Fans of Russian literature have been waiting more than 20 years for this, the English translation of the first installment of the famous Fantasy Linguistics series, which tells the story of a young linguistic wizard, Naggu Rotteya (Russian “Наггу Роттэя”), and his turbulent and troubled life as he attempts to fulfill the destiny that has been thrust upon him. There have been many accusations by the author, J. K. Poyjnhr (Russian “Д. К. Поыйнхр”), and her fans that a much more successful series-that-must-not-be-named is a not-so-subtle rip-off of this older, much beloved series.
Issues of possible plagiarism by a now famous (and quite wealthy) Brit aside, this is a wonderful book (and soon-to-be-translated series), not to be missed by fans of the Fantasy Linguistics genre. The target audience is 10-14-year-olds, so some of the writing may seem a bit juvenile, but the world created by Poyjnhr is rich and deeply textured, layering a finely-woven tapestry of fantasy and linguistics over the author’s hometown of Moscow in the late 1980s. The big hair, shoulder pads, and Government and Binding theories are all a bit dated, but every story is a page-turner full of good, clean, FantLing fun!
In this first installment, Naggu and friends at the Wugglot’s School for Linguistic Wizards seek a linguamagical stone of ancient fable, the Grammarian’s Stone, which is purported to be able to transmute any statement in any language into a question. In an early chapter, Naggu is struck dumb when an unknown assailant uses the Grammarian’s Stone to force him to convert one of his many long-winded soliloquies into a question, neatly tying his tongue in a knot! Naggu, once recovered, thwarts the evil wielder of the Grammarian’s Stone by inventing a conlang that is identical to English (but to Russian in the original, of course), except that questions are formed by adding the word question to the beginning of the utterance. The book is full of such magical flights of fancy and linguistic magic, and will capture the hearts and minds of the young and the young at heart.
Though the series has been criticized by some fundamentalist prescriptivist groups as encouraging non-standard grammar, lexicalism, and even conlanging, only the most jaded could see it as such. It is really the story of a regular boy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, and how, through a bit of luck, much resourcefulness, and the help of good friends, he overcomes adversity to impactfully leverage core synergies and make a lot of money for his author.
Unfortunately, Poyjnhr’s use of language is, by turns, impish or ogreish, making translation a difficult task. Fortunately, a team of over 1,000 linguists and translators is working feverishly at that very task. Reports indicate that they are able to translate roughly 0.1% of a page per person per day. Since all of the books are exactly 365 pages long, they will be released one a year for the next six years. They will be a long time coming, but worth the wait.
The other books in the series are:
II. Naggu Rotteya and the Changer of Subscripts
Some unknown force is changing the subscripts of pronoun references in every utterance made at Wugglot’s! The monkeys are ripe, the bananas are hungry, and Naggu must make it stop!
III. Naggu Rotteya and the Prescriptivist of Athabaskan
A new Professor of Athabaskan Languages comes to Wugglot’s, but Naggu and friends secretly fear that he is a closet prescriptivist who has put a curse on them so that they can only speak perfectly standard Athabaskan! Since the most powerful spells can only be cast in Athabaskan slang, their magic is mightily diminished!
IV. Naggu Rotteya and the Grammaticalization of Fire
A change in the student argot at Wugglot’s results in the grammaticalization of the act of lighting a small fire as a tense and aspect marker (indicating future iterative imperative). Wugglot’s nearly burns to the ground thrice and Naggu must put a stop to it all before someone gets hurt!
V. Naggu Rotteya and the Word Order of Phoenician
In Naggu’s Phoenician class, normally VSO sentences magically become SVO, unduly emphasizing the subject in every utterance! Fine shades of meaning are lost! Chaos ensues! Only Naggu can set things right!
VI. Naggu Rotteya and the Half-Blank Verse
Yet another curse befalls the students of Wugglot’s, and they find themselves unable to speak or write except in blank verse, mixed with rhyming couplets every few lines. A group of first-years calling themselves “The Mad Doggerels” claims credit, but Naggu isn’t buying it!
VII. Naggu Rotteya and the Deathly Hyperbole
After two students die of cardiac arrest after grossly overstating their fright as “That scared me to death!”, and a professor’s niece is transmogrified into a monkey after a carelessly chosen expression of disbelief, Naggu and friends must uncover the source of a curse that is converting hyperbole into reality!