Ithkuil

Ithkuil


A phrase in Ithkuil, rendered in native script.

Pronunciation: /oum.pɛ.a æ.x’æ.æ.ɬʊk.tɤx/ .

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

Ithkuil, with its variation called Ilaksh, is a constructed human language marked by outstanding grammatical complexity and an innovative system of writing.

The language’s author, John Quijada, presents Ithkuil as a cross between an a priori philosophical language and a logical language designed to express deeper levels of human cognition overtly and clearly, yet briefly. The many examples from Quijada’s original grammar show that, in the general case, a message would take significantly longer to explicate in a natural language than in Ithkuil.

Quijada deems his creation to be too complex and rational a language to have developed “naturally”, yet a one usable for general conversation and literature. No person is hitherto known to be able to speak Ithkuil; Quijada, for one, does not.

Grammar and lexicon

The lexicon of Ithkuil potentially consists of 3,600 word roots; so far only about a thousand are assigned with definite meanings. Each root consists of 2 consonantal “radicals”, and can derive uncountable lexemes through Ithkuil’s complex rules of morphophonology, which involve both consonantal and vocal mutation, shifts in syllabic stress and tone, and divers affixes.

An example of Ithkuil’s morphology at work

(based entirely on the original Ithkuil grammar book)

The word iţkuîl is a formative derived from the root k-l (abstractly meaning “speech, voice, interpretation”) through the addition of several morphological determinants:

  • The -u- vocalic infix
  • :kul is the holistic variety of the Stem 2 of the three other possible stems from k-l. Translating roughly as “a meaningful unit of speech,” i. e. “a word”, it gives no emphasis on the meaning or the vocal rendering of the word.
  • The u → uî mutation of the infix
  • :Secondary, as opposed to Primary, Mode, means that the word kuîl refers not to a real-life phenomenon, but rather to a mental entity representing that phenomenon; to an imaginary or hypothetical object. Thus “a made-up word”.
  • A Grade 8 mutation of the first radical consonant: k → ţk
  • :The Configuration of the term is Composite. Roughly corresponding to the plurality concept in Indo-European languages, it also implies the objects in question (words, kuîl) to differ from each other, while forming a “coherent emergent entity” (rather than just a collection or an array of different words), hence meaning “a vocabulary/lexicon”.
  • The i- vocalic prefix, one of the 24 possible for formative roots
  • :The Extension is Delimitive, meaning that “the vocabulary” is conceived entirely, with clearly distinguished boundaries, as opposed to it being just a local manifestationsuch as slang or a dialectof a broader lexicon.
  • :The Affiliation of the set of objects in question is Coalescent. This indicates that the individual members of the set act together toward a higher purpose by coōrdinating their complementary functions. Thus, “a vocabulary/lexicon” becomes “a language”.
  • Syllabic stress on the penultimate syllable (-u-)
  • :The Perspective of the noun is Monadic, seeing “the language” as a single and specific entity, rather than a many languages existing separately, the general phenomenon (“human languages”) or the abstract idea of language.

Thus, the approximate translation of iţkuîl is “an idea/fantasy of a complete purposeful system of complementary speech elements”, or simply “an imaginary language”.

Phonology

Ithkuil’s phonological system of 65 consonants and 17 vowels is based on sounds from a variety of languages, including such as Chechen or Abkhaz. It is often difficult for a monolingual speaker to pronounce, or even to distinguish, some of the sounds. The consonants of Ithkuil are as follows:
labial dental alveolar retroflex postalveolar palatal velar uvular pharyngeal glottal
stop ʔ
affricate c͡çʼ k͡xʼ q͡χʼ
fricative χ ħ h
nasal m n ŋ
flap ɾ
lateral ɭ
approximant w j ʁ̞
can be syllabic. /h/ is pronounced [ɸ] when preceded by a vowel and followed by another consonant. /t͡ɬʰ/ is in free variation with [t͡ɬʼ]; the latter is more common at the beginning of a word. All consonants except can be geminated; when geminated, /h/ is pronounced as a bidental fricative and /ɾ/ is prounounced as an alveolar trill.

The vowels of Ithkuil are as follows:

front central back
close ʉ
near-close ɪ ʊ
close-mid
open-mid ɔ
open æ a ɑ

The diphthongs in Ithkuil are . All other sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables.

Possible advantages

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis assumes it compulsory that a person’s language define their way of thought. Stanislav Kozlovsky proposed, in the Russian popular-scientific magazine Computerra, that a fluent speaker of Ithkuil, accordingly, would think “about five or six times as quickly” 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 clearer and deeper understanding of both real-world phenomena and abstract philosophical categories.

Along these lines, Kozlovsky likened Ithkuil to the fictional Speedtalk from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Gulf, and contradistinguished these two languages from the Newspeak of the dull, cultureless society of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ithkuil is by far the most complete language of the three. John Quijada acknowledged the similarity of Ithkuil’ 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.”

Ilaksh: the revision of Ithkuil

Since the mentioning of Ithkuil in the Russian magazine Computerra, several Russian-speakers contacted Quijada and expressed enthusiasm to learn the language, while complaining of its difficulty in pronunciation. Quijada remade the language’s morphophonology and published the revision on the 10th of June, 2007, as Ilaksh. The new version involved other amendments to grammar, like the increasing of the number of Levels and the expansion of the noun case system.

Ilaksh's writing system has been redesigned It now 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 have shapes that sequentially correspond to the different parallel sets of lexemes and inflections. It is directly pronounceable. The author designed it to be conveniently hand-written. It also appears to permit compact, clear, black-and-white typesetting.

In the colorful "formal" writing system, 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.

References

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