My personal favorite bit of linguistics history is that one time a guy created a language that got adopted by a cult-like-group that was trying to create a superior human race...

The full article can be read here. 

It is a rather lengthy article. So TL;DR

A guy that spent his entire life working at a DMV office secretly spent his whole life also working on a conlang (an artificial language). The language is founded on the idea of being the most precise language possible, removing all ambiguities in speech. The creator pulled from hundreds of different languages and combined the different features languages use to make sense of the world around us. 

A secret underground organization picks up on the idea and grammar of this language and then begin speaking it in an attempt to become proficient speakers of the language to help improve the efficiency of their brain. As well as raise their children speaking it in hopes to create a superior human race. 

But it’s a fascinating article that I would highly recommend reading. It’s totally worth it because some crazy shit goes down. 

I was reading up on Ithkuil, a language constructed to be brief, precise, and very complicated. The famous Monty Python line “My hovercraft is full of eels” is translated on the webpage as Tî akt’asalb abjatļud. I still don’t know much about the grammar, but after going through the site for a while, I think that literally translates to something like

Part of my hovering transport vehicle, which I legally own, which exists as a discrete whole, whose existence I am not unsure of, and with a natural relationship between its parts, is overwhelmed with a single group made up entirely of eels, whose existence I am sure of, which came together naturally, unidentified listener or listeners.

It’s precise, at least!

anonymous asked:

has there ever been a writing system that distinguished different colors? obviously if there were it probably would've lost the distinction in a hot sec, but still.

Not a natural writing system, no. Plenty of opportunities for doing so in a conlang, though. None come to mind at the moment, but I know there have been some that have used color. John Quijada’s old Ilaksh writing system used color (I think), but he’s sense pulled the description down, and it was never recorded by He plans to adapt the writing system to Ithkuil, but until then, all that exists is this image here.
Utopian For Beginners

An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented.

Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like “knight.” No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.

“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,” John Quijada, a fifty-four-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. 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. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.

In his preface, Quijada wrote that his “greater goal” was “to attempt the creation of what human beings, left to their own devices, would never create naturally, but rather only by conscious intellectual effort: 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.”

Ithkuil has two seemingly incompatible ambitions: to be maximally precise but also maximally concise, capable of capturing nearly every thought that a human being could have while doing so in as few sounds as possible. Ideas that could be expressed only as a clunky circumlocution in English can be collapsed into a single word in Ithkuil. A sentence like “On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point” becomes simply “Tram-mļöi hhâsmařpţuktôx.”

It wasn’t long after he released his manuscript on the Internet that a small community of language enthusiasts began to recognize what Quijada, a civil servant without an advanced degree, had accomplished. Ithkuil, one Web site declared, “is a monument to human ingenuity and design.” It may be the most complete realization of a quixotic dream that has entranced philosophers for centuries: the creation of a more perfect language.

Ithkuil’s first piece of press was a brief mention in 2004 in a Russian popular-science magazine called Computerra. 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. 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.

At first, Quijada was bewildered by the interest emanating from Russia. “I was a third humbled, a third flattered, and a third intrigued,” he told me. “Beyond that, I just wanted to know: who are these people?”

DIY Languages

When learning regular languages just isn’t enough.

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Saluton, Language Nerd!

If you don’t recognize the greeting, you obviously don’t know Esperanto.  Most other folks don’t either; it just didn’t seem to catch on.  But I’m wondering: has there ever been a completely contrived language that hit the big time and became the common tongue in some corner of the world?



Bonvenon, Robbie!

Nope. But they get a lot farther than you might think,…

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Ithkuil for “that chin-stroking moment you get, often accompanied by a frown on your face, when someone expresses an idea that you’ve never thought of and you have a moment of suddenly seeing possibilities you never saw before.”

- John Quijada

Sixth Language Review: Ithkuil

Ithkuil (and a very similar, yet phonologically distinct, language called Ilakash) are logical languages conceived by John Quijada. Ithkuil does not suffer from morphological ambiguity. From the long and technical tutorial that I could find on the language, I was unable to determine the extent which Ithkuil removes syntactical ambiguity. It may plague Ithkuil as it plagues most other constructed languages. 

The Good

When using the special Ithkuil script; sounds have a 1:1 meaning with the written characters. This allows a user of Ithkuil to easily translate a spoken word into written form without having spelled the specific word at any point in the past. 

Expressing concepts in the language is rather concise. This is primarily because of its word-building structure along with the 45 consonants and 13 vowels that make up Ithkuil phonology.[1]

One interesting aspect of Ithkuil has to deal with the way it handles semantic ambiguity. Obviously, one cannot remove all semantic ambiguity without infinitely long sentences. For example, if I say “Jack fell off the table,” was I referring to the coffee table in the living room, the bed side table, one of the dining room tables, or perhaps a table in the family room of a specific mansion in Bumblefuck Kentucky? Did I imply that Jack was pushed, and if so, by who? As it stands, fully removing semantic ambiguity is impossible. Ithkuil picks seemingly random parts of semantic ambiguity to tackle. For example, Ithkuil provides a means of specifying whether Jack was pushed, or if he fell on his own. I do not know why this aspect of semantic ambiguity was important to John Quijada when he created the language, but it stands as an active, interesting, and important aspect none-the-less. 

The Bad

I’ve found myself completely unable to accurately pronounce each of the 45 distinct consonants of the language so that they don’t sound too similar to another consonant. I have no idea what state someone would be in to believe that this many sounds would be a good idea. This might work in a noise-free idealistic world where everyone is perfectly heard by perfectly functioning ears. But I do not see how this could work in a noisy room or public setting. Maybe it takes years to properly train your mouth and ears to understand the subtle differences of Ithkuil phonology. 

A non-standard alphabet, and associated script (with no ascii-extended or UTF-8 counterparts) prevents me from typing or texting in Ithkuil, ever. If I wanted to send messages in Ithkuil, I’d have to use the ambiguous “26 character Latin adapted” alphabet. 

I’ve seen a few words with double consonants, such as “hhâsmařpţuktôx” – after reading on Ithkuil’s phonology, I still have no idea how to pronounce the “hh” part of the above word. 


From the languages that I’ve reviewed thus far, Ithkuil tends to be the least ambiguous on paper. However, I’m willing to bet that while actually conversing with it one would find Ithkuil to be noise-intolerant on a frustrating level. If you’re willing to dive into language jargon and spend significant time, then Ithkuil would be a much more thought provoking experience than something like Esperanto.  


List of Languages in The Art of Language Invention

Below is a list of all the languages, created and natural, either used or mentioned in The Art of Language Invention. Some (like Arabic) are used a lot; some are just mentioned. Either way, this is all of them (conlangs marked with an asterisk)! The Art of Language Invention comes out September 29th. (Preorder here!)

  • !Xóõ
  • Afrihili*
  • American Sign Language
  • ámman îar*
  • Arabic
  • Astapori Valyrian*
  • Ayeri*
  • Balaibalan*
  • Brithenig*
  • Castithan*
  • Chamorro
  • Cherokee
  • Da Mätz se Basa*
  • D’ni*
  • Dothraki*
  • Dyirbal
  • Egyptian (Middle Egyptian)
  • Esperanto*
  • Finnish
  • Fith*
  • French
  • Georgian
  • German
  • Greek
  • Gweydr*
  • Hausa
  • Hebrew
  • High Valyrian*
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Icelandic
  • Idrani*
  • Indojisnen*
  • Inuktitut
  • Irathient*
  • Ithkuil*
  • Japanese
  • Kamakawi*
  • Kēlen*
  • Khangaþyagon*
  • Klingon*
  • Kobaïan*
  • Latin
  • Linear B
  • Lishepus*
  • Mandarin
  • Minza*
  • Mongolian
  • Moro
  • Moten*
  • Na’vi*
  • Njaama*
  • Novial*
  • Okuna*
  • Paku/Pakuni*
  • Phoenician
  • Portuguese
  • Quenya*
  • Rikchik*
  • Ro*
  • Rotokas
  • Russian
  • Sanskrit
  • Shiväisith*
  • Sindarin*
  • Skerre*
  • Slovianski*
  • Sondiv*
  • Southern Paiute
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Tagalog
  • Tamil
  • Teonaht*
  • Thai
  • Thhtmaa*
  • Tsez
  • Tukang Besi
  • Tundra Nenets
  • Turkish
  • Ubese*
  • Urdu
  • Væyne Zaanics*
  • Vai
  • Valdyan*
  • Volapük*
  • Yi

Man, some of my favorites didn’t make it in! (Tok Pisin, Sodemadu, mërèchi, ea-luna, Akkadian—HAWAIIAN?!?! That can’t be right… Let me look up my draft. Oh, duh, no, of course there’s Hawaiian. I guess it just didn’t make it into the index… Oops! I guess Zhyler also got a brief mention…) Maybe if a second edition comes out some day. As it is, that’s at least 87 languages (89 if you count the two I just found here—probably more than that), so that’s pretty good.

Oh, no wait, it’s 90. Forgot one: English. lol English counts! Some weird ass stuff in English…

Note: Also, Valdyan is now called Ilaini! My bad!