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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

Ozee Tilp

Language information: Wixbikeldee!
Portrait of Reinhard F. HahnDaniel and Norman Foster are living proof that a lan­guage com­mu­ni­ty can be as small as two (not coun­ting in­no­cent by­standers that can­not help pick­ing up the odd ex­pres­sion here and there). These two gentle­men de­mon­strate that youth­ful lan­guage cre­a­tion en­hances life­long bonds, in this case bro­ther­ly bonds. They re­alized ear­ly on that lan­guage is ba­sic­al­ly fun, that play­ing with lan­guage en­hances lin­gu­istic aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Wix­bi­kel­dee, Dan lin Norm! Keep on til­pin’, fellas! In the mean­time en­joy the much co­vet­ed Low­lands-L gold star for featured guest contributors!
Featured Guest Contributors:
 Geraldine Anselma
 Dante Ferry
 Daniel & Norman Foster
 Hannelore Hinz
 Gerhard Willers
 . . . and you?
      Ozee Tilp is a contructed language, invented and spoken fluently by Norman and Dan Foster, originally of Champaign, Illinois. It has over 1000 words, and has a degree of informality, reflecting its spontaneous origins.
      It began August 14, 1969, when we were 13 and 15 years old, on a family camping trip in the Rocky Mountains. We were playing in the stream formed by a water faucet that was on. One brother was downstream and wanted the water turned off, and playfully said, “Boan de wax!” The other brother, who was at the pump, got the meaning, turned off the water, and we had a good laugh. Those three words led to more, and a new language was born. (“Boan,” pronounced “bone,” remains our word for “to turn off,” and is also used for “to sleep.” “De” (dee) remains our definite article, and “wax” is still our word for water.)
      From the start, it was entirely for fun, and intended to be easy to learn, so that we could actually start speaking to each other right away. Numbers from one to ten were created coming down a mountain path on the same trip, and they probably reflect our good mood of the moment: jog, lon, bo, bix, winni, pu, pun, bi, noc, jogun (pronounced “joggin”). We began calling our language “Small Talk.”

Norman Foster

Daniel Foster

            At first, word order was usually parallel with English. However, we had an informal rule that almost anything goes, as long as the other person understands our meaning. We didn’t apply the rule strictly, but it allowed for gradual changes in our habits of word order, and in fact we have each evolved our own style to some extent—can this be called Michigan dialect vs. Hawaii dialect? We haven’t been too strict about spelling, for similar reasons, and with similar result. Dan tends to leave out what he considers unnecessary vowels, for example, while Norman is more likely to fill them in (e.g. thrakl vs thrakel = past tense of thrak, to bring).     For a while we discussed whether we should include unusual sounds, or foreign-sounding pronunciations (do we roll our r’s, do we ban the English “th”? what about grunts and snorts, wheezes and clicks?), but we opted for what came naturally to us, i.e., Small Talk pronounced with an American accent!
      At this time we were both already interested in languages, and the first few years of Small Talk saw heavy vocabulary borrowings from other languages we were familiar with, mostly English, German, French, and Italian. We had many truly original words as well, which we valued highly. Small Talk gradually became more established, and we translated its name to “ozee tilp.” This can mean either “small talk” or “small language”—we usually give the latter translation now. We normally don’t capitalize it. As it developed, we became more and more dissatisfied with our borrowings, so we instituted a purge, or “gilgoploke” (initial ‘g’ is hard, and ploke is pronounced in one syllable with long ‘o’). Ploke = to get rid of, gilgo = a great swirling energy, also used in words like tornado. We targeted words like tich = table (yuck), and made up “grun ozee tilp ilomi” (= true ozee tilp words) for the majority of borrowings. “Mint” (with) became “nem,” “oon” (and) became “lin,” and so on. We were so used to certain common words, however, that some were destined to remain, such as definite article “de”, and preposition im = in, even though we tried to find good substitutes. “Iska” (or “ska”), from French “est-ce que,” was kept, simply because it is so convenient and flows off the tongue so easily! (In short, we liked it.)
      In choosing vocabulary, we often keep it on the whimsical side:
      buz = I, me
      biz = you
      bubuz = we, us [accent on first syllable, two short vowels]
      bibiz = y’all
      bisbos = they [pronounced “bizboze” by Dan, and “bissbohss” by Norm]
      belopadrop = tomato [accent on second syllable]
      pstykstpolakl = spit [consonants pronounced precisely as spelled, with y
            like ee, and short ‘a’. The “olakl” portion means fluid.]
      lisil = balanced [pron ‘leezil’]
      lisillonk = unbalanced
      pooklpop = rabbit
      Wolly Rakabugh! = Happy Birthday! (= happy babyday) (bugh is
            pronounced ‘bug’—I believe we added the otherwise superfluous ‘h’
            because ‘bug’ just seemed wrong)
      Sometimes we quickly settle on a word, sometimes we have long discussions, and try several variants before coming to a decision. Our primary rule is that we both have to like the word.
      The ozee tilp word that is perhaps best known, and one of our favorite words, was actually invented by our mom. She was waving goodbye, and in imitation of ozee tilp, she spontaneously said, “Wixbikeldee!!” [accent second syllable, short ‘i’]. That instantly became and remains our all-purpose greeting, used for both hello and goodbye, and is often shortened to “wix!”
      Even though we enjoyed the intricacies of European languages, we decided early on to keep ozee tilp grammar fairly simple, for ease of learning. There are no verb declensions, and verb tenses are simple, with -el ending for past tense, and “le” helping word (pronounced “luh”) for future tense, parallel to the English use of “will.” We can express more complex verb tenses, but we don’t usually bother. Personal pronouns have one form only, regardless of usage. Word order is fairly free as long as it is easily understandable. We have a number of well-used prefixes and suffixes (possessive ‘-ex’, plural ‘-mi’ or ‘-ami’, adverbial ‘-id’, nominalizing ‘-ik’, diminutive ‘el-’, augmentative ‘ob-’, opposite-making ‘o-’, and more).
      Although we are the only two fluent speakers (currently, at least), a number of friends and extended family have learned varying amounts of ozee tilp through the years, and we have always maintained an open-door policy, rather than considering it a “secret” language. Although other members of our immediate family (our parents and two older brothers) didn’t learn ozee tilp, we are a close family. The two of us both became professional classical musicians—Norman plays clarinet in the Honolulu Symphony (and also plays jazz), and Dan teaches violin at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

    Click to open the translation: [Click] Click here for different versions. >

Authors: Daniel and Norman Foster,
Lowlands-L Featured Guest contributors, July 2009

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