20 November 2011

Entish for humans

If you don't know what Entish is, you obviously haven't read enough of Tolkien's fiction. The intrepid may venture here: http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/entish.htm
Entish words run extremely long, because each contains a detailed description: "Forestmanyshadowed-deepvalleyblack Deepvalleyforested Gloomyland". Trees, and their Entish shepherds, have time to talk like that. If you love poetic language, it's enough to make you want to be an Ent.

Is there a language with the integrity and evocative description of Entish that can be spoken at a pace suitable for humans?
There is. It's called Hebrew.

In Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew), every word - every word - has a three-letter "root". That root has a meaning.
This system exists, to some degree, in English: spoke, speak, and speaking are clearly related - enough that if you come across spake in an old text, you know what it means.
English is like Silly Putty - every language that ever got thrown at it stuck. By now English contains also spokes of a wheel, and specks, and spic and span, so that knowing speak  does not help you figure out what these other words mean. Speak and a dime will get you a ride on the subway.
In Hebrew the subway is free. All words with the same root are related.

More: all roots that sound alike are related.
More: each letter has a meaning (e.g. a ch will take the place of an h in a root to convey a harsher meaning), and all letters that sound alike are related. Entish is the language of Tolkien's trees, but Hebrew is shaped like one.
There are families of roots. There are families of letters. If you know one word in Hebrew, it isn't hard to learn a second. The Hebrew alphabet functions like the Periodic Table of the Elements.

This is seldom taught in Hebrew courses, which is a pity. People come out of Hebrew classes grousing that the language has two genders to keep track of, like French, and thinking that Hebrew is a difficult and sprawling language. Non, non, non. I used to teach Hebrew, and the shortcuts are real, and even before we get into its being a Divine language, it is an insanely gorgeous one, because if one letter has a meaning,
and you add to that another letter with another meaning,
and make of this a word with a root with a deeper meaning,
and this root calls to mind all the other words that grow from it, as well as the other related roots - by a power of association which does not exist in English- why, here we are with as complex a word as Entish, a word that expresses the essence of the thing, with perfect integrity, to say nothing of a great deal of poetry or of the joy of all those words being related to each other. And it took only three letters to get here.

(Why two genders? Having male and female words allows for subtle shades of meaning: e.g., using a female adjective for a male noun indicates something feminine about it.)

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