Nevbosh - new nonsense

The crude Animalic language seems to have died when one of its inventors, Majorie Incledon, lost interest. However, her sister Mary and some other kids embarked on the construction of a new language. It was called Nevbosh, which is Nevbosh for "New Nonsense" - new in the sense that it replaced Animalic, the old nonsense. However, this new language was markedly less nonsensical than Animalic. "I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world," Tolkien proudly recalls.(MC:203)

What were teenage Tolkien's contributions to Nevbosh? According to Humphrey Carpenter in "J. R.R. Tolkien - A Biography" chapter 3, he and Mary "collaborated to invent [this] new and more sophisticated language". However, this is not the story told by Tolkien himself in "The Monsters and the Critics" p. 203. According to this, Tolkien's role in the construction of Nevbosh was more humble; he merely contributed to the vocabulary and influenced the spelling.

In any case, Nevbosh was the first relatively sophisticated invented language Tolkien came in contact with, though he had already started such invention himself (MC:203: "I was older in the secret vice...than the Nevbosh originator"). But the sole surviving Nevbosh text, not counting a few isolated words mentioned by Tolkien, is the poem given in Carpenter's biography and in MC:203:

                        Dar fys ma vel gom co palt 'hoc                                    There was an old man who said 'how
                        pys go iskili far maino woc?                                          can I possibly carry my cow?
                        Pro si go fys do roc de                                                 For if I was to ask it
                        Do cat ym maino bocte                                                 to get in my pocket
                        De volt fac soc ma taimful gyróc!'                                  it would make such a fearful row.
                                                                                                                                   Translation given by Carpenter

(The translation given substitutes "basket" for "pocket", but this is evidently just to save the rhyme with "ask it": Bocte means
"pocket", just like the English word it is a distortion of.)
Concerning the sources for the vocabulary, see the word-list below. English, French and Latin are the main ingredients.

Tolkien notes that the children, when distorting known words, showed an intuitive understanding of elementary phonetics - they felt that certain sounds were "similar". They could make voiced sounds unvoiced ("get" > cat) or vice versa ("to" > do), turn spirants into plosives ("there" > dar) or alternate between various nasals ("in" > ym). Another such "primitive and arbitrary sound-law" was to replace final -ow of native words with -oc: "how" > hoc, "row" > gyróc (but where did the gy come from?)

Looking back, adult Tolkien considered Nevbosh more of a code than a language. What he found most interesting was the few words that were not simply distortions of exisiting words, such as iski-li "possibly" or lint "quick, clever, nimble"        (MC:205, 206). The fusion of sound and meaning in a way that simply pleased the inventor was the principle he was to construct his own languages on - the earliest preserved example being Naffarin.

Nevbosh Wordlist

     bocte "pocket". (Distortion of English word; mistranslated "basket" in Carpenter's biography)
     bosh "nonsense". Only attested in the compound Nevbosh, q.v.
     dar "there". (Distortion of English word)
     co "who", attested as relative pronoun only. (Latin qui "who, what" + English who.)
     cat "get". (Distortion of English word)
     de "it", subject or object as in English.
     do "to", infinitive mark. (Distortion of English word)
     fac "make" (Latin facio "make"). Past tense *fact "made"? Also in faclint.
     faclint "teach" (fac + lint, sc. "make lint", see lint). (MC:206)
     far "carry". Past tense *fart "carried"?
     fys "was, were" (for the plural sense, see MC:205). (Latin fui "I have been", Spanish fui "was")
     go 1. person sg. pronoun, I. (Latin and Greek ego)
     gom "man" (Latin homo, Old English guma)
     gyróc "row" (noise) (Distortion of English word + an unanalyzable prefixed element gy-)
     hoc "how" (Distortion of English word.)
     iski-li "possibly" (*iski "possible" + li adverbial ending?) (MC:205)
     -li possible adverbial ending; see iskili. (Alternative spelling of English -ly.)
     lint "quick, clever, nimble". (Quenya *linta "quick"; only pl. lintë is attested.)
     ma "a, an" (indefinite article) English an reversed and another nasal substituted? (Cf. ym for "in")
     maino 1. person sg possessive pronoun, my (and mine?) Distortion of English word.
     nev "new". (Distortion of English word.) Only attested in the compound Nevbosh, q.v.
     Nevbosh "New Nonsense" (nev + bosh), a language invented by some of young Tolkien'sfriends
     palt "said" (pal- stem of verb "say" [MC:205] + t past tense. Cf. volt.) (Distortion of French parler.)
     pro "for" (From Latin, cognate with English word)
     pys "can". (From French pouvoir, present indicative puis, imperfect subjunctive pusse) Past tense *pyst "could"?
     roc "ask". Past tense *roct "asked"? (Latin rogo)
     si "if" (in Tolkien's words, "pure plagiarism" of the French and Spanish word for "if")
     soc "such" (Distortion of English word.)
     -t evidently a past tense ending (see palt, volt). English -ed, pronounced d or t.
     taim "fear" (Latin timeo). taimful fearful
     vel "old" (French vieil, vieux.)
     volt "would" (probably *vol- stem "will" + t past tense. Cf. palt.) Distortion of English word; also influenced by the verb
     "will" in Latin and French (volo, voloir).
     woc "cow".(English word reversed;cf. also Latin vacca, French vache; the kids were well aware of this double "etymology")
     ym "in". (Distortion of English word?)

©Helge Fauskanger