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To be or to be… or to be… that is the question!

June 18, 2011

My made-up language is doing funny things again.

I’ve mentioned before how in Tosacy you don’t really need the word ‘to be’ to say things like ‘it is big’, because you can just take the word for big, nesha, and turn it into a verb, neshak, which means ‘to be big’, and add the third-person ending, neshaku, and you’ve got a single word that means ‘it (or he or she) is big’.

Then why does Tosacy have a word meaning ‘to be’? Actually, more than one. For years, Tosacy has had suk, which is the ‘ordinary’ ‘to be’, and then there is tenek, which is used for locations.

There is a double reason for that. Partly it was accidental. I had already decided on suk as meaning ‘to be’ when I remembered that in the related dialect I’d worked on before, I had ‘to be’ as teny, and wasn’t willing to change either of them. And then I remembered long-gone Spanish classes…

Spanish also has two ‘to be’s, ser and estar. If I remember correctly (the last lesson was about seven years ago, and even though I keep meaning to, I haven’t practised since), ser is for things that are always that way (Like… I don’t know… Soy austriaca, I , am Austrian… do you capitalize that in Spanish? I have no idea.) and estoy is for things that are temporarily that way, or for locations (Estoy cansado, I am tired, since that’s hopefully not a permanent condition, or estoy en Austria.). So if other languages can have two ‘to be’s, so could Tosacy, right?

Only… that crazy language is not satisfied with two! About two months ago, around the time I wrote the post I linked to above, asak popped up, which isn’t strictly ‘to be’ but ‘to be present’ – so where in English you’d say, ‘There is/are…’, in Tosacy you have only one word, asaku(lo).

And then over the last couple of weeks, it turned out that’s still not enough. Because of some other weird words Tosacy has, distinguishing between things that can be changed and things that can not, it suddenly seemed obvious there should also be different ‘to be’s for permanent and temporary conditions. So I added suvak for ‘to be permanently’.

But that still wasn’t enough. Tosacy also makes difference between changes that are caused by an ‘outside’ or an ‘inside’ force, for lack of a better word. To use ‘to change’ as an example, in English the word ‘to change’ remains the same whether you say ‘I change myself’ or ‘I change [some other thing]’ – in Tosacy, those are two separate words. And it works the same for other words that change some sort of condition, like ‘to disguise’, ‘to wake up’…

So I needed another word, to distinguish between things that can change (only) on their own accord, and things that can be changed by someone else, and I added echuk.

So I now have many ways to say, for example, ‘[something] is red.’

If I want to keep it simple, I can just say rakaku, which is the word raka, ‘red’, turned into a verb.

If something has always been and will always be red, I’ll use suvak: Rachay raka suvaku, blood is red.

If something can be changed by humans, I’ll use echuk: Finay raka echuku, the wall is red.

If something has the potential to change, but it’s not in my power to make it do so, I’ll use suk: Arinay raka suku, the cherry is red.

Speaking of…

Raka sukulo!

Which explains why ‘to be’ is still needed even if you can turn every adjective into a verb. If someone’s complaining about the weather, you don’t have to say, ‘Well, it is at it is, and we can only wait for it to change, right? Nothing to be done about it, and complaining won’t change anything.’ (Can you tell I hate customers who complain about the weather?) – you just say, ‘Suku.’

If someone complains about … I don’t know, a mountain or river being in the way to somewhere or other, or the female human body being such a faulty design (I mean, some days I like to whine as much as the next woman, but it can get annoying) – ‘Suvaku.’ It just is, and it’s not going to change.

If someone complains about the government, or being overweight or something – ‘Echuku.’ Implying, ‘you’ve got the power to change it, go and do something about it.

I think it shows that I don’t like pointless complaints, and would prefer to reply to all of them simply with a grumpy, ‘That’s just how it is.’ Which, depending on the customer, I can’t say at all, or only with a cheerful voice and sympathetic smile. And during the last days, I’ve been wishing we were speaking Tosacy rather than German. German (English, too) is just so woefully imprecise in this regard. The lettuce plants are too small? Suku, come back next week. Your plant’s getting leggy and not blooming because it’s in a too dark spot? Suvaku, maybe you should have listened to my advice when you bought it. Your husband hasn’t finished your new vegetable bed? Echuku, how about doing it yourself?

My best friend, when I told her about this: ‘Oh, but then that blonde joke won’t work in Tosacy – you know, why did the blonde walk through her garden naked? So the tomatoes would turn red.’

And now I’ll take myself off to bed and ponder whether it should be echuky laya or suky laya – is being tired directly under my control, or should I treat the change from being tired to being rested, even if I make the decision to go get some sleep, as a natural process? Probably the latter, since even if going to bed is my decision, when I actually fall asleep isn’t really under my control, and neither is how much sleep I need.

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