Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wilkins and Ro - taxonomic types

D: I will now touch upon few aborted language attempts. Nobody really learned these, so they are mere historical curiosities. Ro is inspired by Wilkins.

"He divided the universe in forty categories or classes, these being further subdivided into differences, which was then subdivided into species. He assigned to each class a monosyllable of two letters; to each difference, a consonant; to each species, a vowel. For example: de, which means an element; deb, the first of the elements, fire; deba, a part of the element fire, a flame. In a similar language invented by Letellier (1850) a means animal; ab, mammal; abo, carnivore; aboj, feline; aboje, cat; abi, herbivore; abiv, horse; etc. In the language of Bonifacio Sotos Ochando (1845) imaba means building; imaca, harem; imafe, hospital...

The words of the analytical language created by John Wilkins are not mere arbitrary symbols; each letter in them has a meaning, like those from the Holy Writ had for the Cabbalists. Mauthner points out that children would be able to learn this language without knowing it be artificial; afterwards, at school, they would discover it being an universal code and a secret encyclopaedia."

D: the language had problems, though. Some words don't fit well into the categories.

"Let us consider the eighth category, the category of stones. Wilkins divides them into common (silica, gravel, schist), modics (marble, amber, coral), precious (pearl, opal), transparent (amethyst, sapphire) and insolubles (chalk, arsenic). Almost as surprising as the eighth, is the ninth category. This one reveals to us that metals can be imperfect (cinnabar, mercury), artificial (bronze, brass), recremental (filings, rust) and natural (gold, tin, copper). Beauty belongs to the sixteenth category; it is a living brood fish, an oblong one."

D: I was inspired enough by this last observation about children that I started playing with words that children could say at various ages that would later also form the basis for such a language. See my Childese effort.

D: Ro is a modern variation of Wilkins' effort.
Like Solresol, Ro is an a priori philosophical language, with a vocabulary derived not from natural languages but from a classification structure. The sense of a word is indicated by its initial letters; for instance, in Ro, bo- is the category of "sense-affecting matter", and color words (falling under this category) begin with bofo-: bofoc means "red", bofod means "orange" and bofof means "yellow".

D: a problem is the very similarity that makes such words easy to learn. For example, a cucumber and pumpkin are both vegetables. If they vary by only one phoneme, context is not of much help to tell them apart. I guess this is a case of choosing your poison. Easier to learn or easier to understand spoken, once learned. This is a constant theme in language design. Often you get something but you lose something. For example, removing agreement between grammatical elements makes speaking a language easier. No more "I am" but "you are". However, this very aspect of English serves to give a listener not one but two chances to catch the intended pronoun-verb "to be" combo. I introduce optional tonal agreement in VERSE.

Ro Design principles

All of the language is stretched across the alphabet. Pronouns begin with A and mathematical words begin with Z, living things with L and M: mu are animals, mul are birds, mulca are swimming birds, mulcam is a duck.

D: My Decimese effort is taxonomic. I use syllables v.s. single phonemes, something that has not been tried to date. I suffer great problems with brevity due to this. I needed to introduce various tricks for "spoken shorthand" to address this. I make the CV syllable the basis for each lexeme, rather than C or V. Typically, taxonomic languages use alternating CVCVC or VCVC... to do so.

D: Ygyde is another example of this. I will touch upon that language in its own entry later.
Suffice to say, it shares uncanny similarities to Decimese. We vary in details, though, and the devil is in the details. Anybody reading the lang53 article and the UPSID phoneme data will inevitably show similarities, when attempting a taxonomic basis.
"Names of letters and scientific constants are 2 letters long. Names of variables are 4 letters long compound words. Proper nouns are 6 letters long compound words except for names of people and some geographic names, which are 8 letters long. Names of complex chemicals and proteins are proper nouns made of two words. Precise biological names of species are made of three words."
"All other words are either 5 or 7 letters long. They are compound words coined by combining a vowel prefix with two or three morphemes. Examples of the Ygyde compound words:
aniga (corrupt) = a (adjective) + ni (secret) + ga (money)"

D: taxonomic languages typically suffer from a lack of brevity. They also rely on each phoneme/letter so much that minor errors in hearing and typing will completely skew the meaning.
Typically, this lack of redundant phonemes for clarity is offset by fewer phonemes for clarity. This in turn reduces brevity. Alternatively, if they contain brevity there may not be enough base categories to ensure enough nuance in the basic vocabulary.
This has certainly vexed me greatly.

Perhaps the most interesting variant of this is AUI:
" Probably the most bizarre artificial "universal" language of recent times is aUI (pronounced "a-OO-ee"), the "Language of Space." aUI, meaning "space-spirit-sound" or "space-language," and advertised as the "Pentecostal Logos of Love and Peace," was launched on Planet Earth in the 1960's by John W. Weilgart, an Austrian-born Iowa psychiatrist who claimed to have learned the language as a young boy from a little green elf-like humanoid from outer space. The little green spaceman told Weilgart that aUI was the literally universal language used by intelligent beings on all planets throughout the Cosmos. aUI, according to Weilgart, is a perfectly logical and rational language, and learning aUI can actually cure a person of irrational thinking patterns. "
D: quite the character!

Tomorrow, I will look at Solresol, a musical pitch-only language, then segue into various strategies to use tone in more conventional languages.

English quirk of the day:
"I before E except after C" ... not!
beige, cleidoic, codeine, conscience, deify, deity, deign,
dreidel, eider, eight, either, feign, feint, feisty,
foreign, forfeit, freight, gleization, gneiss, greige,
greisen, heifer, heigh-ho, height, heinous, heir, heist,
leitmotiv, neigh, neighbor, neither, peignoir, prescient,
rein, science, seiche, seidel, seine, seismic, seize, sheik,
society, sovereign, surfeit, teiid, veil, vein, weight,
weir, weird

Both French and Latin are involved with nationalistic and religious implications which could not be entirely shaken off, and so, while they seemed for a long time to have solved the international language problem up to a certain point, they did not really do so in spirit. "
Edward Sapir

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