B. About Thosk Conlanging
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A. An Introduction to Thosk [top]
1. An Indo-European Language
Thosk, convincingly identified as a member of the Indo-European language family by Hiv (1978), is spoken with varying degrees of fluency by a very small and geographically diffuse group of people throughout North America. The name is cognate to the German "Deutsch," meaning roughly the "language of the people" (from the Indo-European root *tout/teut- "people"). Both the exact numbers of Thosk speakers (estimated at 100 in 1980 and under 250 in 2000) and their actual competence in the language are difficult to ascertain.
Although Thosk was native to Europe, when its first speakers came to North America in the mid-19th century, during one of the larger waves of European immigration, they reportedly vowed that they had "turned their faces" forever from their original homeland, which had been "stolen" from them, and that henceforth they would not perpetuate old sorrows by discussing it with their children. The consequent paucity of historical information remains one of the most frustrating aspects of Thosk studies. [NOTE: The recent discovery in eastern France of a small tombstone with inscriptions in a language tentatively identified as "Old Thosk" may shed light on the early history of the language. A preliminary analysis is in preparation.] What little information we do possess centers largely around a few place-names, and some dialect variation among Thosk speakers suggestive of possible geographic separation.
3. Fergunin and Banhuzd
Early in the first decade of the 20th century, Matei Fergunin, the son of a Thosk-speaking immigrant family, recorded all he could remember of what had been for him a childhood language in a manuscript he entitled Banhuzd, somewhat inaccurately translated as the "Treasury of Words." His principal motivation seems to have been an increasing dismay at the likely disappearance of Thosk, and a consequent desire that at least the outlines of its grammar and a fairly substantial word-list be preserved for his children. There is some debate about whether he was in fact fluent. Supporters of the Thosk revival, the Thoskkivakende, naturally point to the evidence of his Thosk diaries and other private writings to confirm that he was competent in the language. In any case, Fergunin apparently had no one with whom he could speak regularly, having married an American woman and moved away from Boston where his parents had settled.
4. Scripts and Utvristi
Until that time, Thosk had been written only sporadically, and in a number of different scripts. Fergunin recalled seeing what he identified as "Cyrillic letters" among his father's papers, but such tantalizing clues to the possible original home of Thosk are few and uncertain. The upcoming publication in both English and Thosk of Fergunin's biography, Utvristi, which is based heavily on his Thosk diaries and other personal papers only recently made available to scholars, may shed further light on these matters.
5. Orthography and Thosk Publishing
The orthography Fergunin used to record Thosk was partly his own invention, but also partly an adaptation from memory of the script his father used and had apparently devised for his private journal. Fergunin also reported that his father briefly published a newspaper, Hur Steren, "North Star," in this script, in an effort to sustain the language, and unite its speakers, but that it did not last beyond three or four issues. No copies are known to remain, but there are scattered references to the publication in the personal letters of other Thosk speakers of that period. Banhuzd was published privately in 1924 in a limited edition of 500, and an occasional copy may still be found in antiquarian book stores. Fergunin also began a supplement, Firhte i Bekude, "Questions and Answers," which exists in manuscript but was never published. In this second work he employs a more practical orthography, this time in Roman script with which he was better acquainted, and which with some minor normalizations is used in these materials.
6. Evthird and the Revival
Thosk literary output, until recently, was almost wholly confined to irregularly published periodicals and chapbooks of limited circulation. With the publication of Lubun Evthird’s Handiskude, however, Thosk now boasts a poet of international stature. The example of Evthird’s poem sequence “Invocations,” also the title of his collection, has stimulated Thosk poetry in what some speakers are calling Ankind – a rebirth or renaissance of Thosk letters.
7. Jedelbir and Tinguvist
It is wholly appropriate to end this short introduction with a special acknowledgment to Surtan Jedelbir, director of Tinguvist, the official quarterly publication of the scholarly arm of the Revival, for his generous and extensive contributions to the Thosk language, for the founding of Gimboli Press (a Thosk imprint, recently relocated to Boston), and for his efforts through four decades of experience in studying and teaching Thosk.
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Evthird, Lubun. Handiskude. [Invocations] Boston: Gimboli Press, 2001.
Fergunin, Matei. Banhuzd.[The Treasury of Words] Boston: private printing, 1924.
Hiv, Mihel. Thosk: Indevropai Tingu.[Thosk: An Indoeuropean Language] New York: Gimboli Press, 1978.
Jedelbir, Surtan. Tige dil Thoskkivak.[Directions for the Thosk Revival] Boston: Gimboli Press, 1996.
Udan, Ana. An Introduction to the Study of Thosk.Southern Lake Michigan University unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (may soon become available through Dissertation Abstracts International).
Udan, Ana. Thosknokund. [Introduction to Thosk] Boston: Gimboli Press, 2001.
B. About Thosk Conlanging [top]
Excerpt from my response to a note from Martin Dale on Thosk and conlanging:
Thank you for your message and for your kind words about Thosk. I'm glad the FAQ echoes what you've said over the years to critics of conlanging. WE know why we do it, and what pleasure we derive from it -- odd that this should be the hardest part to convey to others, when it feels like the most important part!
I do make use of international vocabulary, as far as it goes, which isn't too far: Thosk taksi, otel, telefon, bas, gaz, suker, sjofer, zjanre, etc. And if there's no handy root to use, I sometimes can devise a periphrastic equivalent. For instance, I couldn't find an IE root to indicate "disappointment" so I borrowed a Turkish idiom I happened to know and used IE roots to express it in Thosk form: had-rud, or "desire-collapse" (from IE *ka- and *ru-). Of course, this is time-consuming, and doesn't always work. So I do also resort to the third option you mention, and make historical changes of meaning (and by analogy, kinds of changes in meaning) to serve my purpose. The meanings of many roots in most lexicons of IE "vocabulary" seem very general, and flexible enough to suggest a range of significations. From roots that mean break, for example, one could derive "shatter, smash, splinter, fragment" or a range of other related words as needed, extending given meanings, but not wholly violating the semantic associations of a root.
Books like Calvert Watkins' American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (though it is Germano-centric) suggest the spread of meanings and the kinds of naturally-occuring changes in semantic fields which one can simulate in developing a root into a "new" word. Another helpful book for showing how far afield a root can bend in meaning is Carl Buck's Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages (now fortunately in paperback). And once a conlang takes on enough of a shape, that shape and feel can itself suggest new words that fit the sound pattern of the language, which may extend a primitive root with legitimate although perhaps never used IE endings. For instance, IE *bhr- suggests anything that protrudes, or sticks out -- and this could be a body part, a slang expression for an annoyance, a handle, a bump, a promontory, etc. -- in other words, a very wide semantic fiield of "legitimate" proto-meanings from which to work. And of course sometimes I let all that go hang and just create a word that suits me and sounds like it belongs.