On the conlang patrol

Lee Tucker on Facebook yesterday:

I must be going mad Arnold Zwicky. I just read an article that included the phrase “voiceless uvular ejective affricate.” For the record, I flinched.

That article would “Utopian for Beginners: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented” by Joshua Foer in the 12/24/12 New Yorker, where we read:

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 (2009)], writes. Many of the most spectacular flops have been languages, like Ithkuil, that attempt to hold a perfect mirror up to reality.

Ithkuil is a conlang (constructed language), very much in the spirit of the 17th century. And yes, it has a mind-boggling assortment of phonemes, especially consonant phonemes.

Foer goes on:

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.

There’s a Wikipedia page, which is mostly great blocks of material from “Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language” by the language’s inventor John Quijada (on the 2011 version of the language), where we learn that “The phonological system of the original Ithkuil [2004] consists of 65 consonants and 17 vowels… The newly revised Ithkuil [2011] has 45 consonants and 13 vowels.” Also that it’s

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.

I’d thought that someone had posted about Foer’s piece on Language Log, but apparently not. But here’s a bit from Stan Carey on his blog on 12/20/12 on “The invented languages of Ithkuil and Blissymbols”:

Ithkuil’s grammatical characteristics are listed in Arika Okrent’s (highly recommended) book In the Land of Invented Languages. She quotes Quijada speaking at a conlang conference, where he describes his language’s influences as:

[the] consonantal phonology and verbal morphology of Ubykh and Abkhaz, certain Amerindian verbal moods, Niger-Kordofanian aspectual systems, Basque and Dagestanian nominal case systems, Wakashan enclitic systems, the Tzeltal and Guugu Yimidhirr positional orientation systems, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, the evidential and possessive categories of Suzette Elgin’s Láadan, and the schematic word-formation principles of Wilkins’ Analytic Language and Sudré’s Solresol.

Oh my. But then it was never intended to be a language people could actually speak.

Conlangs have come up on Language Log on occasion, mostly notably in Eric Baković’s two postings on Dothraki. From “Create a language, go to jail” of 12/15/11:

I’ve received several messages with links to this NYT piece [“Athhilezar? Watch Your Fantasy World Language” by Amy Chozick] since its appearance online on [12/12/11]. The piece is on Dothraki, a constructed language used in the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and invented by David J. Peterson … The piece also talks about constructed languages (“conlangs”) and language constructors (“conlangers”) a bit more generally, and most specifically with respect to their use in Hollywood.

With a follow-up posting “Linguistics Goes to Hollywood” of 6/14/13.

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