The Sapir-Whorf theory says that language does not just influence how we think but has an incredible degree of influence. “Native Tongue” and “Babel-17” typically top this list. For example, in “Babel-17” learning a new language makes you smarter but makes you loyal to an enemy faction, as well. In the book “Native Tongue”, a new language is crafted to change minds about the current social system and, more pragmatically, communicate without others knowing what you’re saying. “The Languages of Pao” demonstrates how separate languages keep people apart, each in their linguistic ghetto until a small group crafts a common language. There are other works, though, that represent Sapir-Whorf theory that don’t make the list.

 

“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein

Forget learning a language and becoming smarter. Learn Martian, gain magical powers. It is hard to beat that level of transformation if you abandon your human ways of thinking. It is from this book that the term “grok” entered the popular vernacular. The movie “Arrival” reminds me of “Stranger in a Strange Land”, since the aliens gives you superpowers, too. In that case, it is the ability to see the future, laws of biology and physics all be damned.

 

“1984” by Orwell

Here’s the Newspeak dictionary, you risk arrest and disappearance if you use the old words. Big Brother commands it. It is notable for the author explaining repeatedly the logic for banning words and designing words to reflect the desired political views. This book is regularly invoked when you want to say some political group is fascist or oppressive. Yet I don’t hear it discussed regarding how it reflects Sapir-Whorf theory.

 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Atwood

She’s not homosexual, no, she’s a gender-traitor. You aren’t a forced surrogate, you’re a handmaid. You’re made to serve on her hand and foot in every way. It isn’t an execution but a salvaging, as if we’re salvaging their soul while killing the body or saving society from the person we’re killing for blasphemy.

The intentional use of euphemisms to minimize horrors, reinforce social roles and train us to feel a certain way about things is considered by the narrator and thus communicated to us.

When those in power say they alone are acting in love, every other group’s opinions is hate speech.  And it trains people to be against those views and assume negative intentions of the other side. The terrible irony is that the people wearing Handmaid’s outfits are doing the same thing fictional Gilead did, but for a different oppressive worldview.

What other books would you add to this list?