Last weekend, I had the opportunity to meet some fellow conlangers (language creators). During the course of our talk, I mentioned that I had translated the same poem every few years to watch how my language evolved. Since this piqued their interest, I thought I would present an example from each of the five translations of this poem to the conlanging (and internet) community at large.
First, let me back up a bit. My language, Angosey, is a “constructed language” but that label is a bit of a misnomer – it sounds far too clean cut. In reality, Angosey evolves as I discover new and exciting things. So it’s safe to say that the Angosey I wrote in when I was 17 is quite a bit different than the Angosey I write in now, and I bet the Angosey ten years from now will be even more divergent. The five versions of this poem illustrate this process well.
The Angosey of Oct0ber 2002 (the first time I translated this poem) had no sounds that English lacked. The word order was different, but I was still stuck in the English/Romance language paradigm. There was nothing truly new about it.
The Angosey of February 2013 does not sound like any version of English I know of. Its phonetic repertoire spans Europe, Africa, and Asia. The grammar is richer and reflects specific ontological choices that suite my way of thinking, from the distinction between emotive and non emotive speaking, to its noun categorization, to its ergative/absolutive verb system.
Here is the passage I’ve chosen for my five Angosey translations:I desire I desire to see the sunset on a sand dune To admire a black pearl in a perfect lagoon To see a star clearly on a night with clouds
In October 2002 it looked like this:Emdala! Emdala zerana aneiakh é lazranai Serena ziramei ana esa emaialtha Zira sarnath se’élath é aneia sear amathal
Here the suffix “em-” is the first person conjugation – “emdala” is “I desire, and “é lazranai” means “on a sand dune.”
I retranslated this passage three years later, on July 1, 2005.Ta dala isha! Emdala ayzerana sa aneiak lazranayna eia Ayserena au ziramei anaye emayalthana esa Elethka ayzira au sarnath aneiana sa amethnaya ser.
Here I took liberties with the original text and changed the first line to “Ta dala isha,” meaning “I desire wholeheartedly.” I also stop using the “em-” conjugation for intransitive sentences (see it showing up on the second line, where “dala” is syntactically transitive?). “é lazranai” becomes “lazranayna eia” – the preposition has become a postposition, “ai” has changed to “ay,” and the word has picked up the dative suffix “-na.” Angosey has also acquired six noun classes: “au ziramei” means “the (physical object) ‘pearl.’”
A year and a half later, on December 4, 2006, I had another crack at the poem:Ta emdala! Emdala ayzerana sa aneyak lazranayna ndeya Ay serena au ziramey anaye emayalthana ndesa Elethka ayzira au sarnath sa aneya amethnaya ndaser.
The “em-” conjugation has reappeared on the first line – apparently I changed my mind about the whole conjugation rule thing. One more thing – postpositions are now conjugated! “Lazranayna ndeya” has replaced “lazranayna eia,” plus the consonant cluster “nd” does not appear in any English word I know of. I unabashedly stole it from Kiswahili.
I revisited the poem in September 2008, after a long period of not writing much of anything in Angosey:Ta emdalaya! Emdalaya ayzeranaya sa aneyak au lazanaya ndeya. Ayserenaya au ziramey anaye in emayaltha inesa. Elethka ayziraya au sarnath sa aneyna sayi ay ay amethneya saser.
The grammatical structure is not that different from two years earlier, but the suffix “aya” on each verb demonstrates a key feature of Angosey – the emotive aspect. It indicates that the narrator is emotionally invested in the situation he or she is describing. More trivially, I decided that “emayaltha” has changed noun class from “physical object” to “location.” This is rather more precise since “emayal” means “lagoon.”
Finally, I retranslated the poem a week ago:Ta dalaya isha! Dal zeranaya isa sa aneyakh lazranayna ine. Dal serenaya isa au ziramey ana emayalna nathalye inesa. Dal elethka ziraya isa au sarnathya sa amethyana.
Five years later, I’ve turned the “dalaya” of the last three lines to the adverb “dal.” It indicates that the following sentence has not actually occurred, but that the narrator desperately wants it to occur. Also – not obvious here because it is unmarked – but I’ve added an evidential marker to my verbs. There’s no addition here because the narrator has experienced these events firsthand. But if he had not, the verb would have been marked appropriately, for example if he’d heard about them secondhand, or learned about them through the proverbial grapevine.
My innovation and experimentation definitely slowed down over time, both because I had less time as I went on to college and later the working life, and also because I now have a system that works pretty much the way I want it to.
Thanks for reading!