A nation changes direction.
|The Great Diacritic Disaster
It was our Subvanian tour guide who explained the strange linguistic anomaly of the country to me. I had signed up for one of those coach tours through the Subvanian Alps and at midday we had stopped at a local inn for refreshment. It was very picturesque, just as promised in the brochures, and most of us chose to sit outside, taking in the grand vista of the mountains around us. The guide joined us, beer in hand, and chose to sit at my table, perhaps because I was alone.
We chatted about various matters he had mentioned during the coach ride and, eventually, I was able to ask him about the historical origins of his country's language. Obviously pleased at the chance to expound at length, he settled back in his chair and began.
"I'm glad you asked me that," he said. "You see, we haven't always been called Subvania. There was a time, not too long ago, when this was the land of Supervania. It was not the forgotten backwater you've seen today, oh no. In those days Subvania was a land of energy and promise, a hive of industry and enterprise. Indeed, it was a land of great ambition and, like most countries at one time or another, it dreamed of world domination. You may laugh when you see us now but I'm telling you, we went even further than dreaming. We had plans, you see.
"Great plans they were, huge schemes that would have caught the world napping. Looking back on it now, I think we had a very good chance of succeeding. We were that close to it, the very eve of our intended emergence upon the world stage, when something went drastically wrong. Terrible it was and it reduced us to the quaint but unimportant people we are today. That day will be remembered in our hearts forever; we call it The Great Diacritic Disaster.
"On that day, the day before we were to take over the world, we awoke to find that we could not speak. Well, we could, but we were mumbling and stumbling over the words so we just couldn't understand each other. We tried writing everything down but we found that the words were unpronounceable - we just couldn't understand a word of what the other guy was saying.
"You can imagine the chaos we were thrown into. The whole infrastructure of the country began to break down and all thought of our grand plan was instantly forgotten. We might even have perished were it not for the fact that a small group of us had learned sign language. Through this medium they were able to re-establish some order and, after weeks of study, they discovered what had happened.
"In those days we had our own language, you see, and I'll admit it was a complicated affair and even worse when it came to writing it down. Full of accents and fillips, swoops and curves, it was, a glorious thing to behold. But a bugger to read, unfortunately, and a mouthful to pronounce. And this was to prove our undoing. It seems there was a linguist in our great university in the capital and he had added another diacritic (that's one of those curly things added on to letters) to certain words of the language. Very pleased with it, he was by all accounts, but it proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. It cast our language over the edge upon which it had teetered for generations and we fell with it into the abyss.
"Well, we had to do something quickly or we'd have been the lost tribe of Europe or something. Someone signed that we should all learn another language and we started looking around for an easy one to learn. Afrikaans was in the lead for a while - until we realised that it was easy because it followed the same rules as English. And we'd all learned English at school of course. I think it was then that we had the same bright idea at once: since we had at least a working knowledge of English; it would make the ideal language for us in our hour of need.
"And that, sir, is how you find a tiny, isolated nation of English speakers right in the heart of Europe. A strange but interesting tale, I think you'll agree. And every word of it true. Innit."
Word Count: 740