Interslavic Language Creator & the Idea behind the Constructed Language Understandable to all Slavs
November 2, 2019
Hello Everyone! It’s Norbert here. Today I’m in Prague and I have the pleasure of talking to one of the creators of the Interslavic language Vojtech Merunka. Good day Everyone! Today we’re going to talk about the Interslavic language. I will be asking Vojta questions in Polish language and he’ll be responding in the Interslavic language. So we’ll be able to see how it works. Thank you Norbert and we’ll testing to what extent a Polish person can hold a conversation with a person speaking the Interslavic language. All right. Let’s see then. The first question refers to the creators of the Interslavic language. People who encounter the Interslavic language for the first time, don’t fully know this world and they don’t know who actually created it. Ok. I got it. There are many creators. Not just one. The first was Jan van Steenbergen – my Dutch friend who together with his team created the Interslavic language, and I independently from him created the Neoslavonic language. We created our languages independently but our results were very similar. The languages were the same in 90%. After that we got in touch I and my team in Czechia, in Croatia, with the team of Steenbergen. We met and we organized a conference in Czech Republic but not in Prague but in Moravia – it’s the Eastern Part of Chechia, I think it was 2 years ago, and we agreed on the unification of both languages. Making it into one. And it’s our Interslavic language now. I understand. And where the idea of creating the language comes from? How did we start? The idea? Well, there were different ideas. My original idea was… since I was young I’ve been interested in history, evolution: evolution of human on Earth, evolution of life on Earth, on the planet and so on. And I was interested in the evolution of Slavs. Early history of Slavs. In the 9th century there was Great Moravia and saint Cyril and Methodius, who created the first literary Slavic language. The Old-Church-Slavonic. And I did a theoretical experiment on how this kind of language would look like today. In the modern times? To create a modern language like that. I’d call it an artificial language evolution from 9th to 21st century. That’s my position. Simply put I modernised the Old-Church-Slavonic. Mathematically I was looking at different transformations of our languages: how the languages like Czech, Russian, Polish, Croatian, Serbian and Bulgarian isolated from the Old-Church-Slavonic it’s my profession, I have a phd in Mathematics and I’m a software engineer. So I used mathematical methods and the IT to study why there were so many trends and the modern Slavic languages are so distant from one another even though they originate from one center. N: From one family? V: From one center, from one position. And I had a hypothesis that even though our languages branched out in different directions, they might still have a common center. A new root. I knew well that the Old-Church-Slavonic, that is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church, particularly in Croatia, This language is not in the center of these languages anymore. It’s on the side, it’s archaic. And I was looking for the new middle. The new center. Yes. I used to read linguistic books about transformations of vowels, nasal sounds, consonants. Different languages were going through different transformations: different kinds of transformations of yers, the soft one and the hard one etc. And when we analysed it all statistically it became a data base – we used the statistics to find the new middle. A median, statistical average. I found this trend. ‘Ogólny trend’ in Polish. Universal trend. So you started the trend of collecting data? Yes. So I asked our Slavic studies professors, in Prague, to give me the dictionary with 6,000 words of classical Old-Church-Slavonic from the 9th century, I run this dictionary through a computer and I applied the processes I’ve found. With this technical means I created my first dictionary of Neoslavonic language. That was its name back then. I understand. And here, there are many questions under the videos whether this is an artificial language? Yes, artificial but derived from the Old-Church-Slavonic. I wrote about it in the book that I published with my colleague, associate professor, Denik Linhart. Together we applied for a grant to the European Union and we got money for a summer school. It was a small school, there was only 3 students but it was a real school. There was a tiny budget and… What year was it? It was back in 2010. No, I said ten (10). Yes, but it all was published on the internet And all these materials were published on the internet too? – Yes. it all was published and even today one can find it at neoslavonic.org as a historical monument. Is it the official website for the language? No, today the official site of the language is interslavic-language.org, or the site of Jan van Steenbergen. It’s all connected though. And my Neoslavonic is a sort of historical monument, something like that. A kind of archive? Yes, it’s a archive. So when it all was published in the internet I run into Jan van Steenbergen or he run into me, I’m not sure at this point who was the first, but we’ve been friends ever since. Another interesting fact is that the film director Václav Marhoul got the rights to the film ‘Painted Bird’ – ‘Malowany Ptak’ in Polish. His idea was that the people in the movie don’t speak neither in Polish, nor in Ukrainian, nor in any other particular language. So he tried to invent his own language but he quickly realised that it wasn’t an easy task. He wanted to create his own language for the movie? That was his idea. To create a language. An artistic language? In Czech cinematography we already had the tradition of using this kind of languages for example in case of the beautiful novels of Julius Verne from the 19th century. In film adaptations of Julius Verne’s novels… Do you know who Julius Verne is? The French, right. And there was an artificial language used as well. It means that it’s an old Czech tradition. But Václav Marhoul had to create a living language, used by the villagers, priests, townsmen etc., the intelectuals, primitive people Different levels of the language All the social layers, yes. And that was the problem. He realised it was a difficult task so he started looking it up in the internet to see if someone already had this kind of language ready to use – and he found me. It’s always worth checking if someone has done something already. That means that we’ve been in touch, with the director, 9 years already. I’ve translated all the dialogues to the movie. There were 16 versions of the script. And there is not much talking in this movie. Not much taking but there were 16 versions of the script. Here comes the plane! How do you say ‘airplane’ in Interslavic? It’s interesting, it’s the method of Jan van Steenbergen He come up with the strategy that we enter data collected from all 15 main languages to a data base. How to say an airplane – Cамолет, самолёт, letadlo etc. and the math does the job. There are some mathematical factors regarding the size of the language and the level of intelligibility to a neighboring language. So the criterion was if the language is understandable to others? Yes. The size – it means the number of people in a nation, and the the ineligibility rate has been established by the linguists. It’s also a mathematically verifiable quantity. So many words like the said ‘samolet’ is a result of the mathematics. We call it a ‘voting machine.’ Voting machine. Voting. And a voter is the one that votes. And that’s it. So that’s how it works. And under the video there were many comment saying that this language sounds like Russian. Is that the case? It’s not the Russian language. The thing is that there was an artist requested that the language should have a soft pronunciation. The thing is that the Southern Slavs speak with a harder pronunciation: t, d, n and so on. The Eastern Slavs – have a softer pronunciation. And the Western Slavs speak sometimes with the hard and sometimes with the soft pronunciation. The request was that the language has the soft pronunciation. In addition to that, I came up with the idea for the film if a person is from the lower social class, they are from the countryside and didn’t go to good school, they would speak with the softer pronunciation. normal people, they would speak with the softer pronunciation. However, if someone is highly educated, a priest for example, they would speak with a harder pronunciation. But if they speak to someone from the lower social strata, they would adjust their pronunciation to a softer one. As it occurs in a normal life. Another interesting fact about the film: the reviews made at the film festival in Venice said that there was only 9 minutes of the actual speech in Interslavic. That’s true but these are just the dialogues that are subtitled. This parts get translated into English or any other language. But the fact is that all the people that we can see on the screen speak Interslavic, e.g little kids playing outside, people working in the fields, in town and so on. There is a town, in the town there is a market, on the market there is a street, restaurant etc. All of these people speak Interslavic. But these dialogues are just the sound of the background that completes the picture and isn’t subtitled. There is no subtitles but you can still hear it. And all this is in the Interslavic language. So the Slavic people should be able to understand at least part of it. I think so. Perhaps they won’t understand it very well. You know, when someone is in the distance… maybe there will be a partial understanding of 20-30%, but people will understand something. I would sit all days for two months in the recording studio, here in Prague, and the director would tell me: you see, back there are two kids, the little one next to the other one. What do you think they’re saying? Basically they were extras and they spoke in Slovak or Ukrainian. They were regular people and not professional actors. They were saying something in their own languages. And that was a problem because you could tell that there is Ukrainian or Slovak language sounding in the background. So we had to cut out the original soundtrack and fill the gaps with dubbing. Interestingly, even some of the known Czech actors, even though they liked the film and had a great acting, when they were in the role they would forget about the Interslavic and they would insert Czech words in their speech, so… Because they are so similar, right? Yes, they are close, they are similar. So there was another problem to solve. Some actors had to dub themselves in the recording studio. Did you go to the film set too or you just worked in the dubbing studio? ‘Na planie’… I didn’t go to the film set too often. We call it ‘na place.’ I did go to the place where there is a videocamera, where actors play their roles, but just a few times. Because the crew was very professional and I thought the language to one of the crew members. The young man who had a mic and the actors had some sort of the spy equipment… a kind of shortwave radio… ‘wireless’ “Bespszewo…” Yes, without a wire. Wireless radio that you put in the ear like spies or James Bond. The guy would help them with the dialogues, he whispered the words to them. So I thought this man and I didn’t have to be on the set all the time. After all, the text was the most important. Writing it. – Yes, the text was ready. – I understand. That’s great. So the film is going to have the premiere soon, right? – Yes, it was in the morning… – It already happened? Last night was the premiere. Today we have Friday and it was on Thursday or Wednesday… well, not long ago, Wednesday, I think. Where can you watch it? In Czechia it’s going to be on the 12th of September and most likely in other countries as well… Soon. Soon. I think. So this is one of the applications of the language In the film industry. What about other applications, maybe more practical? Well, I know very well it’s a controversial topic, especially for the Poles, but you must know that there are American actors in this movie, like Harvey Keitel, a well known Hollywood actor – Julian Sands who plays in many sci-fi movies, e.g ‘Stargate’. Yes, he was in the series. These are very popular actors and they speak Interslavic. And there are many Slavic language speaking people in America. Millions of Americans have a grandpa or a grandma from Poland, from Ukraine, Czechia, Slovakia – because of migration to America. And these people recognise some words so I think that it’s going to be very popular among them because they all are going to hear a language that sounds familiar to them. And thanks to that the idea of the Interslavic language will reach more people. Regardless of the subject of the movie. Yes, that’s right. But coming back to the language itself What other practical uses do we have for the language? Well, it’s a good question. Our predecessors, the creators of similar languages, they worked in the 18th and 19th century (Jurij Križanić was the first Panslavist), they made the first universal Slavic language for art, for the higher culture, they wanted to write novels in this language and so on. But I think that it wasn’t a good strategy, because the best novels are written in native languages. For example – Sienkiewicz. It has to be in Polish, it doesn’t make sense to translate it to an interlanguage. Or, let’s say, Russian or Czech Čapek who invented the word ‘robot’ and so on. Or Serbian Antić. It doesn’t make sense to do that. No. In modern times we have a great migration of people, and I don’t mean a permanent migration. I’m talking about moving around for touristic purposes, people travel around Europe and the World. And when you use the interlanguage in this context it turns out it’s very useful, for example with tourist attractions. We did an experiment at the Dead Sea in Israel, the Israelis wanted to do it themselves, so we made a leaflet with the info about where is a towel, what bus goes to the beach, what time to come for breakfast, lunch and supper etc. And what was the result of the experiment? The Israeli one? Well. It was a success. The leaflet contained the info about breakfast, supper, check-in check-out times, how to sign in to the Wi-Fi, where is the bus stop to the beach, bus timetable, 20 minuets from the main entrance and so on. There was just one problem – the script. The script, right. But did those tourists know that it was the Interslavic language? But did those tourists know that it was the Interslavic language? – The tourists were from Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Russia… Yes, there was a sign explaining that it’s the Interslavic language, but the problem was with the alphabet because we had to write it in two versions: the Latin and the Cyrillic alphabet. My experience was… So what was the problem? Not enough space? Well, when it was written in the Latin alphabet it was a problem for the Eastern Slavs – Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians… The Serbs had no problem, the Serbs know both alphabets. The others don’t know both alphabets and they read the Latin one like in English. A, b, s, d, e, f, g so they can’t read it. They don’t know how to read it. That’s the problem. No. Cyrillic. They have their Cyrillic alphabet but they can’t read the Latin one. I understand. Thy don’t understand the Latin one. They don’t know the Latin alphabet. For example the sign says ‘jego’ and they read it as ‘jay.’ That’s the problem. Yes. Because one has to learn it. Well, you’re not supposed to learn it, the idea is that you understand the language without prior learning. But I though it was written in both alphabets. Yes, it was. That’s how the problem was solved. There was a page and the text was in both alphabets. And it worked then. I’ve got one more question. Is the Interslavic language complete? I believe it isn’t. We need practice. I believe our grammar is completed in 95-100%. We’ve been doing this for 10 years already. The thing is that there are still some exceptions, special words, special verbs. It all needs to be used in practice. We’ve got little texts. Well, relatively speaking it’s not so little, that’s quite enough for a constructed language. We have a journal Slovjani.info, it’s a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. It’s registered internationally and it has international editorial board. That’s all good. We also have our ‘čitateljnik’ – it’s 100 pages of our best texts written by about 20 of our best authors. Not just by me and Jan van Steenbergen. 20 of them. The problem is that it’s still not enough for a full language. The language has to start living to be able to grow. We’ve got 2000-2600 members on Facebook. These people are in touch with our language but only 200-300 write texts. The other ones understand the language but they respond in their own languages. I’d like to invite all the writers to try to write in our language. The people who write full texts in our language are… Not just funny memes with a couple of words – it’s not enough. But if you write full texts in our language you become a co-creator. Today you can still create something new in the Interslavic language. There is a lot of room for creating something new. Yes, but it’s a hard work. There is a need for texts. And if someone wants to get involved in the community, where they can get in touch? On Facebook in the group called Interslavic. Also on the website Interslavic language, just type ‘Interslavic language’ in English in the google search and you’ll find our website and the website of Jan van Steenbergen. You’ll find it all there. All right. So thank you very much for the conversation. My pleasure. And if you have any questions, write them below and we’ll try to answer as far as possible. Thanks for watching!