Et Binon So Volapuk

My trip to Florida actually resulted in me finishing in a book and getting halfway through another (we’ll see when that one gets picked back up again) but just as the bus pulled back up to the art museum in Madison, I completed reading A Handbook of Volapuk by Andrew Drummond.

This book was mentioned in a lecture I attended at the beginning of the semester on artificially created languages, one of which was Volapuk. In essence, languages like Volapuk were created in the nineteenth century for the purpose of simplifying and unifying language. Other than maaaaaaybe Esperanto, none of them really survived. Volapuk is an interesting case, because it was, for a time, a first language of many, and there still exists literature in and about it. Of course, as it’s an English-based language, it’s probably difficult for Russian or Japanese speakers to learn, but if you happen to know English, it makes sense to an extent.

The book is basically a story-within-a-story. At the beginning, a carriage crashes, carrying three men – two of whom are dead and one of whom is alive, but injured and speaking unintelligible words which turn out to be Volapuk – and a mysterious box. Inside the box are the contents of the story, which then proceeds under the narration of Mr. Justice. Justice is a church organ repairman who becomes wrapped up in the Edinburgh Society for the Propagation of a Universal Language after befriending Sir Thomas Urquhart. He assumes the position of protector of Volapuk and attempts to teach it, only to be met with resistance, so he dresses like a crazy superhero and gets a better response that way. Because that always helps. His main opponent is an Esperantist named Dr. Bosman. In order to sway him, Justice abducts him to an asylum, by disguising himself as a woman. For some reason, Justice spends the majority of the remainder of the crazy journey of the book dressed as a woman before picking up Bosman, and joining forces with him. At the end of the book, the three men are escaping from the authorities in a rickshaw tied to a hot air balloon, which drops them, thus ending their story.

What is most interesting about the book is not its characters nor plot, but its structure. In between Justice’s Don Quixote-esque quest, there are language lessons and exercises in Volapuk; the same lessons and exercises that Justice teaches his students. They start off simple, but grow more complex as the book goes on, and even give a few basics of Esperanto and Solresol. Sometimes, the language learning parts were more interesting than the story itself. I attempted to test myself along the way, but somewhere around the fourth or fifth lesson I got stumped and just decided to keep reading rather than attempt to learn. However, some words that are repeated throughout the book such as lol (rose) and tidel (teacher) began to set in where the lessons didn’t. Essentially, though, if you were to really absorb the entirety of the book, you would be able to speak Volapuk, or at least understand it better than 99% of the world, which is pretty good for three hundred pages.

The characters themselves were my least favorite part of the book. Justice started out as a likeable guy but transformed into a megalomaniac, and I didn’t get why he just wouldn’t leave Bosman the hell alone. There are so many characters in the book that appear only once, and just too many characters in general. The students Justice starts with are not even remotely in the picture by the end, and the composition of the group keeps shifting, dropping and adding people who really don’t have many distinguishing characteristics, except maybe the Solresol couple, who create a musical language, or the two Japanese men who seem to tag along with various characters, and pop in at random times. Sir Thomas Urquhart is a real person, and a linguist, but actually lived and died 300 years before the action of the book. In addition, towards the middle of the book, he apparently either dies or goes into a coma and isn’t mentioned until near the end, when he’s mentioned as having been alive, and there the whole time. Initially, I thought he’d died because Justice talked about things like sorting out his affairs, but looking back, even though they talk about burying him and sorting out his affairs, it’s actually never said whether he’s dead or in a coma. I guess I just assumed he was dead, because all mention of him ended, and then when he reappeared at the end out of nowhere, alive (and as the sole survivor of the rickshaw-hot-air-balloon crash) I was totally confused. Maybe he was actually just a muse, there in spirit but not in body? Okay, I think that got a little too supernatural than the situation merited.

It’s interesting enough. I give it vels out of bals.


Wicked Game

To start, bienvenidos to my first-ever visitors from Paraguay and Bolivia…ole!

For one of my classes this week, we were given the assignment to go on a website about languages and find three links of value to the rest of the class. Easy enough, right? But then, out of the mist of the wild Internet, it appeared…

The Games Section.

I am a complete sucker when it comes to online games. Actually, games in general. I will play for hours and hours and hours, not only trying to get a better high-score, but to figure out how to beat the game. And if the game involves words, even better. A girl in my grade in high school once told me that I wasn’t fun to play games with anymore because I would always figure out how to win, and then do that every time. Didn’t work out so well for her, but hey, that’s the game.

Anyway, one of my sections was about improving one’s English grammar (http://www.roadtogrammar.com), and it included a games section with not one, but SIX addicting games.

Four of them were kind of duds, though. The game called MERGE is your basic doublet game, in which the player is given two four letter words and must change one letter at a time to connect them, like lamb-limb-lime-mime-mine or whatever. The one called FLUENT is sort of a general English challenge and is pretty easy, although for a couple of answers I disagreed, which tripped me up. WORD SLAMM [sic] involves flying letters, and making a Scrabble play out of them; a good concept, but poorly designed and executed. WORD SEARCH is mostly just your basic word search with a Minesweeper-esque twist, where if you click a letter that is not a part of any word, it costs you a life.

The two that were complete time-slaying demons:


Let’s start with CHOPPED, the lesser of the two offenders.

In this game, you’re given a sequence of ten letters, and must “chop” off letters (without rearranging them) in order to make a word, the longer the better. The concept is easy enough, but if you think “oh, I’ll just pick out the five letter word right off the bat, then you’ll lose. You get bonus points for five-letter words or more, but usually I ended up with only three- and four-letter words.

Then, onto the time-waster of the day, WORD STRIPS.

Again, a simple concept, but made increasingly harder by time, stress, and the infrequency of vowels. There are four strips of five letters each, and you can slide them up or down to make a four letter word in the center row. There is also a little red indicator on the side to see what letters you have in the center row. It also automatically stops when a four-letter word is formed; so sometimes it will stop you from trying to make, say, “stop” when you have “atop” or “shop” in the boxes, which is a time saver. Sometimes the four letters in the center row will already be a word, so just click on it and your work is done. Others are much harder, with lots of j’s and q’s and x’s in the mix, as well as a paucity of vowels.

So, strategies. There are a few, but none are completely fail safe.

First, you can look at all the letters before moving the sliders, then when you see the word, just move the strips and you’re done. However, when time is a factor, sometimes your eyes dart to the clock rather than making words.

Second, there’s the vowel pattern strategy. If you see a pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, especially when there is an e at the end, just line up the second vowel and the final vowel and play with the consonants until you get a match. When the second letter is a and the last is e, there are endless combinations to make it a four letter word. In this paragraph, there are two: “LINE” and “MAKE.”

Third, there’s the “make it plural” strategy. Due to the sheer number of three letter words, when you have an s in the fourth position, it’s inevitable that the three preceding letters will make some word.

Most of all, don’t waste time looking for fancy words. This is not Scrabble, you don’t have that kind of time. Sure, a few times I ended up with “QAID,” “AMYL,” and “SOYA,” but that was because I saw absolutely nothing else.

My personal high score is 984.

There went several hours of my life, and probably several more in the future.

I’m toast.