A Frenchman who goes by the pseudonym Frédéric Werst has spent a couple of decades developing an artificial language called Wardwesân and has written quite a bit in it. So far, so normal (for certain values of “normal”—see this LH post for an account of the history and current popularity of this once arcane practice); what’s amazing is that he’s gotten an actual publisher, Seuil, to put out his book, Ward : Ier-IIe siècle. It is a bilingual edition, with religious, philosophical, historical, and poetic texts of the Ward people on the left and a French translation on the facing page, followed by a grammar and lexicon, and it has been discussed with brio by Le Figaro (“aucun n’avait mené l’entreprise à ce degré-là de perfection”), L’Hebdo (“On reste perplexe, devant l’incroyable prouesse que représente ce livre bien entendu, mais aussi devant la profonde nostalgie qui en émane”), and The Times (article available only by subscription, but quoted at length here: “Even though there is a French translation running alongside the Wardwesân text, don’t expect to see many people reading it on the beach this summer. But Werst hopes it will sell well enough to convince Seuil to publish a second volume….”). Good for him, and I wish him every success. (Thanks, Conrad!)


  1. So, according to this item, the languages on both left-hand and right-hand pages are manufactured.

  2. marie-lucie says

    Only if you call the French language “manufactured”.

  3. I have now got a copy of it, and am enjoying it. It’s a whole world, Tolkien-style, with maps and everything.

  4. I have an interesting piece of French information, though perhaps everyone but me already knew it. I recently read in Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet that in order to get in to the École Normale Supérieure, French school leavers have to prepare by “doing khâgne”, what he calls high-intensity post-lycée preparatory classes. I looked up the origin of khâgne and in Wikipedia here is the etymology:

    The word khâgne (f.) is a pseudo-Graecism and is derived from the French adjective cagneux, knock-kneed. During the 19th and early 20th century, this adjective was often used mockingly to describe people in the academic strata, especially those pursuing classical studies. More specifically, the label “cagneux” was used as a taunt by students of the military academy (whose curriculum included physical education such as equestrianism and fencing) against students in the humanities which were perceived as crouching over their books, thus developing physical deformities. Nevertheless, in the early 20th century the term was adapted by humanities students themselves as a mocking self-description, albeit with a changed spelling to make it look like a Greek loan word.

  5. Interesting indeed—I did not know that. Thanks for passing it along!

  6. marie-lucie says

    I did not know the origin, but I knew this was a pseudo-Freek word. To get into one of the ENS’s you need to take preparatory classes for TWO years before taking the competitive exams, since there are only a limited number of places. In humanities those classes are called familiarly hypokhâgne and khâgne, and in sciences hypotaupe and taupe. Those post-secondary classes are only offered in some of the lycées in big cities.

  7. Tony Judt went to the ENS in Paris in 1970 after Cambridge, as a pensionnaire étranger.

    I explained that I had not done khâgne: I came from Cambridge. “Ah, so you did khâgne in England.” “No,” I tried again: “We don’t do khâgne – I came here directly from an English university.”
    The earnest young man resembling the young Trotsky looked at me with withering scorn. It is not possible, he explained, to enter the École Normale without first undergoing preparation in khâgne. Since you are here you must have done khâgne. And with that conclusive Cartesian flourish he turned away, directing his conversation at worthier targets. This radical disjunction between the uninteresting evidence of your own eyes and ears and the incontrovertible conclusions to be derived from first principles introduced me to a cardinal axiom of French intellectual life.

    I’ll tell you, I’m on the other guy’s side. If I’d had to cram for two years and then someone in his pyjamas tells me over breakfast he just waltzed in from abroad I don’t think I’d have believed it. I’d certainly have tried withering scorn. Judt doesn’t explain how he got accepted.

  8. marie-lucie says

    Obviously the French ENS student didn’t know that not every country follows the French educational system. But where would he have learned that fact?
    The English student would have been selected through some English academic filter which evaluated applications before recommending them to the ENS. He was a pensionnaire étranger (foreign boarder) – all ENS students live at the school and have free room and board.

  9. Obviously the French ENS student didn’t know that not every country follows the French educational system. But where would he have learned that fact?

    (Eight years later:) From the person he was talking to!

  10. David Marjanović says

    Only if you call the French language “manufactured”.

    That was the parodic claim of the dead link: the URL contains “sarkozy-admits-french-language-a-hoax-after-wikileaks-expose/”.

    Obviously the French ENS student didn’t know that not every country follows the French educational system.

    I think he just didn’t know that the ENS accepted something Cambridge does as equivalent to khâgne.

  11. And the more important point is that he refused to believe the person he was talking to, whose personal experience should have had precedence over his own ignorance.

  12. I see that since this post Ward. IIIe siècle has appeared. I just had a sample sent to my phone (for some reason, it wouldn’t send it to my Kindle).

  13. I thought I’d see if Werst’s identity had been revealed in the last dozen years, and found that the French Wikipedia article gives his birth name as Frédéric Weiss. But I enjoyed this pre-reveal squib in The Modern Novel:

    Frédéric Werst was born in 1970 and he lives in Paris. He took degrees from the École normale supérieure in Paris. We also know that he teaches in a French school. In an interview, when asked who he was, he replied S’il m’intéressait de parler de moi-même, j’écrirais de l’autofiction [If I wanted to talk about myself, I would write autofiction]. Hooray for him, I say.

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