A quick blog post on something I’m reading as a result of half-hearing a passing reference on BBC Radio Four, following it up on Twitter and thus having a knowledgeable and kind person point me in the right direction. The reference was to a detective novel written in a jokey pan-European language called Europanto. The title was Las Adventures Des Inspector Cabillot. The author was Diego Marani, an Italian writer, columnist and translator, and a linguist for the European Union, who first wrote the work in 1998 - but I believe it may have been published this year in the UK for the first time.
Cabillot is a pan-European policeman who tours the continent sorting out the very particular problems caused by integration. These include Finnish nationalists drinking the country dry of vodka, butter smuggling, the production of a fiendishly addictive heroin-like chocolate substance, and a coup by a military cadre of mad cows in the UK which sees the Queen deposed and made to live in a byre for the duration. Cabillot picks up an assistant during his travels - a huge Greek lady Cyclops by the name of Psychodramma who leaves her sheep and her island in order to join him in Brussels. The pair uncover a particularly novel means of illegal immigration and find a meaning for the term jeux sans frontières that its coiners surely never imagined. As you may have perceived, it is not a very serious book.
What makes it well worth the time spent on its 130-odd pages is that it is designed to be intelligible to readers of English, French, German, Dutch, Italian or Spanish - and thus makes a claim to be a genuinely pan-European language. I am certainly no linguist, having the merest smattering of German and French to my name, certainly far below any functional level. But I can read this just fine. And, because the language is made up, there’s no worrying about grammar or whether you should put it down and go and find a dictionary and look up a word. It doesn’t matter. It is fun, not a chore, and leaves you feeling big and clever rather than frustrated and stupid. As one reviewer says, it is not the story but the novelty of being able to understand it. It is therefore an experiment well worth carrying out.
More about the book and the language: