upon others ensure his success in a variety of adventures.
The Ozark Fantasy Trilogy (1981), which consists of Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee, and And Then There'll Be Fireworks, tells the story of 12 Ozark families who abandon the dying Earth for another planet. Their new planet, named Ozark, runs on a magical, grammar-based system of governance. Yonder Comes the End of Time (1986) is a crossover between the world of Coyote Jones and Planet Ozark.
Native Tongue (1984), Native Tongue II: The Judas Rose (1987), and Native Tongue III: Earthsong (1993) are set in an alternate near-future United States in which a group of linguists and their families are the only ones capable of communicating with the alien civilizations that trade on Earth. The conflict between the linguists and the government form one plotline that runs throughout the books, as does the female linguists' attempts to create Láadan, a language that will express the thoughts of women more effectively than existing languages. Elgin has written A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan (2nd ed., edited by Diane Martin,1988) to provide formal instruction in this fictional language. Elgin's short fiction includes a novella, Lest Levitation Come Upon Us (1982), and pieces published in Alternative Histories (1986), Space Opera (1996), and the annual Fantasy and Science Fiction (multiple years). A short story called "Weather Bulletin" is available online, as are excerpts from various articles she has written for the Linguistics & Science Fiction Network. Also available online is the first chapter of an in-progress textbook version of The Martial Art of Verbal Self-Defense.
Other nonfiction works in progress include The Gentle Art of Verbal Defense at Work, an extensively revised and updated second edition of Success With the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense and The Language Imperative, a book on multilingualism and the power of language. Elgin is also writing a new, as yet untitled novel, and attempting to market The Peacetalk Solution, which she calls "an inspirational novel [or] extended parable." She is also working "in fits and starts" on an autobiography and a book of psalms. Elgin is a self-taught artist who enjoys playing the guitar, singing, drawing, embroidery, and making gourd art in her spare time.
A manuscript collection of Suzette Haden Elgin's papers is housed in the Chater Collection of the Love Library of San Diego State University; additional papers are in the University of Oregon Library in Eugene, Oregon.
CANR (1983). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (1996).
Booklist (1 Feb. 1996). PW (10 May 1993, 12 Dec. 1994). Whole Earth Review (Winter 1989).
—LEAH J. SPARKS