Melissa’s Wedding Plans


Dear Ken,

Harshan and I had everything so well thought out before he left for work, and now it looks like everything is falling apart. I thought I would write you a letter to sort out my thoughts.

We planned to be married in Halakan using a marriage rite from Earth translated into Thorgelfaynese. I know that is a wild combination, but it makes a lot of sense. Halakan is his home, and the ceremony comes from my home. We have to use Thorgelfaynese because it’s the language we both have in common!

That much is going to work out. If you can scare up a copy of a traditional wedding ceremony for me, Ken, I’d greatly appreciate it. We can get Lanni Hargelstope to translate it into Thorgelfaynese for us.

Of course, one part of this is going to be a lot of fun: my mother will get the shock of her life when she arrives for the wedding and finds out where it is! I look forward to that with a delicious sort of childish malicious glee!

But the biggest problem is where to live after the wedding!

We discussed three possibilities: Thorgelfayne, Illinois, and Halakan.

The first possibility is Thorgelfayne. If we live in Thorgelfayne, we have no language problems at all, since we both speak Thorgelfaynese. Although it seems very natural that I could get a job with a computer company in Hapdorn, I actually would face a lot of stiff competition. There are tens of thousands of computer experts, and I would have a lot to learn to bring myself up to speed. On the other hand, I would have no trouble getting a job at one of the Universities in Hapdorn—I could lead English-language conversation groups and serve as a resource for the Earth studies division of the anthropology department, just like John Anderson does. Since there are only two native speakers of English on this planet, I should be able to “write my own ticket” and get a cushy job with little effort.

The problem with living in Thorgelfayne is that Harshan would have a tough time getting a worthwhile job. There is no spaceport in the Duchy, so he would have to settle for a job with a travel agency; and that would be a career set-back.

The second possibility is Earth. Living in Illinois would be fine for me, since I already speak the language and can get a job, but Harshan suffers from a double handicap: he would have severe difficulties finding employment and does not speak the language. He would be hard-pressed to get a job on Earth, since his field doesn’t even exist! (I’ve never seen a want ad for an interstellar travel specialist in the Chicago Tribune!) And then we have to add still another problem—he would be an undocumented illegal alien, in a brand-new sense of the word. Then again, Bobo doesn’t seem to have any trouble, so there might be a trick to it.

So it seemed our only hope was the third possibility, Halakan.

Halakan is Harshan’s home. He knows the customs and language and can easily be transferred to planetary duty at the Fomin Spaceport. I could have the same sort of job in Halakan as in Thorgelfayne. True, there are fewer universities and therefore fewer opportunities, but remember: I am the only unemployed native speaker of English on the planet! Thorgelfaynese is the universal language of academia, so I would suffer little professional handicap in not speaking Halakanian.

The only problem is that everyday life is very wearisome when you don’t speak the language. Believe me, I know! My only link with the world around me while Harshan is at work each day is through a sort of pidgin Thorgelfaynese that his father and I use to communicate. Of course, Harshan arranged for a Thorgelfaynese-speaking university student to act as my tour guide and helper, but it is a very odd experience, living with people that you can’t really talk to!

Originally, Harshan had wanted to move to Illinois. He was captivated by the romance of living as an alien on an other planet, and by the rugged natural beauty of Earth and the poignant adolescence of Humanity. But I insisted that it was impractical. But I told him, once you are a resident of Earth, you will find that you don’t spend much time looking at the rugged beauty, and the petty squabbling of the poignantly adolescent Humans will very quickly wear thin.)

The only thing keeping us from total bliss in Halakan is my ignorance of the language. I learned Thorgelfaynese pretty quickly, I said, how hard can Halakanian be?

So I enrolled in a “Halakanian for Foreigners” class at Fomin University, and I just attended the first session last night. However, it only made me realize that we have to rethink our plans, as you’ll see in a minute. The class meets every Secondday and Fourthday at twenty-six o’clock in the evening, and lasts for three hours including a thirty-two minute break. The class is conducted in Thorgelfaynese, it is designed for foreign students at the university, but the general public may audit the course.

I arrived at a quarter to twenty-six; ready, willing, and eager to begin. I had three sharpened pencils and a generous supply of note paper. Students casually wandered into the room carrying glasses of harng and chatting quietly in a variety of languages.

Finally, a scruffy little man with a giant mustache walked in, flopped his briefcase on the podium, introduced himself, and asked us all to take our seats. I had been especially careful to get a front row seat. I was so confident that I would conquer this language in no time!

Professor Sahtisma wasted no time getting down to business. After a very brief introduction in heavily accented Thorgelfaynese, he began teaching us the Halakanian alphabet. (A simple alphabet! I rejoiced, not a complicated one as in Thorgelfaynese!) Although there was a long chart of the Halakanian alphabet across the top of the blackboard, Sahtisma carefully drew each letter on the blackboard and informed us of the finer points of making each one. Then he had us each come forward and try our hand at it in front of the class.

We finished learning the alphabet in time for the break.

I walked out into the hallway to stretch my legs and get another glass of harng. It was crowded, and I had to maneuver my way around little conversation groups. I recognized right off that the crowd was not Human, but it took me a while to notice why—no one was smoking! In any Human crowd, a large number of the people would have been smoking; but since there was no Homelander equivalent of tobacco, smoking had never been invented.

A tall blond woman bumped into me in the crowd and said something I couldn’t understand.

“I beg your pardon?” I ventured in Thorgelfaynese.

“I was just excusing myself for bumping into you,” she explained in stilted, but grammatically perfect Thorgelfaynese. “Don’t you speak Fjarnian?” She raised her eyebrows inquisitively as she sipped her harng.

“No, I’m afraid not,” I said, “Thorgelfaynese is the only Homelander language that I know.”

“The only Homelander language?” she asked, as if she didn’t trust her hearing. Then her face brightened with excitement, “You don’t mean… you’re from another planet!? Oh, let me guess! I’ve never met an alien before!” I blushed. “I’ve got it!” she announced, “You’re a Horstmingle!” I shook my head. “Well, you don’t look very Chernian, so you must be a Zerpicker!” she concluded triumphantly.

“I’m afraid you’re completely off the mark,” I said with pride. A polite, but curious group of people had gathered around us.

“Homelander, Chernian, Horstmingle, Zerpicker,” she said, as if counting them off, “What else is there?” She turned to someone in the group, “Have they discovered another civilization in outer space? Surely it would have been in the news!” A few people chuckled genially.

I couldn’t help but smile. “No, I’m afraid they discovered us a long time ago. We just aren’t in the Cultural Exchange yet! I’m a Human!”

There were gasps of astonishment, followed by hearty hugs and friendly greetings. The group gradually wandered off as the woman and I continued our conversation.

“Oh, I am so embarrassed!” she said, “I hope you will accept my apology. It was thoughtless of me to forget about Humanity. How could I misplace an entire species? But tell me: What caused your interest in Halakanian? It is a very difficult language, you know.”

“Nothing is too hard if you put your mind to it,” I smiled. Then I explained about Harshan. We got so involved in our conversation that we chatted away the whole break without realizing it.

I rushed back to my seat, and quickly went over my notes while Professor Sahtisma wrote something on the blackboard. The title was “Brief History of the Halakanian Language.” While he finished scribbling on the board, I admired my notes from the first half of the class. I had made a neat little chart of all the letters, together with their names, sound values, and alternate forms.

The second half of the class was a lecture on the history and structure of the language. I was heady with enthusiasm. Sahtisma informed us that the peculiarities of the Halakanian language are best understood from a historical perspective. I was all ears: the simple writing system had me convinced that I would be reading the newspaper and debating politics by the end of the month!

Having finished his introductory remarks, Sahtisma pulled a sheaf of papers from his floppy briefcase and began the lecture.

The Halakanian language was once a major trade and diplomatic language in this region of the continent, but it is presently spoken by only about sixty-five million people in and near the United Republic of Halakan. Proto-Halakanian, the earliest recorded ancestor of the present-day language, was an analytical language (like Chinese on Earth). All morphemes were free, and syntactical relationships were indicated by word order and intonation. That was over fifteen thousand years ago, however, and much has changed since then!

During the Late Empire Period, some of the words had lost their lexical meanings, functioning exclusively as syntactical and morphological signals. This was partially brought on by the Ustranki invaders, who ruled Halakan during Halakan’s Cultural Recession. Many Ustranki words were assimilated into the Halakanian language, but they did not conform to the phonological patterns of the language. Short Halakanian words were appended to them, and inflectional patterns developed. In this way, Halakanian became an inflected language, like Russian or Polish back on Earth.

However by the beginning of the Modern Age, there were so many elisions, liaisons and contractions, that Modern Halakanian must now be categorized as a synthetic language. That is the sort of structure it has today. A synthetic language is where words melt into each other so smoothly that the basic unit of speech is not so much the word as it is the sentence. None of the Human languages which belong to this category have risen to world prominence. They are all somewhat obscure; such as Eskimo and a few of the Amerindian languages.

So in other words, Halakanian grammar has no rules; only exceptions! My heart sank. Synthetic languages are so difficult that a trained linguist may need as long as ten years to learn them!

I have an example here in my notes. In Halakanian, “sara naharshatapelod” means “bring me a book.” The “t” in “naharshatapelod” means “me” ! But if I want to say “bring me an umbrella” the sentence would read: “sara naharshadehorshtek.” The “t” changes to a “d” because of the following “h.” The “horshtek” part means umbrella, but you can’t just holler out “horshtek!” if someone asks you what you want. You would have to say, “agadroshtak” (literally, “to me an umbrella” ). The “horshtek” turns into “roshtak” because “ag” makes the “d” into “ad.” What a mess!

I’m getting a headache just writing this down!

Professor Sahtisma warned us that true mastery of Halakanian requires a lifetime, but that we can expect to communicate our basic needs and wants effectively, though imperfectly, within a few years. He then announced a shortcut that would allow us to master the language in a extremely short time! That really got our attention. All you have to do, he explained, is join a religion that believes in reincarnation; die, and come back as a Halakanian baby! I thought that was hilarious, but the joke only elicited polite laughter from the rest of the class. The person sitting next to me whispered that it was an old joke, based on a scholar’s lament.

Then, in a sales pitch designed to convince us that the effort would be well-spent, he sang the praises of modern Halakanian literature.

We got out about eight minutes after twenty-nine o’clock. Several students stayed behind to ask some questions; but Mr. Nagala was probably waiting for me in the car, so I just slipped out.

Okay, so I fell in love with a man from another country on another planet. Wasn’t that enough? Why does his native language have to be so complex as to be virtually unlearnable? My bad luck always seems to find away to sneak in and ruin the surest bet!

I’m going to talk to Harshan right after I finish this letter. I think I’ve got things straightened out in my mind: living in Halakan just won’t work. I guess we’ll just have to settle in Thorgelfayne after all. We certainly can’t go to Earth! This experience in Halakan has convinced me that Illinois would be torture for Harshan.

Your frustrated friend,

Melissa