Sale announcement, and a short note on “Among Others”

My unclassifiable maybe-flash, maybe-prose poem “Bone Shadows” will appear in the poetry section of the new Interfictions. Sofia Samatar edits the poetry department, so if you have something suitable, please consider sending it to her!

Tangentially, there is an odd blog post on Black Gate entitled “SFF Corruption” in which a blogger is accusing Jo Walton and a few other authors of logrolling the Nebula. He also calls Among Others “banal.” I am not going to argue with this blogger, it is not worth my time. However, I wanted to remark on Among Others. In the interests of full disclosure, I have published a poem by Jo in Stone Telling 3, and have been talking with her on Livejournal, and she has been very kind to me on many occasions. But I am also an extremely critical reader, and it is very hard to get me to vote for anything. I only vote for things that astound me. So. When I was shortlisted for my academic dream job and the campus interview started going south, I stole moments to read Among Others on my Kindle, because it sustained me. I recommended this book to everyone – friends, colleagues, graduate students, undergraduate students, former students. I gave two copies away even though I could not afford it. I discussed the book with academic acquaintances with whom I hardly ever talk about SFF. And heck yeah, I put it on my Nebula ballot. That’s what I do when a work wows me to this degree. And I will continue to do so.

Reprint sale

My Jewish magic realist short story “Seven Losses of Na Re”, which originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction, will be reprinted in Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s feminist speculative fiction anthology.

Small poetry announcement

My two small poetic fragments from the Crow Epic, “The Journeymaker, Climbing” (written for Sonya Taaffe) and “The Journeymaker to Keddar,” will appear in the Winter 2013 edition of Goblin Fruit.

“The Three Immigrations” up at Strange Horizons

My magic realist poem “The Three Immigrations” about real and fantastic immigrations (and languages) is up at Strange Horizons. Many thanks to the SH team for giving it a home.

Languages in contact: Pidgins and Creoles

This started as a discussion on Requires Hate’s blog. RequiresHate questioned, among many other things, Mary Robinette Kowal’s usage of “patois” in a recent story in Apex magazine. Since this is something I happen to know a lot about, I chimed in with comments about language generation through contact, be it in colonial contexts or otherwise.

I feel this is worth reposting here, with slight modifications, to hopefully start a discussion about sociolinguistics and languages in SFF settings, and/or help people think about these issues in more nuanced ways.

Note that this is an entry in specifically about pidgins and creoles. There are other models of languagage generation, language suppression, attrition, and death – if this is of interest, let me know, because this could become a series. In the interests of full disclosure, I am 1) an academic working in this area, 2) a multilingual directly affected by processes of language attrition and death.

Caveat: This is a discussion of languages in contact. This not a place to discuss Mary Robinette Kowal’s story, which I have not read. Please do not derail. Thanks.

Also important: real life situations are significantly more complicated than the exposition below, and there is no unanimous agreement among scholars regarding theory, terminology, and/or specific scenarios. For an in-depth treatment of any of these issues, please consult peer-reviewed literature.


If two linguistic groups are in close contact, new languages may arise. A very common scenario is the process of pidginization/creolization.

A pidgin is usually defined as variant which arises when two or more linguistic groups come in contact. A pidgin usually has simplified vocabulary and syntax; it usually has no native speakers. “Usually” is important, because there are exceptions, such as extended pidgin languages, which have complex vocabulary and syntax. Creoles are commonly said to develop from pidgins that have acquired native speakers (there is a fair bit of nuance and debate here, that I cannot get into); a creole as a rule develops extended vocabulary and syntax in opposition to a pidgin, though a creole that has developed from an extended pidgin (which already has complex vocabulary and syntax) may not change that much. Pidgins are not by definition “temporary languages” that always give way to creoles. Some are long-lived; trade pidgins especially may have a long lifespan.

While pidginization/creolization is a common scenario to language birth through contact, there are other scenarios, such as fusion languages, and other language contact scenarios which do not, strictly speaking, lead to the creation of lasting new variants, such as language attrition and death. All of those processes tend to be of great emotional significance to speakers and cultures, as they directly touch upon issues of identity, belonging, displacement, and access to one’s cultural heritage, which is very often encoded through a specific language or languages. These processes are also very often tied to issues of power, prestige, and hegemony.

Languages do not randomly come in such a close contact as to generate new variants. There are a few common scenarios, most centrally trade, multi-ethnic work environments, slavery, and colonialism. Note that there are more than two sides to this equation, which may be balanced or unbalanced in terms of power, so let us consider each of these scenarios separately.

Trade: a pidgin arises between two or more language groups who engage in trade, e.g.the Yimas-Alamblak pidgin (Tanim Tok) in New Guinea. While pidgins are said to often arise from trade, I personally believe that this is no longer the main scenario for pidginization due to the prominence of colonial processes to language generation. Note that there is no obvious power imbalance in the creation of a trade pidgin – multiple sides participate as equals. Yet power can certainly be a factor even here, when one trade group is for some reason stronger than others.

Multi-ethnic work environments: pidgins can develop in multiethnic crews, e.g. Melanesian Pidgin English was first used by multiethnic whaling ship crews in the Pacific; Fanagalo is a language used by miners and is one of the rare example of Pidgins and Creoles based on an indigenous language (in this case, Zulu) rather than on a colonizing language.

Slavery: not that different from multiethnic work environments except the power balance is completely different. Here, multiple linguistic groups are forced together in a context alien to them, say on a plantation. This scenario is so common that some scholars speak of “plantation creoles.” There has been some recent literature that suggests that many of these creoles started forming already in Africa, in interactions between slave traders and the colonized. Both theories show creolization as a process in which the enslaved form or continue to develop a new language using the colonizing power’s language as its base. An example of this process is Haitian Creole, with French at its base; though the exact processes that gave rise to Haitian Creole are not documented, it is a language that arose as a result of colonialism and slavery, even if trade has been a component at its earliest stages. The process is similar for Gullah Creole, which has English at its base. Some scholars claim that AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) is a Creole, since it shares certain grammatical features with other Creoles and is likely have arisen through similar processes; others dispute this. Note again the power imbalance: such languages tend to draw heavily on the hegemonic language, but the speakers of hegemonic languages look down upon the speakers of such languages (more on this below).

Colonialism: Please consult this list of English Creoles, most of which arose as a result of colonialisms. An English Creole can compete with indigenous languages and may endanger or marginalize the indigenous languages, in a process not dissimilar to that of World Englishes. Again, the power imbalance is present, since this process is a direct result of colonization.

There are additional scenarios, but those are the common ones.


Native speakers of creoles and of other languages that arose from power-unbalanced contact tend to be denigrated by speakers of hegemonic languages. Such words as “jargon,” “slang,” “patois,” “broken language,” “broken speech,” and such adjectives as “low-brow,” “uneducated,” “substandard,” “bastardized,” “backwards,” and others are used to indicate that the native speakers of creoles and other languages that arose through contact phenomena are somehow lesser than native speakers of hegemonic, often colonizing languages. This is so pervasive that even Wikipedia, which is supposed to be unbiased, says this about Haitian creole: “Yet another theory is that in attempt to learn the informal French of the White colonists and the Free black Creoles, African imports butchered the French patois spoken to and around them.”

WTF, Wikipedia?!

We must, we absolutely must think about what it means to perpetuate these linguistic stereotypes.

Every time you hear things like “they are butchering the language”, or “they cannot even speak English properly” said about a native speaker, the processes of power, prestige (often associated with class and race divides), and/or forces of colonialism and oppression are at play through linguistic judgments.

Creoles and similar languages often struggle with recognition and literacy. E.g. Haitian Creole was recognized as a state language only in 1961. French served as literary language, which is to say the language of prestige and literacy was the language of colonizing power. Since literary languages are gateways to status and power through education and advancement, such situations (by no means unique to Haitian Creole) are often stratified by race and class, where the disempowered have less access to a hegemonic language and thus advance less.

I think this is enough theoretical discussion for now.

I grapple with those issues as both an academic and a writer. In my recently finished novel Bridgers, one of the protagonists is a linguist from a marginalized culture who travels to study another marginalized culture. Ulín is not a sociolinguist (sociolinguistics does not exist yet in Birdverse), but when she, for the first time in her life, interviews a lower-status speaker, she discovers that speech can be significantly stratified by class, and that this realization can affect every aspect of our understanding. While Ulín has this realization and is trying to follow where it leads her, the privileged people around her are trying to convince her that only the hegemonic dialect should be studied as the most “pure” and “representative” of what language is.

The book is about more than just linguistics, but I am curious to see what people will think about it.

Questions and thoughts most welcome.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

Mike Allen of Mythic Delirium Books has tagged me to answer ten questions about my current work in progress. Thanks, Mike, for giving me a chance to talk about the novel.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your book?

The current title is Bridgers, but it might not be final. My original title for the project was Languages of Wakewood, which I love, but it no longer works, since the book now includes many other languages.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve been telling myself stories set in Birdverse for the last five years. The stories form a loose arc, a series of tales set in motion by an environmental disaster whose inception goes almost unnoticed, until it suddenly and precipitously deteriorates. I call the arc The Earthkeepers. In the beginning of 2012, I found myself working on a YA novel set fairly close to the end of the arc. The story took me to the east of the landmass, where I have not formerly dared to go. The main character in the YA discovers some very grim and yet exciting things that had happened to her parents at the time of the revolution, seventeen years prior. I became fascinated by the MC’s father, a lice-maker for the government and a broken and frightened man who had once studied languages now dead or forbidden. Something clicked; I needed to know exactly what happened during the revolution, and I realized that the whole arc begins then. I needed to know more about this group of people who called themselves Bridgers – in our terms they are linguists, anthropologists, folklorists, ethnomusicologists – and what they did to bring about the very revolution that eventually outlawed their discipline. I thought, well, I could put the YA on hold for a moment and write a novella about all this. So it began.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Social science fantasy. Oh, wait, there’s no genre like this. Then I guess it’s secondary world fantasy. It really is social science fantasy, though – it tackles social science questions, the process of research, and the evolution of these disciplines within the constraints of my secondary world. The story revolves around linguistics primarily and anthropology second. But it is also fantasy, with deepname magic and dreaming magic and a Bird deity who might or might not exist.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s not a question I feel equipped to answer. I am not a movie person, and I just don’t think in these terms.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

I don’t have an elevator pitch yet. It is hard with a book like this. “A foreign linguist attempts to do fieldwork, gets embroiled in a revolution.” “A linguist discovers her informants are people.” “A linguist discovers her informants are people; sociolinguistics ensue.” See, this is hard, because much as I love Ulín, she is an outsider. There are six other characters who are insiders, and each one of them deserves a pitch. I’ll just have to keep thinking about this.

“A tale of revolution and linguistics, with a bonus lion.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this time I am not planning to self-publish, but I am not ruling this out as a possibility. I am hopeful that my book will find an audience, but I cannot gauge at this point whether it is just the 20 or so people who are already waiting to read it when it’s done, or a larger group.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Bridgers began as a novella, The Languages of Wakewood. I started writing it in mid-February and wrote 30k in two months. I sent it to my wonderful beta-readers for critique, revised, and was dithering when at the end of May Amal El-Mohtar convinced me to expand the novella into a book. She was right – the story needed more space. In addition, I have excluded some characters from the novella because of length restrictions, and they needed to be in the story. As of early October I am still writing (now at 90k, with about 20k still left) and hope to finish the manuscript by the end of the year.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

While I know of no books exactly like this, Bridgers wants to hang out with C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, the work of Ursula Le Guin, and the Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This is a book that stems from my passions, work, and activism. I am a linguist who has been repeatedly told that sociolinguistics is not ‘real’ linguistics. It is too real linguistics that matters to real people in real circumstances every single day. Last semester I’ve been teaching a course on multilingualism, and writing about multilingualisms, language shift, language loss, and language and prestige; these themes are at the core of the book. I am multilingual myself, and a twice-immigrant; those issues are of intense interest to me. The book was set in motion by Shweta Narayan and Amal El-Mohtar, who wanted to read it.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If you like intersectionality: this story is told by people who are disempowered in different ways. They lack magic, they are poor, they are queer, they are renegades, they belong to ethnic and religious minorities. They come from different cultures.

If you like interesting female characters: this book is full of them.

If you want images, then I give you these: four hundred bird-shaped weathervanes rattle on the roof of the university. The names of rivers past. A people who follow the tumbleweed star across the great desert. A lion of fire.

If you want to know more about the protagonists: the heroines are a linguist, disinherited after her loss of magic; a revolutionary in a short sack dress; a peasant who has once killed a bear out of mercy; an artificer who makes mechanical rats and paints them with flowers. And the heroes are a musician who has been forbidden to sing; a folklorist who sews a baby quilt at night; and a killer desperately in love with a woman more ruthless than him and twice his age.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Mike Allen’s responses are found on his blogs (Descent into Light; Livejournal mirror). Tagging Sofia Samatar, Mat Joiner, Ann Leckie, Lisa Bradley, Amal El-Mohtar, and Bogi Takács. You can write about any creative project you are working on, be it a short story, a novel, a novella, a poem, an anthology – anything.


On liminal identities, exclusion, and othering

The general writerly wisdom is that one should never respond to a bad critique. Yet I want to use this one, which is not a critique of my work, to highlight casual othering and exclusion in our communities.

Amal El-Mohtar, who is known to some of you as the editor of Goblin Fruit, Rhysling Award winner, Nebula nominee, and the author of the Honey Month, sometimes volunteers to read for PodCastle. I have a lot of respect for PodCastle, even though I am not much of an audiobook person due to aural processing difficulties. I read for pleasure, but listening to stories is work. So what I am about to say is not a critique of PodCastle.

Enough disclaimers.

Amal has recently recorded Daniel Abraham’s “A Hunter in Arin-Qin” for PodCastle. At the PodCastle forums discussion thread for this story,  one of the comments read: “I’m not a fan of feigned ‘accents’ and this just felt so forced.”

The problem is, of course, that this is Amal’s real accent. Amal is Lebanese-Canadian living in the UK. Her accent is composite. This is how she speaks all the time.

This is, of course, of direct relevance to me: I am yet another person whose accent is composite; people have trouble placing me. It is also of direct relevance to Shweta Narayan, and to a number of other people here.

So yes, all you people with identifiable accents, please think about those of us with those composite, hyphenated identities, those who moved around, absorbed things, maybe lost their language(s) along the way to better fit into a world hostile to liminalities – please think about how it makes us feel to hear our accents – the very voices with which we speak – are feigned, are forced. Are not genuine. Are fake.

Are not real.

Our voices are not real enough, not recognizable enough to be ratified as real. Our voices do not exist. We do not exist.

You think I am taking this to far? Unfortunately I am not, as this not the only example of othering in this thread.

In the very next comment Amal comes in and says, “I’m sorry my reading didn’t hold your attention, but I’m not feigning an accent. That is how I speak.” At this moment, Amal is officially in the thread, present in the conversation.

Yet, a few comments below, she is referred to in the third person. Please peruse the conversation data yourself and see. One of the commenters says, “She is “A Canadian-born child of the Mediterranean….”” (emphasis mine, RL)

Referring to a person who is present in the conversation by the third person (especially the third person pronoun) during any conflict discourse is an exclusionary tactic. I have even written about this in my academic capacity. What it is doing, in sociolinguistic terms, is marking the person (in this case, Amal) as not a ratified participant in the conversation.

Amal herself calls the speakers out on this: “To everyone speculating about my accent — please, guys, stop. I’m right here! It’s weird to read about you trying to figure out my accent’s origins based on my bio as if I’m not participating in this conversation.”

Why does Amal even need to call people out on this? Why must a person’s native, composite accent be accused of falseness, fakery, forcedness? After the speaker comes in and corrects the accuser, why must the exact nature of her accent be questioned and discussed – between the ratified participants, as if Amal herself is not even here?

If you think this is the only occurrence of this, please think again. I have been on the receiving end of such questioning numerous times.  I have been on the receiving end of harassment because of my accent, in this community. We are not the only ones.

We are people. Just like you. Please think about this.

Stone Telling 8: Together, Apart

Together, Apart is an issue that we are especially proud of. It comes out at a personally difficult time for both of us, and it comes after three very focused themed issues. Frankly, I was apprehensive about having an open-themed issue follow these, but we feel that it works powerfully, building upon and elaborating on themes that are at the core of Stone Telling. I hope you enjoy this issue!




Special thanks, as always, go to our tireless assistant editor Jennifer Smith, and our indomitable interviewer Julia Rios, whom we also congratulate on her new role as a Strange Horizons fiction co-editor.

Poetry, and Sofia Samatar

My Birdverse poem, “I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz,” will appear in the Summer 2013 issue of Goblin Fruit.

In other news, “The Moment of Change has been reviewed by Belle DiMonté at Cabinet des Fées: “This anthology is, quite simply, beautiful and transcendent in every sense.” Hurray for us!

A highlight of four pieces by Sofia Samatar: Burnt Lyric, at Goblin Fruit; Honey Bear at Clarkesworld; A Brief History of Nonduality Studies at Expanded Horizons; and The Hunchback’s Mother, at inkscrawl 4. Sofia has also revealed the wonderful cover of her forthcoming book, A Stranger in Olondria, at her blog; to say that I am waiting for it is an understatement.

Poetry sale, +

My longish poem about real and fantastical immigrations, appropriately titled “The Three Immigrations,” will appear in Strange Horizons.

In other news, Weird Fiction Review reviewed The Moment of Change:

This is a stunning collection of poetry, of deeply felt, painstakingly crafted expressions of doubt, hope, fear, courage, transformation, transgression, and other emotions and experiences that beg to be given form. More than that, though, it’s also a strong, undeniable collection of voices, all of which make their own individual cases to be heard. As such, this isn’t the kind of collection a reader should try to rush through in the span of a day or two. They need to take their time to listen to those voices and understand why they need to listen to what they say.


In yet other news, the Clockwork Phoenix Kickstarter is now close to paying pro rates. I am promoting this project because I believe there should be more weird, daring, unclassifiable fiction in the world, and I know Mike Allen will deliver. I loved Mythic 1 and 2, and the Clockwork Phoenix series.

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Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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