I found this article from the New Yorker absolutely fascinating.. It’s by Joshua Foer and its subtitle is An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented. The amateur linguist in question is John Quijada, a fifty-four-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles and the language Ithkuil, which utilizes concepts ranging from the ideas of John Wilkins (a 17th century English bishop and polymath) to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. (It’s one of those languages based on logic and the watchword ‘succinctness is all.)
Quijada published the lexicon, grammar and syntax of his language in 2004 on the net and somewhat to his surprise later found it had been enthusiastically adopted in Russia.
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?
He accepted an invitation to a conference in Russia to satisfy his curiosity and I’ll allow the article to take up the rest of the tale. All in all a most enjoyable read and it served to introduce me to that novella by Heinlein which I hadn’t come across before and which I look forward to reading as soon as I can find it.
BTW I was delighted to read of this language.
Solresol, the creation of a French musician named Jean-François Sudre, was among the first of these universal languages to gain popular attention. It had only seven syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Si. Words could be sung, or performed on a violin. Or, since the language could also be translated into the seven colors of the rainbow, sentences could be woven into a textile as a stream of colors.
It reminded me of Jack Vance’s story The Moon Moth, set on a planet with a sung language. Vance also wrote The Languages of Pao in which on a far world different languages are invented for different castes (scientists, soldiers, merchants, etc), again referencing the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis.