You Can Create A Language, But You Can’t Control It

From Wikipedia:

Ithkuil is a constructed language created by John Quijada, designed to express deeper levels of human cognition briefly yet overtly and clearly, particularly with regard to human categorization. The language is notable for its grammatical complexity and extensive phoneme inventory.

This New Yorker article about John Quijada and his creation is long but fascinating, includes references to people as diverse as George Lakoff and Robert Heinlein, and even includes some surprise twists – his odd little hobby ends up taking him places he never imagined, or had even heard of, such as the small chess-loving country of Kalmykia.

The theme here is partly the impossibility of control. Quijada’s language is intended, in part, as a tool for controlling our thoughts – a means of wresting our ambiguous, shifting thoughts to the ground and making them say what they mean and nothing else. It’s probably not actually possible – not even Quijada is capable of speaking his language – but it’s fascinating to think about.

Ithkuil itself, of course, can’t be controlled by its creator, and that also is what the article is about.

In a way, this reminds me of my last blog post, about Roger Dean and Avatar. We can create things – paintings, languages, comics – and we can release them into the world. But we can’t control what the world does with them.

One possibility, of course, is to simply refuse to release our creations into the world. According to this wonderful article about the magician Teller (of Penn &), Jim Steinmeyer – one of the most accomplished inventors of stage illusions in the world – has simply stopped building new illusions, because the constant swiping has made it unprofitable. (Sigh.)1

This would be an excellent place to put a well-written conclusion, if I had one.

  1. A few years ago, I read Steinmeyer’s book about the history of magic, Hiding The Elephant, and found it thoroughly entertaining. []
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One Response to You Can Create A Language, But You Can’t Control It

  1. 1
    Hugh says:

    Kalmykia isn’t a ‘country’, it’s part of Russia.