Last night I went see Diego Marani deliver the talk “The Secret Life of Dead Languages and the Role of Translation” at the Annual Lecture 2013 of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation at Victoria University in Wellington. I almost didn’t go, because I wasn’t sure that a talk about dead languages was going to be a good way to spend the early evening hours of a cold and rainy Monday. But then I reread the smallprint of the programme and realised that Diego Marani is the author of New Finnish Grammar, the book I only finished reading last week.
Now should you pick up a copy of NFG beware of the Praise section. It is full of rather misleading words, such as “identity thriller”, “miraculous novel”, and “cultural ventriloquism.” The only snipscription that I found true to my impression of the book is the quotation taken from the review by The New Statesman: “This is a desperately sad book. It takes place beside Romantic stories of Kaspar Hauser and Wolf Boy of Aveyron, which have haunted the European imagination for two centuries...”
The book tells the story from the point of view of a Finnish Doctor who lives in exile in Hamburg, Germany (incidental: the city I was born in), who strives to improve a man’s condition – a patient who unexpectedly survives severe head injuries but has lost his memory and language – by teaching him the Finnish language (a language that has 15 cases for nouns – one of which, the abessive, is used to express its own absence!) and mythology (Religion) leading to unintended tragic consequences.
Yes, a doctor, a nameless man, a tragic ending… let’s see, yes, there’s a ship, a series of letters… Finland isn’t quite the North Pole but... let’s give it another tick, shelley?
So, now that we’ve establish that I found a better Gothic motive to go on to the lecture allow me to say how surprised I was when I found myself laughing for most of the 30 Minutes that Marani was talking.
"Hallo-cocco! Cabillot parlante!"
"Aqui Capitan What! Come subito in meine officio!"
"Yesvohl, mein capitan!" responded Cabillot out van der door sich envolante.
Capitan What was muchissimo nervoso der map des Europas op el muro regardante und seine computero excitatissimo allumante.
"Cabillot! Nos habe esto messagio on el computero gefinden! Regarde alstubitte!"
[excerpt from Marani’s “Europanto : From productive process to language, or how to cause international English to implode” ]
This was largely due to Marani’s short introduction to Europanto, which he explained “is a joke not a language” as necessary antidote for language purists. Europanto is the idea that when you are in a situation where you are forced to use a language your command of which is not very good you may and should vulgarise the mainstream vocabulary to achieve best possible understanding and alleviate frustration.
Note: I didn’t quite make sense of all of the text above after my first read. But every speaker of Europanto creates their own variant. The text above was written for a Dutch audience, meaning it is a Dutch-German-French variant. Elsewhere in the world you may be more inclined to speak Pareo Reo, perhaps, or Americantese?
Anyway, my point is that Europanto is New Finnish Grammar’s unequal twin. Go read them individually and you’re left with an abessive.