Damiá is a fully-functioning language with an extensive grammar and a vocabulary of around 10,000 words, created by Aslan. They began creating it when they were just 13 years old and it represents a lifelong passion. Aslan speaks it fluently. At the beginning of 2020 — after more than 10 years of living and making art together — Chris began learning Damiá in earnest, and so will slowly become the second person to speak it. By actually learning to use and speak a new language (instead of simply simulating or imagining it), we engage in an authentic act of transformation that cannot help but alter our perspectives.
Damiá is a learnable, speakable language. Damiá is not designed to be especially easy to learn, and, although it is more regular than many languages such as English and French, it still has some irregularities and quirks. Damiá is not an experimental language that is specifically designed to change or affect the thoughts of the people who learn it. This doesn’t mean, however, that the thought-pictures that Damiá makes are the same as those of other languages. Damiá is not a combination of existing languages or an imagination of a language that has developed from a language that used to exist. It borrows some words from other languages (mostly Arabic for words to do with science and government) but most of its words are its own.
People often ask what it is about Damiá that makes it Queer. It is a good question but not always an easy one to answer. All answers are partial at best — true and untrue at the same time, but never completely either. This is perhaps fitting for a Queer language. The first and easiest answer to the question is: nothing at all except for the fact that it belongs to Queer people. When it comes to a Queer bar or community centre, there is nothing that is intrinsically Queer about the bricks and mortar of the building, but it is defined as Queer by the people who use it. It is a Queer space of expression, community, and safety. Damiá is exactly the same. The second answer, which is related to the first, is that it is getting Queerer and Queerer. Just like the Queer community centre, its fabric is being slowly altered by the people who use it. An improvement here, an adaptation there. The third answer is that it is very Queer. Damiá grammar looks at the world in ways that are, in combination, unique, and often highly compatible for use by a Queer community. The most obvious example is that it is a gender-free language in terms of verbs, pronouns, and nouns. Even a word like ba mother is actually better translated as someone who cares for someone or something during its infancy and beyond, such as a mother. The fourth and final answer is that it’s very Queer indeed because Damiá is first and foremost the product of a Queer brain and a Queer life experience.
By using Damiá and teaching it to others, we want to ask: Could Damiá be a specifically Queer language for Queer people? What would it mean for Queer people to have a language of our own? To what extent would a Queer language define new spaces for Queer togetherness? How would we do things differently if we had brand new words to speak with? How can we open up a new dimension of Queer kinship? If we were both in a position to have conversations, recite poems, sing songs, and translate with a community, could we construct a world of words that exists between comprehension and incomprehension, between inclusion and exclusion?
Linguistic Features of Damiá
- Damiá has a relatively simple sound system and just three different vowel sounds. Those vowels can be short, long, or nasalised.
- Damiá has a very simple tone system with high, low, and falling tones. The melody of some words is just as important as the sounds or the stresses.
- Damiá is a so-called VSO language. That means that, in a sentence, the verb (V) comes first, followed by the subject (S), and then the object (O). This is in contrast to SVO languages like English, Mandarin, and Hausa, and SOV languages such as Hindi, Korean, and Hungarian. Other VSO languages include Welsh, Classical Arabic, and Maori.
- Damiá has no grammatical gender. The pronoun sie means she, he, they, or it.
- Damiá nouns have no plurals, so horo can mean ‘dog’ or ‘dogs’ according to context. There is a special ending -na however, that means ‘just one’, so horona means ‘just one dog’.
- Where English tends to convey a lot of emotion with intonation and word order, Damiá does this with small words called particles, such as ca, na, ia, va, sia that usually come at the end of the sentence. Damiá intonation and word order is a lot more fixed than English and a lot less expressive.
- Damiá has 11 cases which define the role of the noun. They are mostly formed very regularly by adding a small word after the noun. They are often translated by prepositions in English.
- Damiá can be written in Latin letters but it also has its own alphabet called Tolpata. There are 18 basic letters in Tolpata, plus 15 special letters, and only one punctuation mark.
You can find out more about learning Damiá here.