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There was a work about a distant future where people belonged to different castes or tribes based on their education/specialization, and every tribe had their own language. A mathematician would express attraction as e.g. vector, a chemist as valence (?) etc. The languages were so different that people could not understand each other. I remember there was a couple who fell in love with but could not communicate other than by gestures. I think they started to re-create a universal language in secret by the end. I'm not sure if it was a short story, a novella, or a novel, but it feels like it would be on a shorter side. Any ideas?

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    Do you recall about when you read this?
    – DavidW
    Jun 1 at 23:17
  • Maybe around 2000? 2010? Absolutely not sure, sorry.
    – DCD
    Jun 1 at 23:34

2 Answers 2

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This is potentially The Languages of Pao (1958) by Jack Vance.

A linguist is hired to create custom languages to reform the planet of Pao.

From the plot summary on Wikipedia:

Somewhat later, the predatory Brumbo Clan from the planet Batmarsh raids the virtually defenseless Pao with impunity, and the Panarch Bustamonte is forced to pay heavy tribute. To rid himself of the Brumbos, he seeks the aid of Palafox, who has a plan to create warrior, technical and mercantile castes on Pao using customized languages (named Valiant, Technicant and Cogitant) and other means to shape the mindsets of each caste, isolating them from each other and the general populace of Pao. To achieve this, each caste gets a special training area where it is completely segregated from any outside influence; the necessary land is confiscated from families, some of which have held it for countless generations — which creates some disaffection in the conservative Paonese population and earns Bustamonte the name of a tyrant.

Since the castes can't communicate between themselves, there is a corps of translators trained who start to develop their own general language called "Pastiche."

It is a very short novel (barely more than novella length) only 157 pages in the original paperback release.

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  • Thank you! The story I'm looking for did not go into the emergence of the different languages. I think it was a short story, or a novella at maximum. The love between the characters was the start of the plot, I think.
    – DCD
    Jun 1 at 23:09
  • 1
    Fair enough, I'll keep looking.
    – DavidW
    Jun 1 at 23:19
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Possibly Frederick Pohl's My Lady Greensleeves.

Occupational labels have replaced ethnic and religious ones. Thus there is a joke that "You can't hurt a wipe (cleaner) by hitting him over the head", but when one character tries to tell a Jewish joke he is met with the response "What's a Jew?"

It was a novella in Galaxy, but I understand has also been published as a book.

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  • Thank you, but this is not it. The story I remember was much more sanitized and cerebral. The characters were both scientists, and there was no struggle apart from them being unable to understand each other.
    – DCD
    Jun 4 at 2:44

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