What are the four degrees of foreignness?
February 18, 2004 9:00 AM   Subscribe

A coworker is trying to think of a quote on the degrees of strangeness from a SF book. Its to do with some Scandinavian (maybe) concept of 4 kinds of strangers - totally unknown, of your species, of your tribe, of your family, or something along those lines. [MI]

It is bugging me because it's so familiar that I think it was in something I've read in the past six months or so. He seems to think it's from a LeGuin book, but i haven't ready any LeGuin in years, so I'm not sure if that's where it is from.
posted by gilgamesh to Human Relations (6 answers total)
It's one of the books in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series. I think it's from the second, Speaker for the Dead--some of the early part of the book is set on a planet which is heavily influenced by Scandinavian culture. I don't have it with me at the moment, so I can't look up the exact quote.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:09 AM on February 18, 2004

Response by poster: Ah, that's it! I breezed through the Enders series about five months ago, so that's were I must have seen it.
posted by gilgamesh at 9:11 AM on February 18, 2004

Utlanning, framling, raman, varelse. You can look up these terms at the Philotic Web's encyclopedia section.
posted by kindall at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2004

"Demosthenes' History of Wutan in Trondheim: The Nordic language recognizes four orders of foreignness. The first is the otherlander, or utlanning, the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the framling... This is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is the raman, the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the varelse, which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it. "
posted by sharksandwich at 12:27 PM on February 18, 2004

Weird stuff. I'm Norwegian and I've never thought of the idea that we have "four degrees of strangeness" embedded in our language or any other scandinavian language. I mean, I've never thought that our distinctions are any different than anyone else's distinctions. "Varelse" sounds closest to the word for "creature" or "being" meaning it does not specify a species. The other words seem pretty basic as well - "foreigner," "stranger"... i can't figure out what "raman" is supposed to be, but at any rate... how is this concept unique?
posted by edlundart at 12:51 PM on February 18, 2004

It's not unique, but one of the standard techniques of sf is to take some mildly thought-provoking concept that might not excite much interest if you said it in plain English and make it enticing and memorable by clothing it in some foreign culture/language. (I'm not mocking this; it's a very useful way of going about things. In fancy lit-crit terms it's called Verfremdung or alienation, but you can call it Al.)
posted by languagehat at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2004

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