Study Guide

Stranger in a Strange Land Language and Communication

By Robert A. Heinlein

Language and Communication

Brace yourselves for an awesome metaphor. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Dr. Mahmoud refers to language as the map one uses to see the world. It leads characters to where they are going, helps them know where they've been, and gives them a reference point to where they are. The major problem Mike confronts when he first comes to Earth, and throughout his journey, is that his map is so crazily different from everyone else's. Where he sees marriage and brotherhood, others see sinful sexual congress. What he defines as God, others define as blasphemy. By teaching humans the Martian language, Mike is able to create a place in this strange world. And now, finally, his map shares some reference points with others, and he's no longer the stranger. Or is he?

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Mahmoud and Jubal call language the "map" that determines how we see the world. How do we see language guide Mike through his journey? Does language determine worldview in more minor characters, like Duke or Anne? What do you think of the idea of language determining your worldview?
  2. Not all language is expressed in the same way, right? So what's the relationship between written language and verbal language in Stranger in a Strange Land?
  3. The word grok is perhaps the most important word in the Martian language because of the vast significance the act of grokking holds in Martian community. Think of a word that is of super-mega-ultra importance in your own community (could be a religious community, your school, the area you live, whatever you choose). Why is this word so important to that community? If you had to explain this word and its importance to an outsider—let's say a Martian—how would you go about it?

Chew on This

It's possible that Mahmoud's "map" example is backwards. Maybe language doesn't determine the way we see the world. Instead, the way we view the world does determine our choices in language.

Jubal is the only central character who doesn't undergo a major change in the novel. This is because he's the only one who refuses to learn the Martian language—stubborn much?

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