Friday, December 28, 2012

The "perfect" language?

Hello all!

Here is a little New Years present for ya:

Long but FASCINATING article in The New Yorker about a man who worked at the DMV and in his spare time, over the last three decades, invented a language he calls "Ithkuil".

From the article:
"'Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,' John Quijada, [...] told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled 'Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.'"

"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."

Here's the website with the actual language (pages on phonology, morphology, syntax etc.):

What do you guys think about this enterprise? I think it's a wonderfully cool philosophical and cognitive experiment. It's crazy to think about a society whose language would force people to make explicit, through their language, all the thoughts and feelings that we are currently able to intentionally hide (if aware of them), or unintentionally omit (if we are semi-conscious or unconscious of them). How would "politeness" change? How would humor? Politics? Dating/relationships/love lives?

What elements of the language do you think would be the first to morph or disappear if Ithkuil was adopted as a real means of communication?

Mind-boggling stuff. 

- Hannah

1 comment:

J.lombian said...

Haha! My grandmother AND uncle both just sent me this article! Intriguing and provocative, but as I was reading about A) his interpretation of metaphor, and B) his intentions to create a 'perfect' language I found myself shaking my head disapprovingly and then had my thoughts echoed in Lakoff's criticism at the end of the art, first because of its staggering unlearnability and second because of the assumptions it makes about speakers being sooooo introspective about every utterance they make, sounds exhausting!! And tedious to the point of insanity, I don't see how speaking such a language could possibly be faster not to mention it seems to assume that the purpose of language is always to be utterly sincere. AND there are so many glorious subtleties that in my opinion rely upon INFERENCE, i.e., humor, and sarcasm, condescension, what about flirting?!! Actually the more I think about it the more horrified I am by the prospect of such a language, learnability aside, I think these so-called 'shortcomings' that ithkuil attempts to 'correct' really do serve a necessary social function.
That being said I think within the realm of artificial intelligence this is a very exciting prospect.