Grant Barrett sends along the following linguistic puzzler:

What language is this? Note that it is transcribed accurately from a first-quality source. There are no characters, words, or diacritics missing.

Mons. Tardini, ki sar sepisanya, sar un prelatyo ridela dal manyeros somyes epe bruskas, dal abord simpla e franka. Il pertenar al vatikana diplomatio dep 1938 e it derkar pratike dep is anyos, prime in kolabor kon Mons. Montini, doe sola dep lo namado d etun al arciveskado de Milan.

Grant is interested in the way people try to figure it out, so if you’ve got a reason for your guess, spell it out. If you know the answer for sure, please e-mail me rather than putting it in the comments; after someone has guessed correctly or I’ve decided to put an end to the torment, I’ll post your name or moniker; let me know how you wish to be credited.

Update. We have a winner! Scott Martens writes: “It’s Neo, an artificial language invented in the 30’s by Arturo Alfandari.” Well done, Scott, and you win a year’s free subscription to Languagehat!


  1. It is not a language that I learned, but I can understand the text fragment quite easily. Articles and prepositions are typically Neo-Latin (un, lo, dal, …) but it is definitely neither Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Ladin, Rhaeto-Romansch nor Latin. The very simple inflections (adjectives end in -a, singular nouns in -o, plural nouns in -os) make it look like an artificial language. In conclusion, I’d say Esperanto.

  2. Definitely not Esperanto.

  3. I’m with Stefano — Esperanto seems to fit this passage perfectly.
    * Esperanto spelling was designed to be as intuitive as possible, which explains the lack of accent marks. Even better, truckloads of ks are practically a watermark of an artificial orthography: c can be pronounced dozens of different ways, but k is always pronounced the same in many languages, so replacing hard cs with ks does away with a lot of confusion.
    * Esperanto is based heavily on Spanish, and in the passage Spanish-esque words like “ki” (“que”), “kon” (“con”), “sar” (“ser”), and “anyos” (“años”) abound.
    Then again, there are a few problems: “dal” looks suspiciously like “del”, and joined words like that don’t make sense in a language designed to be intuitive.
    Anyway, here’s my wild, flailing guess at a partial translation:
    Mount Tardini, which is sepisanya, is a prelatyo ridela of the manyeros somyes epe bruskas [brusque?], on the border simpla and French. It is adjacent to to the Vatican diplomatio dep 1938 e it derkar pratike dep is anyos, prime in collaboration with Mount Montini, doe sola dep lo namado [named it?] d etun al arciveskado of Milan.
    Hmm, that doesn’t make much sense. I’m probably completely wrong. 🙂
    Oh, BTW — I believe “is,” which appears in the passage, means “sharp” (as in a musical note) in Dutch. That’s probably irrelevant. 🙂

  4. Definitely not Esperanto.
    D’oh! I started writing before you posted your comment! x_X

  5. No problem — but I have a hard time believing either of you guys has actually seen anything in Esperanto (which, among other things, does have diacritical marks)!

  6. Oh, wait, I am stupid! “Mons.” looks like an abbreviation for an equivalent of “Monseiur”. If it meant “mountain” (“mons”), it wouldn’t be an abbreviation! x_X

  7. It seems like a simplified, artificial Romance language, similar to Romanova or Interlingua, but it’s not either of those two. The orthography is self-consciously modern.

  8. It’s a Romance language with no particular strangenessess except spelling, closest to Italian and Spanish. Not Provencal or Catalan or Romanian, so I say Sardinian, just because I know that a Sardinian linguistic revival exists or has existed (and because others ruled out Ladino and Romansch).
    Seemingly the spelling system is recently devised and tries to be phonetic — “ki” looks odd but it’s phonetic and I’ve even seen it in Old French.
    If not Sardinian, maybe some kind of Romance creole or pidgin, especially if what people say about the regularity is true (I was not struck by that). But I didn’t see any obviously borrowed words of the type you see in creoles.

  9. Well, Esperanto has been ruled out, but I still have a feeling that the text is in an artificial language. Maybe Ido? I dredged up my copy of “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language”, which has examples of a text in several artificial languages, and Ido seeems to fit the best from what I can see. It has the romantic-ness, the prevalence of the letter “k”, and the lack of diacritic marks.
    So where do I pick up my prize? 😉

  10. I’ve seen signs in Haitian French written with k’s like that. Could it be Haitian?

  11. I think it’s a creole or lingua franca, and I’m going to suspect in the Philippines rather than the West Indies. The k indicates respelling to Tagalog norms. While the -ny- also occurs naturally in Catalan, that and the -tyo and -myes look like Tagalog convention. The lack of apostrophe in “d etun” also points that way. (Or maybe I’m just being suckered by the very Austronesian-looking “sepisanya”.)
    The plural ending -os makes it Iberian-based. The word ending in /p/ however makes it look northern, in the Catalan/Occitan line. It hasn’t had the modern sound-shifts of Catalan, so /v/ and /b/ are distinct, and I can’t tell what the “c” in /arci-/ represents, but probably /tS/.
    Monsinyor Montini was the future Paul VI.
    The apparent ending losses in “dep” and especially “kolabor” make me suspect creolization; though I suppose the latter could actually be etymologically co-labour rather than collaboration.
    Not sure what to make of Milan’s not being Milano.

  12. I’m not a linguist so my method was much more prosaic. I googled several of the words in order to find a common link between them, and found several references to many of the words. However these were from many different sources and languages and as no pattern emerged, I agree that it’s probably an artificial language known to the few.

  13. I’ll vote with entangled bank. That fits the Spanish flavor and the creole flavor. I’ll take his word about Tagalog.
    (Man, if it really is Sardinian, I’ll feel dumb as shit now!_

  14. Knowing nothing, I’m going to guess Maltese, based on the reference to the Monsinyor and the seemingly Italian derivation of arciveskado from arcivescovado.

  15. Michael Farris says

    Absolutely not Maltese, which is Semitic and not romance at all (though there are tons of borrowings from standard and non-standard (Esp Sicilian) Italian.
    I have no idea what it is (besides Romance or Romance derived) but I’ll guess some (very) non-standard Italian though I don’t know what’s up with all the k’s.

  16. ‘Sepisanya’ – I’m guessing this means ‘seventy years old’. The plural in ‘s’ would imply an Iberian language or derivative (Asian, African, Latin American or from a small island – Sardinia, Corsica, Azores, Canaries, Perejil? That narrows things down to a few hundred candidates). It looks like a Vatican press release, so there might be a clue there.
    Method employed for further investigation:
    1. Concentrate on the unfamiliar, non-Latin-looking words (e.g. derkar) and try to find out what they mean/where they come from.
    2. Fail miserably.

  17. If ‘sepisanya’ is ’70 years old’, then ‘is anyos’ probably means ‘ten years’ (and ‘sep’=7). But I can’t think which language ‘is’=10 might be derived from offhand. Or maybe I’m wandering up the grarden path without a paddle.

  18. I have a guess – not a Romance language, but close – but it’s not panning out, since there should be a couple of diacritics and a specific article.
    Me, I use Google and the digram frequency method. But this is a tough one and that approach is getting me nowhere.

  19. It’s very neat. As others have said, all the nouns end in ‘o’ (with plural ‘s’), all the adjectives with an ‘a’. I’d add that most of the adverbs end in ‘e’ (‘prime’=’first’, ‘doe’+then and I’m guessing that ‘pratike’ is something like ‘practically’ or ‘almost’). It smells artificial. The verb ending in ‘r’ (in the third person singular at least) is almost Scandinavian. My guess is it’s a Romance pidgin spoken on the Faroe Islands by the descendants of a band of flamenco dancers who were kidnapped by Vikings.

  20. I found it. It is a tricky one. I just e-mailed.
    Methods used: trickery involving Google. Bigram searches weren’t good enough, but searching for possible morphological variants of some of the words will find it.

  21. I was going to be clever and use the TextCat language Guesser (http://odur.let.rug.nl/~vannoord/TextCat/), but the text has it stumped. Not that it proves anything, really. I’m going with the kidnapped flamenco dancer theory.

  22. The language looks pretty Spanish to me (I don’t really know Spanish) but the orthography is too sane – it appears to owe nothing to the traditions of Romance.
    * Spelling reform? Nah.
    * Conlang? Prolly not – why have a Romance based and not Romance spelling?
    * A “creole” that grew up to a literary standard? Better…
    * A (re)latinisation of a language that went through an extended period of being written in another script? This would get my vote.
    I’d guess the other script was Hebrew and we’re dealing with post-1942 Shepardic Judeo-Spanish (Zizka claims “others” ruled out Ladino, but in this thread I only see Ladin ruled out, and that ain’t nohow the same).
    Based on the fact of a Latin orthography uncontaminated by Standard Romance or hilarious Slavic quirks, I’m going to take a stab at Turkey as the geographical source. (Is there a Yoopean rival apart from Finland, which I don’t think likely?)
    So: post-Ataturk Turkish Shepardic Judeo-Spanish is my official guess.

  23. *bites lip*
    Ooooh, hurry and wake up, LH! I know its only six in the morning on the east coast, but I want to know if I’m right!
    Finding it is so easy when you know which thing to search for. I so totally want to drop an great big hint – now that I retrace my steps, I didn’t search for it the way I said I did – but I can’t say anything or everyone will work it out and it’ll be spoiled. I want to dazzle everyone with my cleverness! :^)

  24. My guess is that it is a variant of some Romance language, transcribed from its original written form in a non-Roman script.
    (I guess Romance for the reason everyone else gives, the non-Roman script because that would explain the Ks instead of Cs.)

  25. Could it be one of the Northern Italian “dialects/languages” like Piemontese or Lombardic? My first thought was Papiamento as written on Curaçao, but the spelling ‘diplomatio’ and the word ‘arciveskado’ are against that. Constructions like ‘sepisanya’ suggest against artificial languages. It could be a Creole of course, but there are not many non-Romance words in there…

  26. Okay, now the answer has been posted: search Google for “somyes”. There are only four hits. Third one down is the answer.

  27. Oh, Scott, and this thread was going so well! I chose a passage as difficult to Google as possible on purpose, but I knew that page would come up eventually. Remind me never to share secrets with you. (I also thought the Mons., Milan, and the Vatican would be good red herrings.)
    The text is indeed “Neo,” a language invented by Arturo Alfandari in Belgium.
    The paragraph quoted above is from Alfandari’s Cours Pratique de Neo Deuxième Langue; Dictionnaire Francais-Neo et Neo-Français avec un Guide de Conversation. Perhaps the copy I have is one of those mentioned on this page: “Alfandari died, and Neo died with him. Rumor has it that all those beautiful plastic-bound dictionaries, grammars and readers rotted away in a warehouse somewhere in Belgium.” The book has many sample texts with originals in French or English. This one is from an article in Le Monde, 18 Nov. 1958:
    “Mgr Tardini, qui a soixante-dix ans, est un prélat souriant aux manières parfois un peu brusques, d’abord simple et franc. Il appartient à la diplomatie vaticane depuis 1938 et la dirige pratiquement depuis dix ans, d’abord en collaboration avec Mgr Montini, puis seul depuis la nomination de ce deriner à l’archevêché de Milan.”
    My quick English translation:
    “Monsignor Tardini, 68, a smiling prelate with occasionally brusque manners, is foremost frank and direct. He has been a part of the Vatican’s diplomatic mission since 1938 and has more or less directed it for ten years, first in collaboration with Monsignor Montini, then alone since the Monsignor Martini’s nomination to the archdiocese of Milan.”

  28. Drat! I figured it out as well, and steadfastly refused to look at the comments or reload Languagehat until this morning. Alas.
    Somehow I got distracted into suspecting that it was a de-diacriticized version of Romany or Caló or some such.
    What finally convinced me was tracking down links into the internet archive, which brought me to this page, which clears *everything* up:
    I stuck a few more links in del.icio.us along the way, you can see those here if you’re curious (and perhaps even add your own):
    (del.icio.us, by the way, is a great way to share links…)
    What a fun game!

  29. I hasten to point out, by the way, fellow neophiles, that apostrophes are in fact part of Neo… shouldn’t there be one between “d” and “etun”?
    I’m going to call up the Neo Academy…

  30. Thanks, Pat! There are some strange things in that grammar, like the facultative dropping of -o and (most especially) the fact that i is always stressed, no matter how many stresses that produces in a word. Anyway, it certainly is a fun game, and if anyone comes up with a similarly obscure piece o’ language, send it to me and we’ll play again!

  31. I’m so sad that I came along to the game too late to participate.
    However, what I find most striking is the content of the text. I mean, if you invent a conlang and wish to take the world by storm, what better way than to publish gripping translations of Vatican bureaucratic history!

  32. If apostrophes are a part of Neo, there aren’t any in the text I transcribed from Alfandari’s dictionary (I’ve double-checked), nor in looking at the other sample texts do I see any at all.

  33. des: * Conlang? Prolly not – why have a Romance based and not Romance spelling?
    The most active Romance conlangs include Brithenig and Wenedyk, respectively in Welsh and Polish clothing.

  34. The apparent ending losses in “dep” and especially “kolabor” make me suspect creolization; though I suppose the latter could actually be etymologically co-labour rather than collaboration.
    Not sure what to make of Milan’s not being Milano.

  35. Tiberio Madonna says

    I should like to learn this artificial language (Neo). I’ld want to know how I can do. Can you help me? Thank you. Tiberio

  36. Here you can compare Neo with Atlango and Esperanto.

  37. What finally convinced me was tracking down links into the internet archive, which brought me to this page, which clears *everything* up:
    I stuck a few more links in del.icio.us along the way, you can see those here if you’re curious (and perhaps even add your own):
    (del.icio.us, by the way, is a great way to share links…)

    Both links are now dead, so maybe not such a great way.

  38. Lars Mathiesen says

    And the Neo meaning of somyes is not to be found on the first three pages of Google results (from this location and machine). Except of course on this page which was on page three.

    (SomYES are the Somali Youth Enrichment Services and much in evidence).

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