Yves Noël

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Yves Noël
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Yves Noël was an Ariddian explorer and linguist, who established a written basis for the oral Wymgani (Indigenous Ariddian) language.

Noël was born in 1675 in a francophone settlement in the Ariddian Isles, ten months after his parents had arrived there. He attended a smallish colonial school, and learnt his father's trade as a carpenter. He became a self-taught linguist, reading what scarce material he could obtain in a nascent colony.

The settlement had occasional relations with nearby Indigenous inhabitants, mostly in the form of trade, and young Yves developed a fascination for this people so different from his own. It seemed only logical for him to study their language, and he spent many hours with a middle-aged Wymgani man who spent more time in the settlement than not.

By the age of 23, Noël had jotted down phonetic transcriptions of many Wymgani words, phrases and sentences, along with their meaning, and he considered the project of a dictionary. Before that could be possible, however, he would have to set down working guidelines for the alphabetical transcription of Wymgani phonemes.

Rather than remain within the settlement with limited access to native speakers of the language, he decided (in 1699) to travel into the mostly unexplored centre of the island of Ocea, and for that purpose eventually found two willing guides, a young Wymgani couple from a community close to the settlement. In his notes, later published, Noël records their names as Eh (male) and Ili (female), but added that he had taken to calling the latter "Felicity". Quite what Ili's husband thought of that is unclear. Nor are Eh and Ili's second names mentioned, assuming they did have second names.

From Noël's notes, it appears the colonist and his two Indigenous guides rapidly struck up a friendship. The two Wymgani introduced him to communities they knew as they headed inland, and taught him how to find food in the forest to avoid relying solely on their limited supplies. Their conversations were almost exclusively in Wymgani, and Noël recorded most of them in great detail, still in phonetic script.

After just under three weeks, they reached territory and communities unknown to Eh and Ili - at which point, Noël notes, "my Native companions were as much explorers of the unknown as I was". That was not entirely accurate, given the many similarities between neighbouring communities, but it appears the two guides did express curiosity at the lifestyles of inland communities who had never been to the coast.

The three of them were welcomed into a community deep inland in the forest, where Noël and Ili remained for the following six months (Eh died of an undiagnosed illness after four months). It was during that time that Noël, with the help of his guides and their hosts, transcribed extremely valuable information on the Wymgani language, and devised the alphabet still used today. He also took many notes on Wymgani traditions, laws, customs, beliefs and culture, although they were casual observations rather than an expert study.

Noël and Ili then returned each returned to their own home, although they remained in contact (Ili had learned to read and write letters) for the rest of their lives (Noël died in 1744 and Ili in 1750). Noël sailed to Europe in 1704, where he published his notes and alphabet, and went on to write a detailed grammar of the Wymgani language. In 1720, he began contributing to an extensive Wymgani-French / French-Wymgani dictionary. He married while in Europe, and had four children. In 1731, he returned to Ariddia with his family, and remained there until his death.

Works on the Wymgani language

(Titles translated from original French.)

  • Notes on the Speech of the Wymgani Natives of the Ariddian Isles, With Suggestions for an Alphabet of the Native Language (1706)
  • A Trek Into The Wild: A Study of South Pacific Natives and of Their Language in the Ariddian Isles, Including Illuminating Conversations With the Savages (1709)
  • Wymgani-French / French-Wymgani Dictionary (as one of several contributors) (1743)
  • Letters To And From An Untamed Savage Of the South Seas (1755: posthumous publication of his correspondance with Ili)