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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 58
    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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Archived thread
2012-12-18 05:32:12 PM
7 votes:
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.
2012-12-18 05:29:15 PM
6 votes:
So, an over-purposeful, artificial language. Like newspeak.
2012-12-18 05:40:06 PM
5 votes:
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?
2012-12-18 05:27:16 PM
5 votes:
Submitter here. I actually felt my heart break when I noticed Ithkuil had been embraced by terrorists.

Part of me, saying this as a USA citizen, wants to found a "daughter" country of the USA just to prove it's possible. And in doing so there would be two official languages: English would be spoken and written and Ithkuil would be the lingua franca. Or, I suppose, the lingua ithkuil.

Breaks my farking heart to see a hate group endorsing it, though.
2012-12-18 05:31:37 PM
4 votes:

PowerSlacker: Shouldn't a new language have a name that is actually pronounceable?


One of Ithkuil's notable features is that its pronunciations are intentionally most difficult. The only English adjective which can describe it is "Dense."
2012-12-18 11:59:25 PM
3 votes:
"On a warm afternoon in mid-July, I visited Quijada's modest three-bedroom home in suburban Sacramento, where he lives with his wife, Carol Barry, also a retired civil servant..."

That's a sweeter deal than tenure, I am sure.

Constructed or natural, language is arbitrary. If natural languages are arbitrary, and he is building upon a framework based of natural languages, then his creation i is just as arbitrary as any other language. He's not created a language from scratch, just borrowed concepts and categories translated from his own linguistic framework into what his cultural/mental maps deem as "more precise". His idea of precision might be your complete inelegant sloppiness.

The really precise language was probably howled by the wild boy of Aveyron.

/I was a linguistics major, and the amount of egotistical puffery with the field, the Chomsky/Pinker fellation, the chicken/egg arguments, the hyping it up into a being a "real" science, as something mathematically rigorous and exact, plus the grad student brain sucking thievery of academia, etc...made me glad to graduate.
2012-12-18 08:24:36 PM
3 votes:
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 05:44:57 PM
3 votes:
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.
2012-12-18 05:44:45 PM
3 votes:

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.
2012-12-18 05:37:01 PM
3 votes:
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
2012-12-18 05:34:28 PM
3 votes:
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/
2012-12-18 05:27:43 PM
3 votes:
How do you say "esperanto" in Ithkuil?
2012-12-18 04:55:57 PM
3 votes:
Actually, that was a really interesting article. Thanks subby
2012-12-19 01:03:18 AM
2 votes:

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
 
 
If you're interested in this kind of thing, you might want to read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid ("GEB" for short) or Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter. He wrote some pretty interesting stuff about translation.  One of the the points he made was that the shorter a piece of text is, the harder it is to translate it well.  Thus, he concludes, the title of a longer work is often the most difficult part of the work to translate, since it encapsulates so much meaning into so little text.
 
One example that I think illustrates this point is a short story written in Spanish titled "Nosotras."  The word "nosotras" is the feminine first person plural; it's used when everyone being referred to is female.  I guess you could translate it as "We, the Women" or "Us Females."  In the story, the fact that every character (to whom the title refers) is female turns out to be a significant plot point.  But in English, a translated title like "We, the Women" overstresses that point.  There just isn't a simple way in English to convey the point of the title without bludgeoning the reader over the head with it.
2012-12-18 10:35:43 PM
2 votes:

TorqueToad: How do we know this is a hate group? Did I miss something in the article? I just saw a Russian group that was interested...?


They are lead by an anti-semitic nutter who wants to create a superhuman society to help free the ukraine from their russian overlords and the global elite (jews!). The main speaker at the conference was a known terrorist who'd served time for his criminal acts.

it's on like page 8.
2012-12-18 08:54:23 PM
2 votes:

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

 
No it's not. It's a dialect of American English, with regularized transformations between the two. You're conflating linguistics with cultural demarcations of social class.
2012-12-18 08:11:56 PM
2 votes:

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 07:32:57 PM
2 votes:
Well, at least now I know where meow said the dog gets his stuff.
2012-12-18 06:58:43 PM
2 votes:

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 06:24:38 PM
2 votes:

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 06:00:06 PM
2 votes:

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


Even lawyers need training with it....
farm1.static.flickr.com
2012-12-18 05:51:14 PM
2 votes:

KarmicDisaster: I'd be very surprised if the average right wing hater could learn this. I mean study it out.


This is the strangely sad part. One of the most powerful European right-wing Caucasian hate-groups has determined that this language is key to their placebo. On one level, it's great to see their interest. When you marry that with reality it's easy to see how the author's enthusiam wilted.

To put it as personally as possible - who the fark hates Jews? I met a few Jews I could marry. So there's that.
2012-12-18 05:49:34 PM
2 votes:

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.
2012-12-18 05:37:13 PM
2 votes:
This kicked ass.
2012-12-18 05:29:59 PM
2 votes:
Shouldn't a new language have a name that is actually pronounceable?
2012-12-18 05:28:41 PM
2 votes:

Philip Francis Queeg: How do you say "esperanto" in Ithkuil?


e
2012-12-19 02:10:37 AM
1 votes:

CitizenTed: Screw Esperanto. I've always felt that Spanish has the easiest spelling, fewest inconsistencies and best propensity for "saying what you mean". If we could drop the genders in Spanish, it would be the easiest language to learn, methinks.


Correction: It's easy to learn pidgin Spanish.  It's NOT easy to learn real Spanish.  The grammar is remarkably more difficult to master than most people realize.
 
If the level of fluency you're looking for is "Please give me a glass of water" and "How much do the sunglasses cost?" then, sure, it's easy.  If you want to appreciate Pablo Neruda, then it's a very different story.
2012-12-19 12:59:46 AM
1 votes:

cig-mkr: 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.


Actually, my understanding was that by classifying "Ebonics" as different language, schools could get ESL (English as a Second Language) grants to teach them how to speak English.   Schools in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods were getting extra money to teach their students how to speak English, and the schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods wanted a piece of that action too.  
 
Ironically, the black community got their panties in a wad about this, played the race card, and effectively screwed themselves out of a nice chunk of federal grant money for their kids.
2012-12-19 12:06:12 AM
1 votes:

casual disregard: Submitter here. I actually felt my heart break when I noticed Ithkuil had been embraced by terrorists.

Part of me, saying this as a USA citizen, wants to found a "daughter" country of the USA just to prove it's possible. And in doing so there would be two official languages: English would be spoken and written and Ithkuil would be the lingua franca. Or, I suppose, the lingua ithkuil.

Breaks my farking heart to see a hate group endorsing it, though.


Meh. I'm sure many anti-Semites piss into toilets while standing up.

Doesn't mean I'm going to put the seat down.

/why let douchebags ruin good things?
2012-12-18 09:36:28 PM
1 votes:

theorellior: MemeSlave: Ebonics IS a poor command of the English language. Watch who speak it - those who fail out of the educational system.
 
No it's not. It's a dialect of American English, with regularized transformations between the two. You're conflating linguistics with cultural demarcations of social class.

 
 
Don't make me go all rhinoceros on you........mesmile ha you!
 
Article was very good.  That guy's brilliant and humble and has all types of refined spiritual depth.
 
I'm simpler (duh)...fell in love with one word, and created a webpage for it.....from a Philippine dialect (Cibuano), the word is, well, "lantawa"   Here's the webpage for it   http://lantawa.com/  
 
Sorry about those Politics incidents. I'm sort of a bright spaz-noir, such as that may be. I'm over it.
2012-12-18 09:07:52 PM
1 votes:

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


Wow, you don't really know anything about linguistics at all.
2012-12-18 08:58:23 PM
1 votes:
Screw Esperanto. I've always felt that Spanish has the easiest spelling, fewest inconsistencies and best propensity for "saying what you mean". If we could drop the genders in Spanish, it would be the easiest language to learn, methinks.
2012-12-18 08:50:53 PM
1 votes:
For a long view of the topic, check out Umberto Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language. Fascinating book.
2012-12-18 07:30:35 PM
1 votes:
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 07:29:16 PM
1 votes:
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 07:09:23 PM
1 votes:
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 06:53:32 PM
1 votes:

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 06:51:17 PM
1 votes:
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 06:42:08 PM
1 votes:
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 06:41:56 PM
1 votes:
Weird. Hate groups are usually pretty attached to their native language.
2012-12-18 06:25:43 PM
1 votes:

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 06:21:47 PM
1 votes:
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 06:19:32 PM
1 votes:
So they talk about Wilkins and Hooke but no mention of Waterhouse? I'm not falling for this crap.
2012-12-18 06:18:57 PM
1 votes:

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 06:13:35 PM
1 votes:

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.
2012-12-18 06:11:07 PM
1 votes:
You know, it's like I always say:
 
upload.wikimedia.org 
2012-12-18 05:57:31 PM
1 votes:

clovis69: Holy crap that was interesting.

I will never underestimate DMV workers again.


I think that article just emphasizes how useless DMV workers are.
2012-12-18 05:56:43 PM
1 votes:

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

Newspeak was designed to simplify ideas and muddle the mind. This does the opposite and is designed to be specific and better convey information.


I think more precisely, Newspeak was intended to limit the range of thought available. If there were literally no words to describe an idea that the party disapproved of, then thoughtcrime became impossible. You could say 'Big Brother doubleplus ungood' but Orwell points out that that's considered a nonsensical contradiction rather than treason.

From the article, it sounds like this invented language achieved the exact opposite: it's possible to come up with words for things that no one's even thought of yet.
2012-12-18 05:56:27 PM
1 votes:
d6xokdhfna55s.cloudfront.net
2012-12-18 05:55:01 PM
1 votes:

KarmicDisaster: I'd be very surprised if the average right wing hater could learn this. I mean study it out.


It makes sense. The accuracy of language in law is the domain of right-wingers. Look at how what "well regulated" means no longer means what it used to mean.
2012-12-18 05:53:51 PM
1 votes:

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.


Meh, law already uses a condensed and specific form of english that you and I call "legalese". Laws that are too vague get tossed by the court system. Contracts that are too vague get tossed in disputes. There is already a system in place that makes english conform to that need, while requiring no additional learning to be accessible to the vast majority of those who must conform to the law.

Color me unconvinced.
2012-12-18 05:52:21 PM
1 votes:

EnglishMan:

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


Law in the US is written in English, supposedly, but have you tried to read any of it?
2012-12-18 05:51:30 PM
1 votes:
Holy crap that was interesting.

I will never underestimate DMV workers again.
2012-12-18 05:42:58 PM
1 votes:

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


Newspeak was designed to simplify ideas and muddle the mind. This does the opposite and is designed to be specific and better convey information.
2012-12-18 05:39:30 PM
1 votes:
I'm looking forward to reading this later.
2012-12-18 05:38:00 PM
1 votes:
FTFA:
I was a third humbled, a third flattered, and a third intrigued

Or "thtfti", in Izgudese.
2012-12-18 05:35:17 PM
1 votes:
분명히 아무도 한국어 들어 본 적이있다.
2012-12-18 05:34:27 PM
1 votes:

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


Or Java.
 
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