The Languages of Pao – Jack Vance

The Languages of Pao

The Languages of Pao



A science fiction examination of the Sapir-Whorf theory that language shapes thought – a neighbouring planet introduces three caste-specific langauges to Pao.


I first read this book a long time ago. It was my first exposure to the idea that language shapes not just how one says things, but what it is possible to say and think. I was tremendously impressed.

Vance takes that idea, and runs with it. While I wouldn’t say that this is a complete examination of the concept, he does apply it with a certain amount of rigor, and the result is striking.

The setting is typically Vancian, if a bit less overt than usual, and a little more on the adventurous side. Women barely get a look in, and the one woman who does is to some extent a loose thread.

I didn’t like the book as much this time around, but I’ve left the rating untouched because of its initial impact, and because it’s one of the few examples of Vance preferring concept over mood and setting.

All that sounds a bit gloomy, but the fact is I thought this book was tremendously powerful on first read, with a concept that I thought about for years. Beyond that, it’s a well-written Vancian adventure, and that’s always worth reading. Recommended.

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