Hypothetical Representation of a Language — Ithkuil

Previously, you have read on the simplest yet most ambiguous conlang you have come across so far. Now, we bring you what could be the most difficult but least ambiguous conlang to have ever existed. This is Ithkuil, a language constructed by John Quijada, designed to express deeper levels of human cognition briefly yet overtly and clearly, particularly with regard to human categorization. Presented as a cross between an a priori philosophical and a logical language striving to minimize the ambiguities and semantic vagueness found in natural human languages, Ithkuil is notable for its grammatical complexity and extensive phoneme inventory. Quijada stated that he did not create Ithkuil to be auxiliary or used in everyday conversations, but rather to serve as a language for more elaborate and profound fields where more insightful thoughts are expected, such as philosophy, arts, science and politics.

The creation of Ithkuil drew influences from the Abkhaz verb complexes, the moods of verbs in 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 Yimithirr, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, and the hearsay and possessive categories of Suzette Elgin’s Láadan language. These influences concocted what was the most concise conlang to have ever existed, with a couple of words representing a sentence to a paragraph of ideas. Quijada’s translation of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude descending a Staircase, No. 2” is as such:

Aukkras  êqutta  ogvëuļa  tnou’elkwa  pal-lši  augwaikštülnàmbu.

‘An imaginary representation of a nude woman in the midst of descending a staircase in a step-by-step series of tightly-integrated ambulatory bodily movements which combine into a three-dimensional wake behind her, forming a timeless, emergent whole to be considered intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically.’

The phonology of Ithkuil is massive. At 65 consonants and 17 vowels, phonemes may be distinguished by aspiration, voicing, ejectiveness and retroflex. Vowels are also distinguished based on front-back, open-close, and rounding. Surprisingly, the schwa, the most neutral vowel, is all but existent in Ithkuil. However, this has changed in 2011, where the phonemes are reduced to 45 consonants and 13 vowels, and we have the schwa. Ithkuil is also a tonal language like Vietnamese and Cantonese, having seven tones to be distinguished — high, mid, low, falling, rising, rising-falling and falling-rising.

And now we get to the grammar part. At 92 grammatical cases, this language sure packs a punch to any language learner who hates declining nouns based on noun case. Participants to the verb, possessive relationship, non-associative relationship, spatial and temporal relationships, direct address, and comparisons are all included in this ultimate noun case expansion pack. It outnumbers the number of cases in any language, to be really frank, as it dwarfs Estonian’s 14, Finnish’s 15 and Hungarian’s 18.

Ithkuil words can be divided into just two parts of speech, formatives and adjuncts. Formatives functioned both as nouns and as verbs, depending on the morpho-semantic context. Both nominal and verbal formatives were inflected to one of the possible 3 stems, 3 patterns, 2 designations (formal or informal), 9 configurations, 4 affiliations, 4 perspectives, 6 extensions, 2 foci, 4 contexts, 2 essences, and 92 cases; formatives could also have taken on some of the 153 affixes, which further qualified into one of 9 degrees. Verbal formatives were additionally inflected for 7 illocutions and 7 conflations.

Verbal adjuncts work in conjunction with adjacent formatives to provide additional grammatical information. Two types of verbal adjuncts were inflected to indicate 14 valencies, 6 versions, 8 formats, 37 derivations, 30 modalities, 4 levels, 9 validations, 9 phases, 9 sanctions, 32 aspects, 8 moods, and 24 biases.

Because the rules are so massive and heavy in number, we get lazy on this blog and decide that you can read it up on http://ithkuil.net/  .

All rules and grammar aside, it is interesting to note that Ithkuil has its own writing system. It is written in a horizontal boustrophedon manner, that is, alternating left-to-right and right-to-left. According to Quijada, Ithkuil characters are split into four main groups — primary case/ aspect, secondary case/ aspect, tertiary, and consonantal characters. There are also separate number characters as well. Once again, the link comes in really useful if you want to know how notoriously complex the writing rules are. There, Quijada goes highly in-depth in explaining how each character works to be how it is read.

Ithkuil is so complex, no users could use it on a daily basis. In fact, the creator, John Quijada could not even use it fluently. He deemed his creation too complex and strictly regular a language to have developed naturally, but nonetheless a language suited to human conversation. This conlang was also featured in a Russian magazine Computerra, proposing that a fluent speaker of Ithkuil would think “about five to six times as fast” as a speaker of a natural language, using the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as a means for suggestion. It suggests that Ithkuil, being an extremely precise and synthetic language, its speakers would have a more discerning, deeper understanding both of everyday situations and of broader phenomena, and of abstract philosophical categories.

However, strong forms of the hypothesis, which postulate that language determines thought and not only influences it, have been disproven within mainstream linguistics. Moreover, in line with this, John Quijada has stated he does not believe a speaker would think necessarily any faster, because even though Ithkuil is terse, a single word requires a lot more thought before it can be spoken than it would in a natural language. He once said “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.”

To conclude, Ithkuil is an extremely good challenge to any language learner who is interested in conlangs, complexity, and the strong hatred for ambiguity and vagueness. Any passionate learner for this language, however, should be wary of the waves of difficulty they have to cross before they can fully harness the true benefits of this language.

One thought on “Hypothetical Representation of a Language — Ithkuil

  1. Pingback: Mathematics in language — Transcendental algebra | The Language Closet

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