by Javant Biarujia
“Pray, sir,” said the barber, “is that Sanscrit,
or what language?” “Maybe it is jadoo,”
I replied in a solemn and deep voice.
— Pandurang Hari (1873)
Welcome to Taneraic (or tanerai — I coined the English cognate “Taneraic” as an assimilated form) on the Web! The first Website devoted to my private language, or langue close, as I prefer to call it, designed and set up by my very good friend, Charles. Just like the language itself, we are starting modestly, but I envisage the site will grow as I am able to supply material to Charles for him to put on the Net. The site will include translated works, original works, a step-by-step grammar and structure of Taneraic, a vocabulary (I have published a 200-page dictionary of Taneraic, so I’ll be looking at ways of putting it — or an expanded version of it — onto the site), and interactive activities from visitors to the site. (Eventually, I would like to invite interested Taneraicists, for that is what you are if you regularly visit this site, to help build vocabulary, using Taneraic affixes and compounding laws, leaving me with the radicals, or root-words.)
I describe Taneraic as a “hermetic” language after the style of Mallarmé or Stefan George: a private pact negotiated between the world at large and the world within me; public words simply could not guarantee me the private expression I sought. Taneraic was born of the unconscious (“The unconscious is structured like a language.” — Jacques Lacan); of an inchoate poetic personality; of conflict between artist and middle-class upbringing; of variant sexuality. English, my native tongue, would have submerged me in its long, magnificent yet etiolated history — and prejudices. I needed the immediacy of a marginal language, a creole, so to speak, arisen out of need, and adaptable yet of central importance. A language whose culture was that of a single individual.
Why put a hermetic private language into the public arena? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Indeed, it is — I am very fond of incongruity and contradiction (Taneraic reflects this). The reason is simple enough: Taneraic is an artistic creation and, like all creations, it is a gift. Who knows where this simple step, of putting Taneraic onto the Web for perusal on a scale never before imagined, will lead? Already, artist Imants Tillers has drawn inspiration from an essay I published on Taneraic in Heat # 4, naming his painting A + B = Essence, after the title of my essay, and incorporating words — presumably Taneraic words as well — from my essay in his composition; writer Robert Dessaix has “come out” with a revelation that he, too, has a private language (he won’t name it, say anything about it, or give any examples of it, apart from the single word mokkó, a “keep”, à la Dungeons & Dragons); poet and critic Charles Bernstein regards Taneraic as “the most systematically and literally idiolectical poetry of which I am aware” (“Poetics of the Americas”, MODERNISM/Modernity, 1996); and other constructed language creators, such as Michael Helsem (Glaugnea), Geof Huth (Romana), James Mancuso (Quinonan) and Rick Harrison (Vorlin) have encouraged me in various ways — not least in the knowledge that “I am not alone”.
I first devised my hermetic language, Taneraic, in August 1968, around my thirteenth birthday. At the time, it was nothing more than a form of cryptography, a dictionary code, based on a long alphabetical list of four-letter, pronounceable words, against which a modest vocabulary of English was placed.
No syntactic or grammatical relationship existed at that stage. However, with the advent of its first inflexion (-v, I; me) and its first grammatical observation (no allomorphic plural form), the language soon began developing in ways beyond that of a code and into linguistic territory. The fact that Taneraic developed in most ways contrary to what Rick Harrison has described in his “Proposed guidelines for the design of an international auxiliary language” (Journal of Planned Languages, 1993) indicates that from the start, Taneraic was idiosyncratic and hermetic in nature, designed for its creator’s personal use and not as an “auxiliary” language.
Within two years, Taneraic was ready for its task as the secret vehicle of expression for my private diary. At school, I had been studying English and French, and Russian through “Teach Yourself” books was the language of choice for home study. Then, one day, my French Teacher, Mrs Costain, gave me a book on Esperanto, which helped enormously in regulating grammar and developing a system of affixation. When I turned nineteen, I travelled to Indonesia, where I learned the national language, a successful example of creolisation from a traders’ pidgin.
Taneraic grew in scope and sophistication through all these influences. Soon, my handwritten dictionaries became illegible through overwriting and additions, and new ones had to be made. It was a cumbersome and time-consuming task, which only now — with the aid of computers — is starting to look manageable. Although Taneraic drew aspects of language from many different natural sources, my private language, or langue close, never abandoned its concept of an a priori vocabulary. As such, Taneraic vocabulary is pure invention — and any similarity to words in other languages is coincidental and fanciful. (A great coincidence is mouzon, “house”, which greatly resembles French maison; however, mouzon is derived from the radical MOU, “dwell”.)
Taneraic flourished for a decade: I had written more than 3,500 pages of my diary in the language, which suited me very well; I had written two dictionaries by hand; and I had begun work on a descriptive grammar. In late 1978, however, I underwent a personal and artistic crisis which, as it has turned out, was the imago stage in my development as an artist. I stopped all work on my langue close; I encapsulated Taneraic into my new name, (Javant is a euphonic modification of javanat), much as it is the custom among certain peoples to take on a new name after having undergone a rite of passage; I began writing my diary in English; and, within six months of the official name-change, I began publishing my English-language poetry in Australian and overseas journals.
As I concentrated on writing and publishing for the next decade, Taneraic lay dormant. I had forgotten all about my “constructed soul” (i.e., tane rai, a two-word homonym) as I developed as a poet in English, and even co-founded an independent small press devoted to poets. Then one day, I began browsing the old diary volumes, still on their shelves, in a nostalgic moment. I found a renewed interest in the language of my youth, and discovered, much to my horror, that in many respects it was already looking like a stranger to me. If I did not set about reconstructing the language soon (I had burned the original handwritten dictionaries), it — and the contents of my early diaries — would be lost for ever. The thought was too bitter to allow such a thing to happen.
It was now 1988, and with the help of a friend’s computer, I was able to resurrect approximately 7,000 purely Taneraic radicals from the pages of the diary. Naturally, many more radicals listed in the old dictionaries were, by and large, lost. (Happily, I remembered some of these, and was able to list them. Sepou, “English language”, and neseupou, “Indo-European language”, for example, are, with their *-ou desinences, the remnants of a whole catalogue of languages. While this *-ou desinence is extinct in Taneraic, it did give birth to the -cyou desinence, signifying the publication of a language.) Much of the earliest vocabulary, surviving thirty years to this day, is concerned with the body (e.g., noub [originally written nøppe], “hand”); the home (e.g., sedeu [sedøesy’], “bed”); and language (e.g., gehan [geh], “literature”).
I coined a few more radicals for my needs, but have in the end resisted compiling a whole new vocabulary to make up for all the words lost. I reformed the alphabet, excluded words of foreign derivation which had crept into the diaries, and embarked upon a programme of expansion through compounding and affixation. As a result, I have come up with fixed rules for Taneraic, which are set out in this Abaq tanerai, or Principles of Taneraic. It goes without saying that any shortcomings or errors are entirely my own.
Over the years, a number of people have helped and encouraged me in my work. I give my sincere thanks to the following colleagues and friends, who have contributed in various ways to make the reconstruction of Taneraic possible:
- C. J., Mark Micallef and especially Robert Gamble, who introduced me to computers, taught me how to use them, and encouraged me to pursue my dream of one day publishing Taneraic (Robert’s early death, in 1988, has robbed me of the pleasure of his witnessing the fruits of his great friendship);
- Louise Rockne, who, as a way of expressing her support for my project, gave me my treasured copy of A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, along with a salient quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Neither is a dictionary a bad book to read. There is no cant in it, no excess of explanation, and it is full of suggestion, — the raw material of possible poems and histories.”);
- Michael Helsem for becoming the first student of Taneraic; he has selflessly spent many an hour on my langue close, proving George Steiner’s test for constructed languages: i.e., mutual intelligibility, and has actually contributed vocabulary from existing radicals;
- and Charles Strebor, who first introduced me to other language projects in the world of a similar scale to mine, and who not only came up with the idea of designing a Website for Taneraic, but is now generously dedicating himself to the task of maintaining it. If Taneraic should ever develop into something more than its marginalised beginnings, it will be due to Charles and Michael.
Finally, I dedicate Taneraic to Ian Biarujia, the first person in the world after me to adopt the only Taneraic surname in existence, and whose contribution to my world is inestimable.