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Sep 17

A Holiday for Conlangers

Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010 in Conlanging, Rant

Hildegard of Bingen's Litterae ignotae

St. Hildegard von Bingen's Litterare Ignotae

The Irish (and those who want to be Irish) have St. Patrick‘s Day on March 17. The romantic have (St.) Valentine‘s Day on February 14. Both of these well-known holidays – now very secular – started out (and remain) the feast or memorial days of these two saints. (Check out Butler’s Lives of the Saints). If only conlangers had a holiday like these…

Right now, Esperanto enthusiasts have their Zamenhofa Tago. Klingon-speakers have their qepmey. And, of course, there are the Language Creation Conferences (which are lots of fun but also like work for organizers and presenters).

…but wait, conlangers do have their own unofficial saint – Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard was also known as the Sibyl of the Rhine and would have been an incredible woman in any age, let alone the 12th century. One of the best print resources concerning Hildegard is Dr. Sarah Higley’s Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language: An Edition, Translation, and Discussion. Hildegard’s feast day is commemorated each September 17.

So, my proposal is that we, as conlangers, celebrate the art, craft, and science of language construction each September 17. It would be an ecumenical holiday, able to be celebrated by conlangers of all kinds: artlangers, auxlangers, and engelangers.

First, there are several ways one could refer to the holiday. The full St. Hildegard’s Day, simply Hildegard’s Day, the abbreviated St. Hilde’s Day, or, if you like, Hildefest. My personal preference is St. Hilde’s Day. For me, it just falls more trippingly off the tongue. But that’s just me.

What are some St. Hilde’s Day greetings? St. Patrick’s Day has Erin go bragh! Christmas has the traditional “merry”. New Year’s has “happy.” Well, there’s always words from Hildegard’s Lingua Ignota like chorzta “sparkling”. Maybe someone who knows the vocabulary of Lingua Ignota could chime in. For the time being: “Happy Hilde’s Day!”.

How would one celebrate St. Hilde’s Day? That’s up to the community of conlangers. I posted something about this on both Twitter and CONLANG-L. Some suggestions include coffee (or tea) and grammar, finishing up a languishing conlang project (or starting a new one), composing conlang music or poetry (St. Hildegard did both!), buying a conlang/linguistics book you’ve been putting off, etc. There was also the first Concultural Card Exchange this past holiday season. What about exchanging these kinds of cards on September 17? What about choosing this date to share a conlanging program at your local library or writers’ circle. The possibilities are numerous. And Hildegard was German…so that means beer, right?

One comment from the illustrious David Peterson is absolutely priceless and has to be shared: “Shouldn’t we participate in rampant commercialism somehow, so that in years to come, we can say, ‘St. Hildegard’s Day used to be about the conlanging!'” 🙂

So, there’s my proposal. When September 17, 2011, rolls around, how will you celebrate St. Hilde’s Day?

May 17

Fantasy = (Original) Fiction

Posted on Monday, May 17, 2010 in Rant

I just got finished reading Gilgamesh, specifically the New English Version by Stephen Mitchell. I, of course, knew of Gilgamesh for a long time but never got around to reading the actual epic. Mitchell’s version, while not a scholarly translation (which he readily admits), is a great re-telling of the story and moves right along. The language is masterful, like Mitchell’s other works. There are also copious notes and background information. One of my favorite parts has to be Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s slaying of the Bull of Heaven and then ripping off its leg and throwing it at the goddess Ishtar. That takes some chutzpah!

Okay, but what does this have to do with conlanging? Well, a number of conlangs are products of fantasy literature, not the least of which are Tolkien’s Quenya and Sindarin. Some literary types look down their collective noses at “fantasy” as a lesser kind of literature, just a “genre.” While Gilgamesh does not have any conlangs (although Sumerian and Akkadian would make for great inspirations, not to mention cuneiform as a con-writing system inspiration), it does have numerous “fantasy” story elements: the gods’ interventions in human affairs, Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven, Urshanabi’s Stone-Men, immortal Utnapishtim, and much more. All of these would not be out of place in a modern fantasy novel. And Gilgamesh is sometimes referred to as the “the oldest story ever written.”

Gilgamesh and Enkidu killing the Bull of Heaven

Furthermore, consider some other literary works of ancient times: The Odyssey (lots of fantasy elements there), Beowulf (Grendel, his mother, the dragon), various myths from all over (Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc., etc., etc.), the Metamorphoses of Apuleius (where the protagonist is turned into an ass), and many more examples.

All of these are fantasy literature, so I propose that all literature – in the widest sense – started as fantasy. Fantasy was literature. The other genres – romance, “literary” fiction, sci-fi, westerns, etc. – are simply descendants of fantasy.

So, the next time someone gets on your case for reading “just” fantasy, steer them toward a copy of Gilgamesh…the original fiction…and say “Purus!” (That’s Akkadian for “You decide!”)(Well, “Pursi!” if you’re talking to a woman).