Ithkuil

Ithkuil is a constructed language marked by outstanding grammatical complexity, expressed with a rich phonemic inventory or through an original, graphically structured, system of writing. The language’s author, John Quijada, presents Ithkuil as a cross between an a priori philosophical and a logical language designed to express deeper levels of human cognition overtly and clearly, particularly in regard to human categorization, yet briefly. It also strives to minimize the ambiguities and semantic vagueness found in natural human languages.

The many examples from the original grammar book show that a message, like a meaningful phrase or a sentence, can usually be expressed in Ithkuil with fewer sounds, or lexically distinct speech-elements, than in natural human languages. Quijada deems his creation too complex and strictly regular a language to have developed ‘naturally,’ but nonetheless a language suited for human conversation. No person is hitherto known to be able to speak Ithkuil fluently; Quijada, for one, does not.

For his influences, Quijada cites the ‘morpho-phonology of Abkhaz verb complexes, the moods of verbs of certain American Indian languages, the aspectual system of Niger–Kordofanian languages, the nominal case systems of Basque and Dagestanian languages, the enclitic system of the Wakashan languages, the positional orientation systems of Tzeltal and Guugu Yimidhirr, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, and the hearsay and possessive categories of Suzette Elgin’s Láadan language.’ After Ithkuil was mentioned in the Russian magazine ‘Computerra,’ several speakers of Russian contacted Quijada and expressed enthusiasm to learn the language, with several complaining of its difficulty in pronunciation. Quijada remade the language’s morphophonology and published the revision in 2007, as Ilaksh, which featured other amendments to grammar, like some additional Levels or a slight shuffling of noun cases. The Ilaksh script was redesigned. It has two forms, a sequential ‘informal’ system suitable for handwriting or compact typesetting, and a ‘formal’ logographic system with artistic possibilities resembling Maya scripts.

In the ‘informal’ writing system, several parallel sets of lines are shaped to correspond sequentially to the different parallel sets of lexemes and inflections. It is directly pronounceable. The author designed it with reserve for convenient handwriting. The overall design would permit compact, clear, black-and-white rendering. In the colorful ‘formal’ script, a single complex glyph represents an entire sentence. Diversely shaped, shaded and superimposed ‘cartouches’ represent the syntactic relations of the verb and noun phrases of a sentence. The edges of the cartouches have particular shapes describing one set of inflections, while the colors describe another set of inflexions, and the textures yet another set. On the cartouches, ‘letters’ of hexagonal outline spell out the shapes of particular lexemes. The cartouches form phrases, with primary phrases overlapping subordinate phrases. The coloring system utilizes different color densities and texturing for different colors in order to be usable by color-blind people. These density conventions also allow the formal system to be inexpensively printed in black-and-white, or inscribed or imprinted on stone or other materials.

The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis postulates that a person’s language defines their perceptions and cognitive patterns. Stanislav Kozlovsky proposed in ‘Computerra,’ that a fluent speaker of Ithkuil, accordingly, would think ‘about five or six times as fast’ as a speaker of a typical natural language. One may also argue that, Ithkuil being an extremely precise and synthetic language, its speaker would, under the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, have a more discerning, deeper understanding both of everyday situations and of broader phenomena, and of abstract philosophical categories. However, the creator of the language has stated he does not believe a speaker would think necessarily any faster, as while the language is terse, a single word requires a lot more thought before it can be spoken than in a natural language: ‘For these reasons, I believe use of Ithkuil would probably allow one to think more deeply, critically, and analytically; but think faster? I doubt it.’

Kozlovsky also likened Ithkuil to the fictional Speedtalk from Robert A. Heinlein’s novella ‘Gulf,’ and contrasted both languages with the Newspeak of the communicationally restricted society of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ Ithkuil is by far the most complete language of the three. Quijada acknowledged the similarity of Ithkuil’s design goals to those of Speedtalk, remarking that, ‘[h]owever, Heinlein’s Speedtalk appears to focus only on the morpho-phonological component of language[, whereas] Ithkuil has been designed with an equal focus on [morphology, lexico-morphology, or lexico-semantics]. Additionally, the apparent purpose of Heinlein’s language is simple rapidity/brevity of speech and thought, while Ithkuil is focused on maximal communication in the most efficient manner, a somewhat different purpose, in which brevity per se is irrelevant.’

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