A Portrait of the Conlanger as a Young Man

This is the story about how a young, awkward boy started on a journey that would occupy the rest of his life.  The story starts in September, 1998, when the boy developed a devastating crush on Beatrice Portinari, a girl in his keyboarding class.  This infatuation led to a single sentence written in a school notebook, and that sentence contains the grammatical and phonetical foundation of the language Angosey.  This boy is me, of course, and Angosey is the language I created fourteen years ago.

Before I get to the Beatrice part let me give a little background.  In sixth grade, I wrote a 60-odd page “novel” in  a spiral notebook.  It was originally intended to be a Star Wars novel, but better: it featured not only star destroyers but “star annihilators” facing each other in various battles in the Republic of the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Our hero was Jim Angus, a Han Solo type who took time off from studying volcanoes to battle ill-defined “rebels” in a newly discovered star system.  Jim splits his time between saving settlements from eruptions to survey the enigmatic planet Angius, a world whose name comes from “an ancient word meaning ‘life'”.  At first, the novel states that Angius lacked civilization, but over time we meet ‘Angiusans’ who bear a telling resemblance to my beloved black and white cat Angus.

I entered seventh grade still working on this rambling monolith while avidly struggling against the clutches of puberty, which in my mind had no purpose but to disrupt my carefully balanced world.  Unfortunately for me, I had signed up for keyboarding class, little knowing that the battle had been lost before it had even been properly joined.  I won’t call it love (what is the English word for love at that age anyway?) but after a few weeks in class with Beatrice, I knew I was in trouble.

I was a shy child, so the thought of talking to her terrified me.  I didn’t want to talk to too many friends about it either,because then the news would spread and I would have to go even deeper into social exile.  Luckily for me, I had recently invented a series of codes, so I finally settled on a mixture of numeric (A=1, B=2) and cursive symbol substitution to write down my secret.  I also found a pleasing anagram for her name through one of my codes, and I could write that everywhere without fear of detection.  But no matter what new symbol system I came up with, there was always something missing, something wrong:  English just simply didn’t have the words to saywhat I needed to say.  So sometime in early September, I wrote the following:

Aria zkiro Algialtha

However, there was a problem with this sentence.  I had decided that Algialtha meant “Beatrice” and that “zkiro” meant “beautiful,” but the words were in the wrong order!  Never dreaming that some languages put the verb first, I assumed that “aria” meant Of _____ is _____, so in other words:  “Of beauty is Algialtha.”  Other than that initial problem, I was quite pleased with the way it sounded.  It had all sorts of fantasy novel “a”, “l”, “r”, and “th” sounds as well as a wonderfully odd “zk”.  Aria zkiro Algialtha got written on a few notebooks from seventh grade (somewhere in there Algialtha became Algihaltha), and I did write a new sentence “Isa alzo Algihaltha”.  It meant “I like Algihaltha” and had the normal subject-verb-object word order that we English speakers think is the only sensible way of doing things.

I didn’t do much more with the language for the next two years other than name it “Angosian”, invent a small vocabulary list that I never used,  and write random cryptic phrases that I couldn’t even translate.  But after 9th grade, I decided to leave Socorro
High School and attend Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  That school did for me what Hogwarts did for Harry Potter: it gave me a world that valued the very eccentricity that had plagued me back in my home town.  I dared to think crazy ideas; halfway through my sophomore year I wrote a half page treatise on a binder divider titled THE NEW ANGOSIAN GRAMMAR.

I hardly knew how to write a grammar from scratch, so I based it off of the purest example of Angosey I knew:  Aria zkiro Algihaltha.  After much pre-google googling I also discovered The Language Construction Kit and learned to my absolute
astonishment that some languages have verbs first.  Clearly Angosey must be one of these.  And after suffering through a horrid semester of French, I retaliated by decreeing that Angosey would not have conjugations.  No conjugations!  Take that, French!

My first writings show a very bare-bones language:

Dantaia isah a’keieth
A’Allathra lazro’a drelai
Zirah isah enaiar
Zirah isah kerak

Dream I of’rain
Of’God-and desert-and silver
See I past
See I future

“I dream of rain, of silver deserts, I see what was, I see what shall be”

Angosey was limited to very simple translations at this point.  It just lacked the grammatical tools to do anything beyond a few lines.  All this changed in the fall of my Junior year, when a friend of mine asked me to translate a love poem she had written
to her (recently ex) boyfriend.  The poem is about as profound as one might expect of a lovelorn adolescent, but all the same it is traditional for me to retranslate it every time I overhaul my grammar simply because it was Angosey’s first major test.  This is because I had to come upwith a grammatical framework to handle a poem full of complicated images.  I did it, though it took me six revisions to straighten out all the kinks.  Here’s an example sentence:

Ayria na amei anazirathya set emzirael esa amidantaiya, ra araneth amsena sa’alrethai isah ayla analeth amithetra.

Is like ocean your-eyes that I-see in my-dreams, and when you-stand with’me is in nothing world.

“Your eyes are like an ocean that I have only seen in my dreams, and when you stand beside me there is nothing in my world.”

Most of the poem is in a similar vein, but after translating it I had the ability to take on much larger texts, and so I did.  This is because the basic grammatical underpinnings of my language were in place:  I was now able to translate anything I wanted. I will not bore you with more blow-by-blow accounts of how Angosey developed; I may touch on salient points in a different post.  Suffice to say that the still somewhat Englishy Angosey of the above translations was worked and reworked over the years, with many additions and some subtractions, to yield a language so strange it sometimes surprises even me.  So what is Angosey like now?  Here’s a list of some of its more exotic aspects:

1. It really doesn’t care about time.  So past tenses “He said” or  “they ran” are often dropped.
2. It does care about emotional connection, and marks for it in grammar.
3. Normal genders like “he” and “she” are completely absent:  all gender is relative to the speaker.  So a woman calls a woman by the same pronoun as a man calls a man, likewise a man calls a woman by the same pronoun she would call him by.
4. It marks for evidentiality: you can tell from the grammar how the speaker knows about what he or she is saying.
5. It has ergativity.
6. It has postpositions instead of prepositions-they conjugate and can even take tenses.
7. It has six noun classes:  Physical, Emotive, Situational, Spatial, Temporal, and Abstract.
8. It counts by 28s instead of 10s.
9. It has a click.

And today is the de facto birthday of Angosey.  It is 14 years old today.

Danny Bowman
aka
Jim Angus
aka
James Murray Antayaga
aka
The Glossarch

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About glossarch

The word "glossarch" doesn't exist. At least, not yet. But let's pretend it does for a second. The first part is "gloss," a word that comes to us from Ancient Greek via Latin and English. It means "language." The second part also comes from Ancient Greek and can mean "having power over." So "glossarch" means simply "language controller." So what am I doing making up words? Well, I made up an entire language once. It's called Angosey. So I'm the Glossarch of Angosey. I'm currently a doctorate student in volcano seismology (a branch of geophysics). I enjoy writing fiction and poetry, launching balloons, programming, and hanging out with my lovely wife! Follow me on Twitter! Writing and language creation: @glossarch Balloons and science: @bovineaerospace
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