Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.
About Mother Tongue.
The new dictator of the Ark – a society which exists in a world destroyed by Global Warming – wants to silence speech forever. People with fewer words are less able to argue back. Letta is a wordsmith. It is her job to keep words safe and to pass them on to the next generation. Letta and her followers are fighting back by forming hedge schools, and passing words on to those children who are willing to risk their security to learn.
Then the babies start to go missing.
This is high on my list of recent dystopia. We are now ten years on from The Hunger Games and it is important that young adult literature reflects the issues and discussions of the current day. Mother Tongue picks up on the disparity in society between those who have access to books and writing and words in childhood, and those who don’t. It shows a world where language education is purposely limited to all but a ruling minority.
It is terrifyingly close to the bone. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has highlighted statistics that show that children on free school meals are twice as likely to go to a school without a library. And adult education, which once enabled people to sit A-Levels through night classes, or attend university without getting into major debt, has been reduced to the bare minimum. The result is a lack of social mobility and a society willing to support those who appear to have knowledge
Letta is a fantastic protagonist. The dystopia of ten years ago featured lots of characters whose anger was shown as a strength. Letta is contemplative, doubting of herself but firm in her resolve. Her strength comes from a rounded mix of qualities.
I am delighted that author Patricia Forde has written a post about the power of words. Thank you Patricia for your time, and to Little Island Books for arranging this opportunity.
The Power of Words by author Patricia Forde.
Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.
This was a song we sang in the playground as children. Even then I think we knew it was untrue. The bruises and wounds caused by the sticks and stones healed, and before they healed, everyone could see the marks and sympathise. The words that hurt us left no visible mark and elicited no sympathy, but buried deep inside us, they festered.
Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.
So said the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his inauguration speech at the beginning of his second term in office. Through words, we can share our ideas, change people’s minds, support or destroy our fellow human beings.
Looking at history, we can trace the power of words, through the speeches of great orators. Who can forget Nelson Mandela’s famous speech where he said that he would die for that which he believed in?
I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Mandela’s words echoed the earlier words of Martin Luther King in his most iconic I have A Dream speech.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
In my novel The Wordsmith and its companion book Mother Tongue, John Noa, leader of Ark, has rationed words. People are only allowed to choose from a list of five hundred words on pain of death. The words on the list are mostly practical. There are no words for emotion: no belief, no hope, no love. No words to persuade, no words to properly interrogate, no words to raise a rebellion. John Noa knew the power of words. In The Wordsmith Letta, the young protagonist, asks Noa to include the word hope on the list but Noa refuses. Noa knew that to encourage hope was to encourage the possibility of change.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Throughout his political career he was a committed activist for gay rights and became famous for his Hope Speeches. This is an extract from one of them:
Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.
We are the only species that can plant ideas in one another’s heads and we don’t even need a scalpel. Today, Donald Trump has weaponised words. He talks about illegal immigrants infesting America. Immigrants are referred to as dogs and criminals. He uses words to belittle women and to divide people. Words are his weapons. But words can be used for good or ill. For Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, words are also weapons – weapons that might save the planet. Speaking at a United Nations summit recently she denounced world leaders for their inertia when it came to climate change.
How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.
You could almost see people in the chamber duck as the shrapnel from her speech ricocheted off the walls around them. Words are dangerous. That is why powerful people have always feared them.
I will leave the last word to Winston Churchill, a man who had many faults but who knew much about power and much about language.
You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. … Yet in their hearts there is unspoken—unspeakable!—fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse—a little tiny mouse!—of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.