Monday, December 05, 2005

Conlang - Joyce as she is spoke.

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James Joyce by belgian artist Ever Meulen.

I'm reading a little French book called 'Le Phalanstère des langages excentriques' by Stéphane Mahieu published this year by Ginkgo éditeur. This little gem deals with different invented languages, but it doesn't stop with the obvious esperanto, interlingua or volapük.

For an overview of resources on constructed languages, see this wikipedia portal or the excellent site Conlangs, which also lists a collection of new alphabets and of english neologisms (John Lloyd& Douglas Adams' Meaning of Liff is in it and much more). Also of importance for neo-languages: the site offers a generous amount of resources.

  • Zamenhof first thought of esperanto in 1887 as a way to stop the hate between the four communities in his native town Byalistof, where people spoke Russian, Polish, Hebrew and German.
  • Volapük, created in 1879 by Johann Martin Schleyer seems a strange combination of different european languages, mixed up in such a complicated a way that it seems impossible for any european to find any relationship with its own language. Log means eye, Yulop means Europa, badik means bad… A prayer frightingly sounds like some Lovecraftian incantation: "O Fat obas, kel binol in süls, paisaludomöz nem ola! Kömomöd monargän ola! Jenomöz vil olik, äs in sül, i su tal! Bodi obsik vädeliki govolös obes adelo! E pardolös obes debis obsik, äs id obs aipardobs debeles obas. E no obis nindukolös in tendadi; sod aidalivolös obis de bas. Jenosöd!" (Ia‘! Ia‘!)
  • Basic-English was created in 1930 by C.K. Ogden according to whom a vocabulary of 850 words would suffice instead of the 25,000 proposed by the Oxford Pocket English Dictionary. Masochists can read the bloody rape of Gulliver or (more fun) of the bible. Kinda like Orwell's newspeak, Ogden's invention partakes in a long tradition of utilitarianism which started with Jeremy Bentham.
  • Interlingua was created in 1951 as the common ground between all the roman languages, and as such seems fairly easy to use for all french, italian, spanish-speaking people, but yet another difficult tongue for all the others. The same International Auxiliary Language association also invented Ido in 1907 as a reaction to esperanto.

It's a long way since Hildegard von Bingen invented Lingua Ignota in the 12th century!

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The alphabet of Hildegard von Bingen's Lingua Ignota.

Those heavily structured synthetic tongues seem rather to account for a poor communication because of a restrained vocabulary and unbreakable grammar rules.

In contrast, James Joyce showed a dazzling deepness in the multi-layered meanings of his text of Finnegan's Wake. By combining expressions, words, sounds and meanings from different languages in an amazing insight which seems to reach beyond any possible erudition but rather appears to grow from a deeper consciousness, he offered a study-object for life for anyone who dares to try to dig it. It can appeal to non-english readers as well with a bit more effort.

Now in the previous mentioned booklet references are made to many french-speaking authors who seem to have walked a similar path.

I do appreciate the more ludic inventions, especially Ken Campbell's Wol Wontok, a variation of pidgin, a language apparently created about 150 years ago when south-seas tribesmen slaves, captured and segregated from others of their own tongue by the British. They developed a language with no tense or grammar, by listening to their apparently Irish guards. Campbell claims that he can teach the entire language in 24 hours and has re-written Shakespeare's Macbeth in Pidgin.


ting ting=deep thought (thought about thought)


ting ting blong ting ting

(deep thought belonging to deep thought)


On the subject of other languages, Campbell says "You know that [linguistic] organization where things are masculine, feminine or neuter, and ridiculously so in German, so you might say, 'Where is the turnip?' and the reply might be, 'She is in the kitchen.' And then you say, 'Where is the young English maiden?' and the reply would be, 'It has gone to the opera.'"

It should be noted that mr. Campbell is appears on most Fortean Unconventions and wrote a cycle of five plays based on Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy which were shown in Liverpool starting on 23rd November 1976 with each play lasting 23 minutes.

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Ken Campbell and Chris Langham in Illuminatus!

Europanto was imagined as a pun by italian translator Diego Marani in the '90s by mixing words from random languages from the european community. "Europanto esse un pidgin gemade von multe Europish langage, que chaquebody with un gemutfeeling por dies lange verstand possé." Strangely this goofy expression seem quite easy to understand for both romanophiles and germanophiles. Now that Europe is growing outside of Europe I suppose latuan, croatian and turkish words amongst others could also be used.

1. The sources.

The booklet mentions many references.
One important source was "Dictionnaire des langues imaginaires" by Paolo Albani and Berlinghiero Buonarroti published by Les Belles Lettres in 2001. First published in Italy as "Aga magèra difùra: Dizionario delle lingue immaginarie" by Zanichelli in 1994. In this book the serious analysis of Chomsky stands next to the grammar of über-kook Jean-Pierre Brisset. 500 authors, from Aristophanes to Swift, Rabelais, Joyce, Borges; 1100 languages from the totally imaginary to the expressions of children or mediums, experimentations or languages issued from SF or fantasy tales. "Agonou dont oussys vou denaguez algarou, nou den farou zamist vous maristou ulbrou, fousquez vou brol tam bredaguez moupreton den goul houst, daguez dagez nou croupys fost bardounoflist nou grou. Agou paston tol nalprissys hourtou los ecbatanous prou dhouquys brol panygou den bascrou noudous caguous goulfren goul oust troppassou." says Panurge in Rabelais' Pantagruel in the tongue of Tomas More's Utopia.

"Essai sur les langues naturelles et les langues artificielles" was written by Albanian writer and diplomat Faïk Konitza (1876-1942), nicknamed 'mobile encyclopedia' by his friend Apollinaire. In this book Konitza examines artificial 'universal languages' and clarifies "the artificial tongue uses words in their objective value, and the words recieving this static role can only be used in pure affirmation or rigid negation. What's more, because these languages tend to be used easily, they need an uniformity in the grammar which doesn't permit any freedom. Things can only be said in one previously defined manner."

"La Langue verte et la cuite, étude gastrophonique sur la marmythologie musiculinaire" by Noël Arnaud and Asger Jorn. Arnaud (1909-2003, France) was for years one of the two most important members of the Collège de 'Pataphysique (the other one being the secret founder), this extremely erudite writer, worldwide Jarry specialist and expert on modern art was a member of dada, then of the french surrealist movement and cofounder with Asger Jorn and Guy Debord of the Situationnist movement. I had the privilege to hear him from the audience on the presentation of the book "Les fous littéraires" by André Blavier (if English-speaking people need only one reason to learn french, this huge book is like Borges' book of sand for real!) in Brussels. Jorn (1914-1973, Denmark) is mostly known as a painter, member of Cobra since 1948 and of the Internationale situationiste since 1957.

"The Search for the Perfect Language (The Making of Europe)" by Umberto Eco, 1997 Blackwell Publishers. From the amazon review: "In this erudite study, which will be heavy going for most readers, famed Italian novelist and linguist Eco mines a wealth of esoteric lore as he investigates a neglected chapter in the history of ideas. He begins with Dante's proposal for a universal vernacular in place of Latin, and Catalan friar Raymond Lull's combinatorial system of letters and symbols designed to explore metaphysical connections. He goes on to examine the Kabbalistic search for hidden messages in sacred Hebrew texts, the Rosicrucian society's symbolic writing in 17th-century Germany and French Enlightenment thinkers' invention of philosophical languages organized around fundamental categories of knowledge. He also surveys the search for a primordial language assumed by Augustine to be Hebrew and by later mother tongue-seekers to be Aramaic or various other languages. "

2. The writers.

2.1. Altagor.

Altagor (pseudonym of Jean Vernier, 1915 - 1982) formerly a mechanic and miner, later writer of thrillers, poet, painter, mathematician, inventor of music instruments and chess player, he created "Métapoésie", abstract poetry composed of invented words which nevertheless use only sounds of the French language. Later on he also created "Parole Transformelle", which used all the possible vocal sounds. The text "Discours Absolu" lasts about six hours and was composed between 1947 and 1960. He stood at the margins of the lettrist movement, and considered the better known Isidore Isou as his opponent. Later on Altagor started to hate Raymond Queneau as well since was considered by him as a 'fou littéraire' or kook. He did write a poem, "Simonia", of 2000 pages and was not devoid of any paranoïa…

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Altagor in a collage by himself.

2.2. Jean Dubuffet.

Born in Le Havre in 1901, Dubuffet became famous for his paintings and installations as a leading figure in what he called 'l'Art Brut'. But he was also a extensive writer. His first manuscript dates back to 1948: "Ler dla canpane" (the air from the countryside), in 1950 he wrote "Anvouaiaje, Labonfam abeber" (traveling, the wife of Béber) and "Plu kifekler mouinkon nivoua" (the more there is light, the less we see). In later documents he uses poetry, portmanteau words and puns to study the working of language in combination with the calli / typography and the lay-out: "La lunette farcie" in 1950, "La Botte à nique" in 1973 (Nick's boot - botany) and "Bonpiet beau neuille" in 1984. Between 1962 and 1974 he works on the cycle of the "Hourloupe", for which paintings, sculptures, installations and texts are made. The starting point were droodles drawn while answering the phone, accompanied by an imaginary slang. His friend Raymond Queneau wrote about his works and let him enter the Collège de 'Pataphysique. Which he simply left for a disagreement a few years later, an unique (and very 'pataphysical) act for such a prominent optimat. He died in 1985.

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view on the entrance of the 'cabinet logologique', 1974

2.3. André Martel.

Probably the most elaborate french-speaking author of Joycean inspiration, André Martel (1893 - 1976), a member of the collège de 'Pataphysique, secretary of Dubuffet (who would enthousiastically illustrate his books), called himself 'Martelandre' and invented the 'Paralloïdre'. A (french) study can be found here, linking his word-games with child games and with esoteric formulas. "Cequeuj vadire au làdans, cé l'épope d'un macrozoandre nautilant aux embasses des sombrezondes. O ! Lector cardiami ! Viénalici danlamienne lyrole cantafabule. E fluxons en librélan battifol jusque zo nymoder coronopus. Cepadans, entention ! Encette fure imagicienne, zondic : Rienensur ! Toutensoute" Paralloïdre is in the first place an inventive way of expression, without rules but playing on different levels and very witty. Most of his texts can be found online. He wrote "La djingine du theopheles" in 1954, "Le mirivis des naturgies" in 1963 and "Gorgomar" in 1974. Martel was keen to analyze his own poetry, naming his techniques 'bloconyme': the addition of several words into one, sometimes with permutation; 'autosoude', adding only some elements of different words; and 'nigaudisation' adding french accents to words making them sound silly (something Alfred Jarry did in some of his texts). Martel was so involved with his language that he started to use it everyday in his speaking, and found enough correspondents to write him letters in the same creative tongue.

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3. The dérive.

The story goes translators are sought for some inmates in an Oregon asylum. For some reason, the only language these people are still able to communicate is Klingon, an imaginary tongue used in episodes of Star Trek.

Let's also mention the obsession with Quenya or other elfish tongues, originating in books of JRR Tolkien. Sadly all those expressions have one common ground: the money that can be made out of it. That's entertainment…

In 1966, an extraterrestrial entity phones Fernando Sesma. He claims to come from the planet Ummo symbolized by the sign )|(. The ummite letters ditated to him displayed an intricate philosophical system, together with scientifical topics and information about the ummite language, later on examined by 'Jean Pollion'. In ummite every sound expresses a concept. 'A' stands for action, 'D' for emanation, 'U' for unity. "UUDAA" is the word for water, because "UU" = dependency and "DAA" = liquid: a form D of equal elements AA. In this language, all expression must be seriously thought of in functional components. Objects are only defind by their function. The Ummo texts boosted forth some very wacky movements and sects

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The Ummo alphabet

In 1943 the American Army published the 'French Language Guide' (ref. TM-30-302). It tried to write phonetically with the regular alphabet, using american sounds to try to produce French. "Juh nuh KAWN-prahng pa" was probably the most used sentence. Germans seem to have made similar booklets for their troops in France. They didn't really help them to become popular.

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In a similar vein Eugène Ionesco was asked to provide texts for the french manual 'mise en train' (The Macmillan Lmt, London, 1969) for american students. The author of 'The Bald Soprano', 'Rhinoceros' and 'The Chairs' provided students with completely insane dialogues: "Thomas: Bonjour, docteur. X2: Pardon, je ne suis pas le docteur. Je suis la porte d'entrée du bâtiment principal. Entrez, entrez. Thomas: Bonjour, docteur. X3: Je ne suis pas le docteur, je suis l'escalier."

A great parody on conversational guides can be found in The Zompist Phrasebook. Here you'll find essentail translations in Spanish, German and French of sentences like "It's better in the States. Don't you speak English? There's a corpse on the bed. Please change the sheets. Has your nose always been that way? Girls with big mazongas usually can't rhumba so well. My wife fell overboard about ten miles back. One order of fermé le mercredi, please."

The best achievement in this category will always be Monty Python's hungarian phrasebook!

"Hungarian: "Ya! See-gar-ets! Ya! Uh ... my hovercraft is full of eels."

Clerk: "Sorry?"

Hungarian: "My hovercraft ..." (pantomimes puffing a cigarette) "... is full of eels." (pretends to strike a match)

Clerk: "Ahh, matches!"

Hungarian: "Ya! Ya! Ya! Ya! Do you waaaaant ... do you waaaaaant ... to come back to my place, bouncy-bouncy?"

Sometimes reality goes further than fiction. In 1874 the book 'Klíè k francouszké mluvnici' was published in Czechoslovakia which used a method called 'Ollendorff-Grellepois' to teach French. Translated into English, the dialogues sound like coming out of an asylum: "Does the German own the beautiful umbrellas of the Italians? He does, but he doesn't have the Turkish. The Germans, what do they have? They have corn and horses, but no vessels. Do the French have friends? They do, but the Spanish have no friends. The Spanish, what do they have? They have good donkeys."

And half con artist, half incompetent publisher, Pedro Caronilo published 'O Nova Guia da Conversacao, em Portugez e Inglez' in 1855. Free of any knowledge of the English, he used a Portugese-French dictionary and a French-English guide, publishing a collection of texts that could result from misusing online translations like Babelfish of Free Translation. "The commander Forbin of janson, being at a repast with a celebrated Boileau, had undertaken to pun him upon her name:--"What name," told him, "carry you thither? Boileau: I would wish better to call me Drink wine." The poet was answered him in the same tune:--"And you, sir, what name have you choice? Janson: I should prefer to be named John-Meal. The meal don't is valuable better than the furfur?" Later on this book was published as 'The English as she is spoke', with a foreword by Mark Twain. On, English As She Is Spoke vs. Babelfish compares the translation failures between both.

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Bogus Magus said...

What a fantastic collection of resources and ideas, Borsky! Thanks.

I don't want to seem pedantic, but I saw Ken Campbell's Illuminatus! plays at the National, and 5 plays lasted 10-12 hours, so unless I spent an awful long time in the bar between plays (entirely possible) each play lasted more than 23 minutes....

borsky said...

You lucky man, you! I suppose this is a good example of perception of time according to your brilliant Time Piece in Maybe Quarterly vol 2 # 3!
( )
Actually I misread the text at which mentions five nights, each consisting of five times 23 minutes, which adds up to 575 minutes or 9 hours 35 minutes which with the necessary pauses indeed should last about 12 hours.

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