I’ve had a bit of fun showing this book to friends at Church since it arrived a couple of weeks ago. I ask them to guess both the language the book is in, and the alphabet used in the last two lines of the title. So far, no one, not even those who speak Spanish or Portuguese, has been able to identify either.
Of course those who have purchased an AMV T-shirt know that the alphabet on the second set of lines in the title is the Deseret Alphabet, the 1860s-era attempt to make it easier for immigrants to learn English. While that misguided effort failed, the alphabet has recently seen a bit of a comeback, both because of its role in the development of unicode, and because of its hobbyist and design uses.
It was the hobbyist community that led me to this book.
I’ve been following the Deseret Alphabet hobbyist community for a while, and when the author, Josep Carles Laínez, announced this book, I contacted him and asked for a copy. His book is written in Asturian, a language spoken principally in portions of Spain and Portugal by some 125,000 people.
What is particularly fascinating about this edition is that it represents a first: the first published use of the Deseret Alphabet with a language other than English. Laínez adapted the alphabet for use with Spanish and similar languages, such as Asturian, Catalan and Galician.
Laínez is from Valencia, and grew up speaking another language similar to Spanish, Catalan. He learned Asturian in 1991 and has written and published extensively in Asturian since. His works include 4 other books of his own poetry, several translations and several plays, two of which have won the Theater prize from the Asturian Language Academy (the Asturian equivalent of the Académie Française). He holds degrees in Catalan and Hispanic Philology from the University of Valencia, and has been a visiting professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Hofstra university and Komazawa University (Tokyo). He is currently managing editor of the magazine Debats.
Since Asturian is just 80% intelligible to Spanish speakers, I can’t really give an assessment of the quality of Laínez’ poetry — I have to work at even understanding it. But I think I can give readers an rough idea of what it is like.
The poetry in this volume is clearly and unabashedly Mormon. La Piedra Ente La Ñeve (The Stone in the Snow) refers to Tom Lovell’s well-known painting of Moroni burying the plates in the Hill Cumorah, which Lovell depicts as happening in winter. Laínez draws on this image to evoke Moroni’s alienation and loneliness.
The 24 poems in this small volume are grouped into three sections, each preceded by a quotation from the written words of Moroni as found in the Book of Mormon. [Since the Book of Mormon is currently not available in Asturian, these are apparently Laínez' own translations.] Each poem is presented in both the Deseret Alphabet and in traditional Roman script, on facing pages. Most of the poems are short (just 3 are more than 20 lines and only one is longer than a page).
When Laínez announced this book to the Deseret Alphabet group, he wrote, speaking of his home:
There is no cultural LDS background here; there is no writers, artists or composers devoted to LDS themes in European languages or art. We only have “future”, and a past shared with all of you, on the other side of the Atlantic.
That does indeed describe the difficulty faced by Church members who don’t speak English. At a minimum, Laínez is to be congratulated for making the effort that few others have made in languages with larger populations. And, in my opinion, his work is likely more important than this minimum, because his poetry demonstrates the sophistication of an experienced poet.