“Behold one of a pompous bunch of bastards.” Thus one customarily greets one’s mother’s brother and his kin in Barvalian; this formula, however, is muttered under one’s breath prior to the actually spoken greeting, /da'brinkni/, referring to the municipality where in 1802 a peace treaty ended the first century or so of warfare among the clans and factions. Before that one did not greet any of one’s uncles at all, but took cover immediately. The treaty left the country with no infrastructure and reduced its navy to sixteen inflatable rafts, but at least now Barvalia was independent of Greater Falkenstein.
Interesting as all this social history might be, we, being linguists, are concerned with the language, plopping down as usual for that systematic inconsequence promoted in the name of science since Panini. (Or soon after him.) To begin, then, we offer an analysis of the start of a political discourse. We must warn the reader that in Barvalian much may be said in few words. We do not understand the pragmatics but are sure that it is massive. Indeed we would attribute all meaning in Barvalian to its pragmatics, did we not tremble in our boots at the thought of a language in which words are good for nothing whatever.
In any event, on this occasion a journalist approached the current Defense Minister, Persephone Persa Kvinavivo, through an interpreter. The Minister, without waiting for an introduction, began:
At once the interpreter raised his hand for a pause, and rendered the English: “The Republic wishes sincerely to compliment you on your most fashionable and interesting tie.” Whereupon, ignoring the amazement of the journalist, he turned back to the Defense Minister and signalled her to continue.
But why not simply use this convenient example? We are after all minimally interested in the content of the discourse. Here is the Entpackung:
‘-e-’ “complimentary act of the Republic” ‘-n-’ “your tie” ‘-o-’ “voluntary sincere act, imperfective aspect” ‘-q-’ “the first, second, or third time” ‘-ay-’ “Ha! A fashionable and interesting thing!” ‘-u-’ “not not sincere” ‘-wik-’ “the neck of a pig”
We are about 37% uncertain about ‘-wik-’ and are relying on a cultural supposition that compliments are always accompanied by a reference to the neck of a pig. Many jokes end with an equally mysterious reference to the ruffed grouse.
The classical rule of double negation does not obtain in Barvalian, but after all many logics are possible, though few are chosen. See the classic Against all Foundationalism by Gwladys Thorpe Sledge.
The unusual length of the language’s only preposition, “waningamankśuć”, is no doubt responsible for its rare use and the development of many specific declinational effects:
‘napa’ “than your tie” ‘nepa’ “out of your tie” ‘nopa’ “on your tie” ‘nupa’ “in spite of your tie” ‘nipa’ “relating to your tie which was visible to me a moment ago” —and many others. (There are about fourteen more vowels; we have spared you.)
Possession is supplementary: ‘-n-’ “your tie”, ‘-m-’ “my tie”, etc. One cannot say simply “tie”. If you place a tie on a table with no one wearing it Barvalians are flabbergasted.
So far the language violates linguistic universals that haven’t even been discovered yet. For instance, all constructions are exocentric. There are no roots; words are rootless and just float around, like tumbleweed. But most of the slow progress of our inquiry is due to the Barvalian custom of speaking very little and settling disputes by fisticuffs, during which they usually shout “Huy! Huy!” while dancing about, each combatant trying to get into a position of advantage. This can take an entire afternoon. Another problem is that informants will cooperate only in groups. They refuse to say anything to no one in particular, but in a pinch will address a dog or other household animal. Linguists, apparently, count for nothing.
So we bring a dog and tell the informants to speak to the dog. Then they object that no one would say “How many balloons are in the box?” to a dog. Depressing, what? But we press on.