The Man Who Created His Own Language
There’s a recent article in the New Yorker that describes how one man created a language called Ithkuil.
“I worked on this in fits and starts,” he said, looking at the mass of documents. “It was very much dependent on whether I was dating anyone at the time. This isn’t exactly something you discuss on a first or second date.”
His language caught the interest of a Ukrainian university, which invited him to talk about it…
“I was surrounded by all these people hanging on my every word. It was intoxicating—especially for a loner like me,” Quijada said.
We were picked up at the airport by Alla Vishneva, an attractive brunette with streaks of bleached blond in her hair, with whom Quijada had been exchanging e-mails and phone calls intermittently for the past several months. Vishneva, a former professor of Ukrainian at Rivne State Humanitarian University and a student of psychonetics, was the founder of an Ithkuil study group in Kiev.
Quijada, who had been wearing a pair of Coke-bottle glasses and toting a cane to compensate for a leg injury, sized up her metallic silver boots and figure-hugging bluejeans and seemed taken aback. “What is a beautiful woman like you doing teaching Ithkuil?” he asked.
Vishneva chuckled and returned the compliment in stilted English: “Ithkuil is beautiful. It’s a very pure and logically constructed language.”
Quijada turned to me in the back seat of the car, visibly giddy. “It’s one thing for another conlanger to call your work beautiful, but for someone halfway around the world with a million better things to do to say that—you’ve got to pinch yourself. It makes it seem like thirty years of slaving away might have been worth it.”
A man who spent decades creating a language finally thinks it’s worth only when it gets the attention of a beautiful woman. He was actually so enamored by Alla that he dedicated a future book to her.
In America he couldn’t even mention his invented language on a date for fear of being seen as a kook, but in Ukraine it helps garner the attention of a girl he’s smitten by. Only if he knew how to stuff his mouth full of hot dogs would he have gotten sexual recognition for his work back home. There’s a sociological lesson in this, somewhere.
Unfortunately, things take a weird turn for our hero when it turns out that the Ukrainian interest in his language comes from right wing nationalists who want to use his language to create a superhuman race. But hey, at least Alla warmed his heart.
From the article it’s clear that language creation is not as rare as you might think. The most famous invented language is Esperanto, created in 1887. It was seen as so subversive that people were executed in the Soviet Union for speaking it. While reading the language’s history, I came across this interesting fact:
Some more focused reform projects, affecting only a particular feature of the language, have gained a few adherents. One of these is “riism”, which modifies the language to incorporate non-sexist language and gender-neutral pronouns.
I see you, feminists! Esperanto, which sounds a bit like Italian, is interesting in that it has native speakers, including famous investor George Soros. Creating a language that people speak from birth… I’m sure the Esperanto creator would have had his own Ukrainian groupies as well.Tweet Follow @returnofkings