Prashad.

Frequent commenter Y sent me a rare book dealer’s catalog (it’s #24, downloadable as a pdf from here if you’re curious — it’s got all sorts of great stuff, including an I.W.W. union shop sign and the 1920 First American Edition of Lenin’s Proletarskaia revoliutsiia i renegat Kautskii [Proletarian Revolution and Renegade Kautsky], “printed in an edition of about 1,000 copies and distributed by Max Maisel … After the death of Maisel the entire stock of his company was sold to a prominent Russian bookdealer Nicholas Martianoff, a former associate and one time secretary of Kerensky. Martianoff considered all radical literature held at Maisel’s shop wothless and sent it to a paper mill in New York”); he thought I’d be interested because it includes a large collection of obscure and very obscure artificial language publications (on pp. 25-32). I very much enjoyed looking through it, and had my curiosity piqued when Y added: “About the artificial languages, I’m sorry that I probably never will see performed Keilty’s ‘Three Short Plays in Prashad’, and nor will anyone else. I looked up him and his language, and it’s a fine oddball San-Francisco-in-the-’70s story.” Naturally, I googled, and I hereby present to you the account of the language, courtesy of the KPFA Pacifica Radio Program Guide for November 1979 (apparently the only source for the story):

On January 27, 1978, James Keilty died. City planner, linguist, author, Utopian, and long-time supporter of KPFA, Mr. Keilty died of cancer a scant ten days after the diagnosis. […]

I first knew James Keilty in the fall of ’49. A friend had given me his address and told me he was someone who really knew San Francisco and would introduce the city to me. He did. He made the city fascinating with his amazing insights. We became fast friends. […] He was a brilliant scholar, spoke several languages fluently, and any number of languages to some degree. In Italian he spoke various dialects. He was writing and translating plays, acting in some, and directing others. […]

He devised a phonetic alphabet with several more sounds represented than the Roman alphabet has, for use in translating Mandarin and Japanese, for example. Then, about 25 years ago, he began to invent a language to go with his alphabet. He translated Rilke into his language, which he called ‘Prashad.’ Then he translated Sophocles. He asked me what classic I felt was the most important in any language. I said, without hesitation, the Tao Teh Ching. He was delighted and immediately decided to translate that into Prashad. He looked at several English versions, but they were so dissimilar that he decided that he must puzzle it out of the Chinese original. First he translated it into English. I hope that can be published someday. One popular version, for example, has a line that goes something like, . . .when the Tao is known, race horses will be used to pull manure carts. In Keilty’s translation, that becomes, “. . .Horses are only used to produce manure.” He assured me that the original said no more nor less than that. Through these translations, the. vocabulary of Prashad had become quite extensive with all the tenses and a sophisticated grammar. So, he began to write the saga of the people who spoke Prashad. It was a consuming, though part-time activity.

When he was about 40, he said he had saved enough and inherited enough to live modestly and do only his own work. I encouraged him to retire and give himself over to his own pursuits on a full time basis. He did, and I’ve no reason to believe that he regretted his act. […] Once in a while he would produce a play. His friends would become actors, and would work very hard to please him. Usually there was only one or two performances. The audiences were often very enthusiastic. Once, he presented three short plays in Prashad using actors who were good linguists and who had actually learned the language in the course of learning their roles.

Prashad has only one word for each thing, not two or more, as in English. In the case of English, two words for the same thing often came about because of combined latin or nordic origins. Gradually, the words took on superlative or pejorative meanings, so that one can say things in English which are either laudatory or insulting without straying from the facts. This lingua-centricity has been central to cultural growth.

But Keilty wanted a language that was naturally honest. The culture he based on his language was Utopian, and his saga of the Prashadsim can be called a Utopian fantasy.

Only one small part of his entire saga has been published, in a science fiction anthology edited by Thomas Disch, The New Improved Sun.

I’ve left out most of the non-language-related stuff, for which you can read the piece in the program (it’s on p. 6). I’m always fascinated by such obsessives, though I’m glad I don’t have to spend time around them!

Comments

  1. I don’t include links in my comment because then it goes to purgatory and it’s aggravating. But if you post this into your URL “http://archives.conlang.info/da/whiajhon/fhoerzhoerchuan.html” there will be additional info by means of quoting Samuel Delany’s About Writing. Judging by OAC (online archive of California) the good stuff is in the Bancroft library, but off-line. Delany’s book is partially available through Google.

  2. Thanks! Here‘s the direct link.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    One link is usually fine. Two unfailingly trigger moderation.

  4. January First-of-May says:

    IIRC, one link is fine if the post had never been edited; any combination of a link and an edit triggers moderation (whether the link had been added in the edit, or existed before it – though I’m not sure if moderation is still triggered if a link is removed in an edit).

  5. But Keilty wanted a language that was naturally honest.

    I’m sure one of the places visited in Gulliver’s Travels had that language. Imagining it allowed Swift to satirise how powerful people and politicians seem to be using some other language.

    And then there’s the use of the English language in Australia https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-3x4NoFcYD4

  6. Testing a link to be edited.

    Editing.

    Doesn’t go into moderation.

  7. And yet I had to retrieve it from moderation.

  8. Weird. Maybe it went into moderation after the timer expired. Link. Edit.

  9. No, no moderation, unless Hat pulled it out before I could check back.

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