Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Invented Language (1954)

So, in 1954 a man born in the 1890s and widely known as a critic, despite having a few literary pieces appear over the years, published a fantasy in a medieval setting which included passages in an invented language.

I refer, of course to --- Edmund Wilson.

The work in question, a play called CYPRIAN'S PRAYER, was inspired by a Frank Stockton story. It's a sort of 'sorcerer's apprentice' story, and while on the whole I think best left in its well-deserved obscurity, the passages in his invented language add an interesting touch. The main character, having made a pact with the devil, finds himself saddled with three annoying imps as assistants. From time to time, they or some of the other infernal characters speak in what Wilson describes as "their native diabolic language". Here's a sample:

The Little Devils, emboldened now, come out and

begin to jeer at him in their native diabolic language.

BONGO. Mákka-nánya oónya gígna-weésta!

STINGO. Mákka-nányi gánzi gleésta-gleésta!

SLINGO. Gánza wíddi-wíddi skímba-nímbi!

ALL (pointing and prolonging the vowels

in a final intensive insult).

Nímba-nambáyanyi-neeésta neeésta!

(They break into derisive laughter.)

and here's another

JEZEBEL (to the Little Devils).


and another.

LUIGI (hypnotic and soothing).

Abátha amátha-náthas.

(Per-emptorily and sharply)

Jezebel, amákkin-tákkyulak knáthas!

Now, for all I know this might be a real-world language,* though I doubt it (when Wilson tells us in a stage direction that the word "strúmpstharso" should be stressed on the syllable "strúmpsth" that seems to be pretty clearly a slightly garbled version of 'strumpet' (particularly since the line's addressed to Jezebel). Similarly, "Zoop-zoop!" as a scornful dismissal sounds suspect to me. And it might be a pre-existent artificial language, though again I doubt it. I suspect it's simply highly detailed gibberish, which Wilson has gone to some pains to spell as phonetically as possible.

So, any created-language linguists out there interested in taking on the challenge of deciphering Wilson's 'diabolic' speech?**

--John R.

*according to the Poe Principle, as set down in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the very fact that it sounds like language helps confirm that it is gibberish.

**of which there are several more examples in dialogue.

No comments: