Constructed Language: First Week


In the first week of my research, I focused on existing constructed languages (Ithkuil, Blissymbolics, Idiom Neutral, Esperanto, Tolkien languages, etc.) and on the logic and rationale behind their creation. Here, I will summarize my findings, beginning with a general overview and categorization of constructed language, and then moving on to a discussion of the constructed language Ithkuil.

General Overview

Constructed languages (or “conlangs”) are languages with consciously-devised phonology, grammar, and lexica; they are also known as artificial, planned, or invented languages, and sometimes exist only in fictional settings (e.g., Quenya in The Lord of the Rings). People create constructed languages for many purposes: to ease communication between people who speak different mother languages (i.e., auxiliary language), to increase the realism of a fictitious setting, to prove artistic or philosophical points, and to experiment in linguistic, technological, and cognitive fields. Actual speakers of constructed language are exceedingly rare: Esperanto-speakers are the largest group, with only two million purported members.

Some speakers of Esperanto and of other languages derived from real source languages (e.g., Interlingua, Latino sine flexione, and Idiom Neutral) deny the “artificial” or “constructed” designation, instead asserting that their languages are logical continuations of the source languages.

Categories of Constructed Language

  • Engineered languages (or engelangs) include logical, philosophical, and experimental languages; these are used for experimentation in logic, philosophy, or linguistics.
  • Auxiliary languages (or auxlangs) are languages created to facilitate easier international communication.
  • Controlled languages are “improved” versions of existing languages, such as Latino sine flexione, Basic English, Special English, and Globish.
  • Artistic languages (or artlangs) exist for aesthetic pleasure and include secret and mystical languages.
  • A priori languages are not based on existing languages; these may include engelangs, artlangs, and even auxlangs, as well as some taxonomic languages.
  • A posteriori languages have features based on existing language(s), including controlled languages and most auxlangs.
  • Schematic languages are languages with more original and precise grammars, including vocabulary from languages of different families; these auxiliary, half-a priori, half-a posteriori languages include Esperanto, Lojban, Glosa, Lingwa de planeta, and Toki Pona.
  • The boundaries between these classifications are not clear, and one constructed language may overlap categories; there are no rules to limit a constructed language!

Constructed languages that contain a realistic amount of irregularity are “naturalistic” languages; naturalistic languages are usually intended for artistic or philosophical purposes (i.e., artlangs), and are not designed for easy acquisition, as opposed to auxiliary languages.

For more general information about constructed languages, please see the Oxford Bibliography on artificial languages.

Ithkuil: a Philosophical Language

Ithkuil is an artificial language created by John Quijada not for normal human use, but rather as an exploration of what could be possible in language. Its three main goals are:

  1. To express more of the depth of human cognition than any other language, current or ancient
  2. To minimize all semantic ambiguity, illogic, redundancy, and arbitrariness
  3. To maintain maximal morphological concision

The language functions thus:

  • An innovative grammar consisting of a matrix of compact, reusable, and cross-functional concepts and structures allows for the concise expression of complex cognition.
  • The lexicon of semantic stems has been totally revamped from the cognitive level up, reflecting dependencies and relationships between separate semantic concepts.
  • Morphemes are as phonetically brief as possible and hold multiple roles depending on the context.
  • A vast array of variations and derivations surpass the accuracy and extent of all natural languages to date while keeping the lexicon small; hundreds of thousands of English words are compressed into ~3600 Ithkuil word-roots.
  • Ithkuil presents at the morphological level what other languages can present only at the lexical level, and without any circumlocution.

According to Quijada, the language is optimized for:

  • Gestalt conceptualization
  • Conveying the evidential basis for an utterance
  • Conveying the cognitive intent of an utterance
  • Objective vs. subjective descriptions of objects, events, and phenomena
  • Descriptions of the holistic vs. discrete componential structure of objects, situations, and phenomena
  • Mechanistic vs. synergistic interpretations of objects, events, and phenomena
  • The causal dynamics of complex states, acts, events
  • Describing spatio-temporal phenomena

John Quijada’s language has been hailed as perhaps the most complete philosophical language to come close to true cognitive expression. Here is an example from his website:

Tram-mļöi  hhâsmařpţuktôx.

On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point.’

Obviously Ithkuil (for which Quijada has even created a writing system!) is incredibly precise and concise; a nineteen-word sentence in English becomes only a two-word sentence in Ithkuil, with no loss of meaning or depth. It also seems inherently unusable as a real human communicative language.

A language like Ithkuil truly exhibits the depth of constructed language. No other natural language could possibly evolve to convey thought with the accuracy, concision, and sheer un-pronounceability of Ithkuil. Quijada’s effort is inspiring for anyone getting into language construction, and will surely prove invaluable as my research progresses.

For more information about Ithkuil, please visit John Quijada’s website.