Backtranslation

Inventing (and using) your own language may be the most solipsistic art in existence.  It makes me wonder if there is an inverse relationship between meaning towards the self and meaning for others – as if you must sacrifice one for the other.

This occurs to me as I brush the dust off a very old translation I did in Angosey.  It’s been over ten years since I first translated the poem.  In fact, it was a pretty big milestone in the development of the language, because it forced me to handle complicated phrases for the first time.  For example:

“The moon and mysterious forces of the tide have caught me up in waves.”

This phrase (and the rest of the poem) have no particular literary quality, but as I retranslate these time worn words, I can remember ten years ago as if it were yesterday.  I remember the notebook I used.  I remember circling the English words, rearranging them, trying to figure out how a language that puts verbs first could possibly handle these crazy nested phrases.  I remember inventing exact words  – like “moon”.  Here’s the sentence in ten year old Angosey:

Esa erenaiya sreiel azedrelara klathara larath set lena senai isah.

In waves caught-has moon forces mysterious that create tide me.

The word for “moon” – azedrelara – is a combination of “azed” (companion) and “drelay” (silver), thus “silver companion.”  It was late at night, and I couldn’t think of a better description, so I just went with that.

Here’s the sentence, retranslated fifteen minutes ago:

Au azedrelara ay salenayara klatha larath ay senay

Kou sasraya’a eyya isha erenayeo sapay.

Moon and (the create forces mysterious tide)

Truly has caught me waves by-means-of.

The language ten years later is so much richer in ways that the English retranslation simply cannot capture.  That “au” before “azedrelara” means “physical object”.   That “ay” before “salenayara” means “state of being”

So we have the physical-moon and state-of-mysterious forces-that-create-the-tide.

The verb “sasraya’a” or “has caught” is much more than it seems.

“Sa” marks the subject as another situational noun, in this case referring to the first phrase.

The lack of marking after “sa” means the speaker has directly experienced the action (instead of hearing about it from someone else, for example).

The verb form “sraya” is the emotive form of “sreya,” “to surround.”  It means the speaker is emotionally invested in the statement.  He cares about it.

The final “a” means it happened very far in the past.

All this aside, though, what does it mean to have done this? The importance of Angosey is not its effect on other people, when it comes down to it.  The reason it matters so much to me is that it opens the window to my past selves, each of whom is locked behind a wall of time that is harder and harder to breach.  Angosey gives me the key – the key to invite my seventeen year old self in for a chat and a tumbler of rum – and it gives me the chance to ask him what really mattered to him then.  Such things may seem trivial in the day to day rush, but once a memory is gone, it’s gone forever, and it takes part of you with it.

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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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