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(The New Yorker)   The story of constructed language Ithkuil, designed to be both maximally precise and maximally concise. Come for the fascinating discussion on linguistics, stay for the bizarre right-wing hate group adopting use of the language   (newyorker.com) divider line 159
    More: Interesting, Ithkuil, linguistics, Robert Heinlein, Caspian Sea, ambiguity, artificial languages  
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14005 clicks; posted to Main » on 18 Dec 2012 at 5:23 PM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-12-18 06:15:21 PM
tl;dr

/how's that for concise, Cochise?
 
2012-12-18 06:18:57 PM

casual disregard: I think I agree with you. Except I have never witnissed Ithkuil fail :3 I would much prefer to witness the event in real-time than to pre-suppose it must be a dead idea.


While I am not a fan of not giving things a chance, I believe it's safe to assume that ithkuil is going nowhere. If you really want to give it a chance, embed it in a very successful fiction that you can world build around. Star trek gave you klingon... and I have met people who could read tolkeins what-ever-it-is-named elvish. That is probably your only chance of getting it taken seriously.
 
2012-12-18 06:19:32 PM
So they talk about Wilkins and Hooke but no mention of Waterhouse? I'm not falling for this crap.
 
2012-12-18 06:19:42 PM

EnglishMan: casual disregard: lockers: So what happens when it becomes a living language and morphs into a flawed, yet serviceable language like all the rest. In theory, people using Ithkuil will change the way they use language. In practice, people will change Ithkuil as they use it. A lot of English's written oddities has to do with the great vowel migration (a political event) happening after the formalization of the written language. That messy people problem is what caused all practical languages to be less than ideal. Given that, why is this language "better" than english? Considering we have damn near universal literacy in the first world, and a majority a literate worldwide, what exactly is the benefit that is immune to the people using it problem?

The idea is supposedly that the language is not intended to be spoken. It is intended to be perfect code.

Imagine a society in which English is the primary spoken and written language, except Ithkuil is the language of law. Nobody speaks Ithkuil except for practice.

You have all the advantages of English metaphor and all the advantages of Ithkuil specificity. Imagine spoken English language hand-in-hand with a written Ithkuil Constitution. Literally the best of both worlds.

I'd rather not imagine a society where the law is written in a language most people can't understand.


And that would be different from the status quo how?

Laws may be written in English; but, the terminology and form of the law is in legalese.

/ just take a moment and look at a bill of sale; the language, there in, is exacting. Many examples abound in the legal world.
 
2012-12-18 06:21:47 PM
I looked at the website . Pretty much unpronounceable. Ergative-absolutive grammar, meaning no nominative or accusative. 70 cases including 7 different types of genitive. Also fun stuff like applicative functive assimilative etc. Like Basque

The verbs come in different flavors including adjectives state verbs intransitive etc. Reminds me of Georgian but complicated. Lots of moods (like subjunctive) subordinate clauses are nouns like in Japanese (or descriptive verbs).

And so on.

No one will ever learn this.
 
2012-12-18 06:24:38 PM

ilambiquated: I looked at the website . Pretty much unpronounceable. Ergative-absolutive grammar, meaning no nominative or accusative. 70 cases including 7 different types of genitive. Also fun stuff like applicative functive assimilative etc. Like Basque

The verbs come in different flavors including adjectives state verbs intransitive etc. Reminds me of Georgian but complicated. Lots of moods (like subjunctive) subordinate clauses are nouns like in Japanese (or descriptive verbs).

And so on.

No one will ever learn this.


Klingon and Quenya are easier to understand than this.
 
2012-12-18 06:25:43 PM

ilambiquated: I looked at the website . Pretty much unpronounceable. Ergative-absolutive grammar, meaning no nominative or accusative. 70 cases including 7 different types of genitive. Also fun stuff like applicative functive assimilative etc. Like Basque

The verbs come in different flavors including adjectives state verbs intransitive etc. Reminds me of Georgian but complicated. Lots of moods (like subjunctive) subordinate clauses are nouns like in Japanese (or descriptive verbs).

And so on.

No one will ever learn this.


All intentional! And yet the "Univeristy of Effective Development" now requires all graduates to learn Ithkiuil. And these graudates are basically de facto members of extreme right-wing hate groups. What a wonderful world?
 
2012-12-18 06:30:56 PM
...an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language."

tl;dr
 
2012-12-18 06:31:11 PM

ilambiquated: cig-mkr: [d6xokdhfna55s.cloudfront.net image 201x201]

That's called metathesis. Happens a lot. For example, in classical Greek, I have is ekho. I will have should be ekhso, but it's eskho. Another example: Bird used to be pronounce brid. And Germans say Ross (short for hross) instead of horse.



I can understand metathesis, it seems a natural progression of language, like the words (?) we use for texting will become the norm with time.
Ebonics, or "African American Vernacular English" just seemed to me to be an excuse for a poor command of the English language. It's probably just the way it was presented and how the media hammered it to death.
 
2012-12-18 06:32:24 PM
Nice find, subs. I enjoyed it.
 
2012-12-18 06:32:28 PM

ilambiquated: No one will ever learn this.


i don't think they were really supposed to. it seems like an interesting thought experiment that morphed out of this guys hobby. it seems unlikely he ever intended it to be anything more than something for other extreme hobbyists to pick over.
 
2012-12-18 06:32:45 PM

Counter_Intelligent: So, an over-purposeful, artificial language. Like newspeak.


Double-plus ungood.
 
2012-12-18 06:34:44 PM

ilambiquated: cig-mkr: [d6xokdhfna55s.cloudfront.net image 201x201]

That's called metathesis. Happens a lot. For example, in classical Greek, I have is ekho. I will have should be ekhso, but it's eskho. Another example: Bird used to be pronounce brid. And Germans say Ross (short for hross) instead of horse.


Out of curiosity, where do Germans use Ross instead of Pferd?

Been a German speaker since I was 5, don't think I've heard that one.
 
2012-12-18 06:39:17 PM

cgraves67: Ithkuil's conceptual pedigree can be traced back to Leibniz, Bacon, and Descartes, and especially to a seventeenth-century bishop and polymath, John Wilkins, who tried to actualize their lofty ideals. In his "Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language," from 1668, Wilkins laid out a sprawling taxonomic tree that was intended to represent a rational classification of every concept, thing, and action in the universe. Each branch along the tree corresponded to a letter or a syllable, so that assembling a word was simply a matter of tracing a set of forking limbs until you'd arrived on a distant tendril representing the concept you wanted to express. For example, in Wilkins's system, De signifies an element, Deb is fire, and Debα is a flame.

The natural philosopher Robert Hooke was so impressed by Wilkins's language that he published a discourse on pocket watches in it, and proposed that it be made the lingua franca of scientific research. That never happened. The language was simply too burdensome, and it soon vanished into obscurity. But Wilkins's taxonomic-classification scheme, which organized words by meaning rather than alphabetically, was not entirely without use: it was a predecessor of the first modern thesaurus.


I was wondering if they were going to get to Wilkins. I've found this field interesting ever since it was a sort of side plot in the Baroque Cycle.


I think the Robert Hooke stuff is pretty darn cool, too.

\Hooke's law for the win!
 
2012-12-18 06:41:56 PM
Weird. Hate groups are usually pretty attached to their native language.
 
2012-12-18 06:42:08 PM
Solresol, the creation of a French musician named Jean-François Sudre, was among the first of these universal languages to gain popular attention. It had only seven syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Si. Words could be sung, or performed on a violin. Or, since the language could also be translated into the seven colors of the rainbow, sentences could be woven into a textile as a stream of colors.

Whar chromatic variants? Whar?
 
2012-12-18 06:51:17 PM
No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin

Yes

, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.

No. See that's not fair to every other language in the world, to choose the two weirdest (ok and French) languges. I'm not saying every other language makes sense (IANAL) but obviously the intense colonial/trade/exploration/science contacts have made those languages a mess.
 
2012-12-18 06:53:32 PM

Dr.Zom: Among the Wakashan Indians of the Pacific Northwest, a grammatically correct sentence can't be formed without providing what linguists refer to as "evidentiality," inflecting the verb to indicate whether you are speaking from direct experience, inference, conjecture, or hearsay.

English need this.

Cool article, subby, thanks.


Quechua has a similar evidentiality. I know this personally, I am not speaking from hearsay :)
 
2012-12-18 06:58:43 PM

Don't Tongue the Reaper!: Dr.Zom: Among the Wakashan Indians of the Pacific Northwest, a grammatically correct sentence can't be formed without providing what linguists refer to as "evidentiality," inflecting the verb to indicate whether you are speaking from direct experience, inference, conjecture, or hearsay.

English need this.

Cool article, subby, thanks.

Quechua has a similar evidentiality. I know this personally, I am not speaking from hearsay :)


A sample map of semantically-coded evidentiality.

Discussion of same.

Very cool website, WALS.
 
2012-12-18 07:01:19 PM
How exactly does not having words for egocentric coordinates benefit anyone? Or did I miss something in the article and ithkuil also has words for left/right/front/back?
 
2012-12-18 07:04:12 PM
Utopian ideas appeal to authoritarians. It might be said that utopian ideas are the impulse that makes people want to impose thier will on others.
 
2012-12-18 07:08:18 PM

Mawson of the Antarctic: After listening to so many people today biatch and moan on both sides of the Instagram debate, it's refreshing to read something of actual substance.

/language enthusiast, etymology fan


Wanna be friends?
 
2012-12-18 07:08:32 PM

CowardlyLion: How exactly does not having words for egocentric coordinates benefit anyone? Or did I miss something in the article and ithkuil also has words for left/right/front/back?


Using non-subjective coordinates probably makes the folks who speak that language less likely to get lost when following directions.
 
2012-12-18 07:09:23 PM
That was interesting and heart breaking when the cults were shown. The red flags were there in the beginning. I wonder if this what would be needed if we wanted an AI to talk with humans. That and it reminds me of the Sheliak from star trek.
 
2012-12-18 07:10:36 PM

Pointy Tail of Satan: Imray Klaatu narruwak. Micro pru val barata luke dinsal inkaplis. Yabu tari axel bugettio barengi-degas.


"Bah Weep Granah Weep Ninni Bong!"
 
2012-12-18 07:18:45 PM
What a cunning linguist!

/really, 75 comments in and I'm the first?
//very interesting read
 
2012-12-18 07:19:13 PM

casual disregard: You have all the advantages of English metaphor and all the advantages of Ithkuil specificity. Imagine spoken English language hand-in-hand with a written Ithkuil Constitution. Literally the best of both worlds.


Legalese is already another language. Except that ordinary people might accidentally understand it. You've solved that problem. Hooray for the rise of the lawyers!
 
2012-12-18 07:29:16 PM
Interesting article, thanks Subby.

Remember reading Samuel R. Delany's "Babel-17" which relied heavily on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and introduced the concept of a language without the word or concept of "I" so it became impossible to think of self.
 
2012-12-18 07:29:36 PM

ilambiquated: I looked at the website . Pretty much unpronounceable. Ergative-absolutive grammar, meaning no nominative or accusative. 70 cases including 7 different types of genitive. Also fun stuff like applicative functive assimilative etc. Like Basque

The verbs come in different flavors including adjectives state verbs intransitive etc. Reminds me of Georgian but complicated. Lots of moods (like subjunctive) subordinate clauses are nouns like in Japanese (or descriptive verbs).

And so on.

No one will ever learn this.


Not only that, considering that it exists to be "exact and concise" what are the odds of two speakers ever understanding each other? Considering the difficulty of pronunciation, how many different meanings would you have to go through to determine which one the guy was trying to pronounce?

Hint: If you are going to run Loglan through a Huffman coder, consider a Hanning coder next.

/RAH fan
//loved Gulf
///went to the Library of Congress to dig up any of Dr. Samuel Renshaw's "followup works" on the Tscope
////everything I found can be googled in minutes.
 
2012-12-18 07:30:35 PM
English has so many built-in ambiguities in its syntax.

For example, if you heard of a prostitute cannibal, would you think that's a cannibal who ate prostitutes, or a prostitute who was also a cannibal?

It's so weird that many words mean their opposite when prefixed with "in-" or "un-", but many accents have feature which deemphasizes the first syllable of a word. There's a lot more slurring in common speech than most people are aware of. The speech used in almost all forms of acting in TV/movie/radio/audiobook has a lot of specifications which exclude common-speech features in various accents. Even when acting out a Cockney, Southern, or New Yawk accent, the enunciation is a bit different than you'd normally find spoken.

Consequently many of the BASE words got deprecated because they couldn't be distinguished from the negated form. For example, "evitable" and "clement" are words, but rarer if not deprecated. If you said "inevitable" or "inclement" with a lot of common-speech accents, the "n" sound is often short and can be absent but the word may be assumed to be "inevitable" or "inclement" even in the lack of contextual clues, unless the surrounding enunciation context is so bold and clear that its absence would be noted.
 
2012-12-18 07:31:49 PM

Bonzo_1116: CowardlyLion: How exactly does not having words for egocentric coordinates benefit anyone? Or did I miss something in the article and ithkuil also has words for left/right/front/back?

Using non-subjective coordinates probably makes the folks who speak that language less likely to get lost when following directions.


I fully agree that if you're giving someone directions, north/south/east/west are great (at least when in a city, that's how I'll give directions to anyone who's properly oriented), but should an ER doctor care if my north leg (which could readily become east, west, or south) is broken, or my left leg? Without subjective coordinates, it's needlessly difficult/confusing (if not impossible) to discuss anatomy or any task where subjective coordinates are more important than one's orientation to the Earth.
 
2012-12-18 07:32:57 PM
Well, at least now I know where meow said the dog gets his stuff.
 
2012-12-18 07:36:33 PM
Very cool, thanks subby.

Anyone know of any good resources for a budding language/linguistics enthusiast, either online or actual book?
 
2012-12-18 07:40:00 PM
I enjoyed the article. All eleventy billion words of it.
 
2012-12-18 07:43:22 PM

cherryl taggart: Well, at least now I know where meow said the dog gets his stuff.


His?

/only person I've ever put on ignore
 
2012-12-18 07:50:19 PM

CowardlyLion: How exactly does not having words for egocentric coordinates benefit anyone? Or did I miss something in the article and ithkuil also has words for left/right/front/back?


Sounds like a crippling deficiency to me, if it's true, which I'm guessing it only sort of is. If you didn't recall the compass directions in a story you were telling, or if you wanted to relate something in general, you'd end up having to frame your description in terms of either some default or arbitrary orientation (what a mess) or your (or you listener's?) current orientation (also a mess). At best you're just using a (much) worse version of egocentric coordinates. My guess is that speakers of that language do exactly that, which would make the claim only half-true, or else it's simply wrong and they do have words for egocentric coordinates.

I get the idea of restrictions leading to greater precision and other benefits, but this doesn't strike me as that sort of thing at all.
 
2012-12-18 07:56:58 PM

Oznog:
Consequently many of the BASE words got deprecated because they couldn't be distinguished from the negated form. For example, "evitable" and "clement" are words, but rarer if not deprecated.


Tell me it's not to late to precate them again!


/sorry
 
2012-12-18 07:58:01 PM
^too

I typo'd in a linguist thread.
 
2012-12-18 08:00:16 PM
 
2012-12-18 08:04:41 PM
bookmark
 
2012-12-18 08:07:03 PM

SmackLT: You know, it's like I always say:
 
 


Thanks. In the process of trying to read that, I managed to work the crick from my neck. Feels much better now.
 
2012-12-18 08:10:00 PM

casual disregard: Imagine a society in which English is the primary spoken and written language, except Ithkuil is the language of law. Nobody speaks Ithkuil except for practice.

You have all the advantages of English metaphor and all the advantages of Ithkuil specificity. Imagine spoken English language hand-in-hand with a written Ithkuil Constitution. Literally the best of both worlds.


I understand the point, but it leaves a huge gulf between the written and spoken language, like Chinese. People literally have to learn two separate languages to both speak and write.

For one thing, it promotes illiteracy. Mastering written Chinese is a herculean task that was crystalized in practices like the mandarin examinations. It tends to absorb effort that could be channeled into more practical or fulfilling ends.

For a country to establish spoken English and written Ithkuil as official languages would be worse than simply using Chinese. Since the languages are separate in structure, anything spoken that has to be written down is subject to misunderstanding and mischief. Contracts and legislation would suddenly require a two-step process to accomplish anything meaningful that represents the original intent.
 
2012-12-18 08:11:56 PM

DeltaPunch: Very cool, thanks subby.

Anyone know of any good resources for a budding language/linguistics enthusiast, either online or actual book?


Well, it's not an entry-level site, but Language Log has a lot of fascinating posts and commentary pulled from modern media. It's fun to browse, although some of the discussion gets pretty technical.

Contemporary Linguistics is a common entry-level text on the subject, broken down into the various sub-disciplines (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, sociolinguistics, historical ling, etc.). It's pretty decent as textbooks go; this is an older edition that's a hell of a lot cheaper and just as good.

It's kind of hard to think of any "general" sites or books other than that; the subdisciplines all have great sources, but they're pretty narrowly focused. Is there something specific you're interested in?
 
2012-12-18 08:24:36 PM
If you want to hear snippets of a sampling of the world's languages, try here.

Some amazingly cool stuff; the Ubykh soundfiles are priceless. (Almost literally, because the language is dead.)
 
2012-12-18 08:34:35 PM
Wow, as someone who's re-reading Baugh and Cable's History of the English Language just for funsies, I'm enjoying this thread.
 
And who redid the CSS for the comment box? It looks all shiny now.
 
2012-12-18 08:39:11 PM
Finally got to read the whole thing--great article. Thanks, casual disregard.

Makes me want to take back one of the nasty things I've said about my chosen field. Don't know which one yet, but I'm sure I'll think of one.
 
2012-12-18 08:40:56 PM

Suckmaster Burstingfoam: GypsyJoker: Quijada's entry into artificial languages was inspired by the utopian politics of Esperanto as well as by the import bin at his local record store, where as a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies, he discovered a concept album by the French prog-rock band Magma. All the songs were sung in Kobaïan, a melodic alien language made up by the group's eccentric lead singer, Christian Vander.

Magma--FARK YES, biatchES!!! 

\m/

Good on you for spreading the Magmavirus and all, but there are videos of a 70s lineup doing Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh too:

part 1
part 2
part 3 

And De Futura too.


Great stuff! Haven't had time to plunder the prog depths of YouTube, but thanks!
 
2012-12-18 08:41:49 PM

cig-mkr: ilambiquated: cig-mkr: [d6xokdhfna55s.cloudfront.net image 201x201]

That's called metathesis. Happens a lot. For example, in classical Greek, I have is ekho. I will have should be ekhso, but it's eskho. Another example: Bird used to be pronounce brid. And Germans say Ross (short for hross) instead of horse.


I can understand metathesis, it seems a natural progression of language, like the words (?) we use for texting will become the norm with time.
Ebonics, or "African American Vernacular English" just seemed to me to be an excuse for a poor command of the English language. It's probably just the way it was presented and how the media hammered it to death.


Ebonics IS a poor command of the English language. Watch who speak it - those who fail out of the educational system.
 
2012-12-18 08:41:53 PM

DeltaPunch: Very cool, thanks subby.

Anyone know of any good resources for a budding language/linguistics enthusiast, either online or actual book?


I'm a Pinker fan. Pretty readable.
 
2012-12-18 08:48:41 PM

MemeSlave: cig-mkr: ilambiquated: cig-mkr: [d6xokdhfna55s.cloudfront.net image 201x201]

That's called metathesis. Happens a lot. For example, in classical Greek, I have is ekho. I will have should be ekhso, but it's eskho. Another example: Bird used to be pronounce brid. And Germans say Ross (short for hross) instead of horse.


I can understand metathesis, it seems a natural progression of language, like the words (?) we use for texting will become the norm with time.
Ebonics, or "African American Vernacular English" just seemed to me to be an excuse for a poor command of the English language. It's probably just the way it was presented and how the media hammered it to death.

Ebonics IS a poor command of the English language. Watch who speak it - those who fail out of the educational system.


IIRC, the Ebonics curriculum was designed to alleviate that problem; it was supposed to serve as a sort of bilingual ed, with the intent to bring inner city kids into speaking a more-standard form of English.
 
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