Essays On Artificial Language Design

Essays On Artificial Language Design-36
Using their efficient language to communicate, the New Men plot to take over the world from the benighted “homo saps.”Soon after the publication of the Russian article, Quijada began to receive a steady stream of letters from e-mail addresses ending in .ru, peppering him with arcane questions and requesting changes to the language to make its words easier to pronounce.Alexey Samons, a Russian software engineer based in Vladivostok, took on the monumental task of translating the Ithkuil Web site into Russian, and before long three Russian Web forums had sprung up to debate the merits and uses of Ithkuil.

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An article titled “The Speed of Thought” noted remarkable similarities between Ithkuil and an imaginary language cooked up by the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein for his novella “Gulf,” from 1949.

Heinlein’s story describes a secret society of geniuses called the New Men who train themselves to think more rapidly and precisely using a language called Speedtalk, which is capable of condensing entire sentences into single words.

More than nine hundred languages have been invented since Lingua Ignota, and almost all have foundered.

“The history of invented languages is, for the most part, a history of failure,” Arika Okrent, the author of “In the Land of Invented Languages,” writes.

Many of the most spectacular flops have been languages, like Ithkuil, that attempt to hold a perfect mirror up to reality.

In the seventeenth century, European philosophers like Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and Gottfried Leibniz were fascinated by the ways in which natural languages clouded human thought, and wondered if an artificial substitute could more accurately capture the true essence of things.

In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled “Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.” Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words.

It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time.

In the previous century, Jesuit missionaries had brought back the first substantial accounts of the Chinese language, and many philosophers were taken with the notion that its characters signified concepts rather than sounds, and that a single ideogram could have the same meaning to people all over East Asia, despite sounding completely different in each tongue.

What if, they wondered, you could create a universal written language that could be understood by anyone, a set of “real characters,” just as the creation of Arabic numerals had done for counting?


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