What do many words using Y and W instead of proper vowels have in common? They’re Welsh, of course. Wales was systematically looted of its vowels after its conquest to feed the English hunger for unnecessary vowelery after the French fashion. That’s right, the “u” in “colour” doesn’t just make its natural pronunciation “coh-lure,” it’s also a blood vowel stolen from a people so vowel-poor that they had to scrape by with Y and W.

Yes, the vowel-mines of Wales were long the envy of English monarchs, as England itself exhausted its own vowel reserves during the ongoing and debilitating Shouting Wars against France. The Welsh at first were able to simply sell their vowels to an England anxious to be able to match French words like “eau” or “nouveau.” English looting and purchase of vowels was so prevalent that even the last leader of Wales, Llywelyn, was forced to make do with a single vowel in his name while his English conqueror, Edward, has two.

England is not alone in the exploitative harvesting of vowels. French and Italian vowels mines, long the most productive in the world, had all but run out by the 1700s, forcing them to look elsewhere. For a time the French were able to import vowels taken from North America by force or trade, but with the cession of their vowel-rich territory of Quebec, they were forced to look elsewhere. That somewhere was Poland, which was rich in vowel mines but had been undergoing a language crisis since looting the Ottoman camp at the Siege of Vienna, as Ottoman Turkish was at the time written without vowels altogether.

As a result, Poland was partitioned, with the lion’s share of the territory going to the Russian Empire. With no need for Poland’s Latin vowels, having their own Cyrillic vowel mines deep in the Urals, the Russians instead exploited Polish vowels for export, selling them to the French and Italians. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia to guarantee his vowel supply, as he needed eight vowels to say his own name alone, and a steady supply of Polish blood vowels were guaranteed in the later French-Russian alliance. All the while, Poland was so looted of vowels that they had to make do with words like “wszystko” and “cześć.” The downtrodden Polish made creative use of diacritics to make up for their looted syllabary, but their vowel mines were ultimately entirely depleted.

Of course, Americans are not blameless. The constant insertion of British-style blood vowels into words to make them seem sophisticated is a constant bane, and many of the blood vowels so used now come from Africa, where once vowel-rich places like Ouagadougou are now exploited for foreign sale by warlords.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The Volodnes call themselves the Deigra (“who lives here”) and their language is called Deigrap (“of who lives here”). Deigrap is a language isolate that has attracted intense study of the few (less than 10) remaining speakers.

Linguists are especially intrigued by the fact that there are separate number systems and declensions for physical and metaphysical concepts. The Deigrap word for “many physical things” (“proticu”) and “many spirits” (“epsych”) are completely different, for instance. This distinction extends throughout the language; Dr. Andscun of the Broughton Institute for Comparative Linguistics has even made the controversial claim that Deigrap is essentially two languages, one for the mundane world and one for the spiritual.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

It meant sitting between Tarkovsky and Miller, and life offers few choices more dismal than that.

Now, one naturally assumes people who work in bookstores to have a natural love of learning and language, much the same as one expects this of librarians or professors. While there were numerous counterexamples littering the store (gum-popping Sherry or chain-clad Günther, for instance), Tarkovsky and Miller fit the assumption to a tee. Both were intelligent and articulate and made no secret of how delighted they were to inflict both on an unsuspecting world.

How, then, was the word ‘dismal’ to be associated with them?

Tarkovsky (not his real name, but nevertheless what everybody called him) was a pedantic formalist, delighting in the rules, structure, and grammar that suffuse written and spoken communications. He savored pointing out and bitterly mocking any perceived infractions, from split infinitives to dangling participles to unnecessary vowels (a passionate follower of Noah Webster, he disdained foreign spellings). Miller, for his part, was a linguistic freethinker, fascinated by finding convoluted and unusual ways to express himself. He verbed nouns, dangled participles, and engaged in Spoonerism as a parlor game. If a sentence couldn’t be twisted into an avant-garde puzzle for a listener to riddle out, he wasn’t interested in it.

So, needless to say, fierce battle would soon be joined.