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Re: Comparison of philosophical languages

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Monday, January 20, 2003, 6:11
I have three hundred and seventy postings to go, so I'm sure the question
has been adequately covered.  A "philosophical language" basically refers to
those seventeenth-century "conlang" precursors to the Universal or
International Auxilliary Languages like Volapuk, Esperanto, Novial, etc.
John Wilkins is the author of one of the most famous of them--A Real
Character and Philosophical Language--presented to and rejected by the Royal
Academy.  It was a tragic failure.  The seventeeth-century language
philosophers erred in thinking that they could replace the arbitrary and
therefore flawed system of natural language by a language that perfectly
reflected ratiocination and taxonomy (hence "philosophical").  Their words
were meant to DESCRIBE the nature of the things they symbolized and their
place within a huge map of listed items.  First, Wilkins wrote an enormous
system into which he tried to put "universal" thought (not understanding
that his thought was basically inflected by seventeenth-century English
language and society).  Then he devised characters ("real characters") that
would symbolize the basic elements of those thoughts, uttered in single
syllables, and which could be arrived at if you understood his complicated
taxonomy.  Then he applied what he supposed were the most rational sounds to
represent those syllables of thought.  His error was that that is exactly
not how language works.  All his root vegetables were expressed in words
that sounded too much alike, once you climbed down the ladder of his system.
Real language operates in our minds through difference, and its symbols are
ultimately arbitrary in origin: radish, carrot, turnip, beet, parsnip,
rutabega... these words have many different origins, and they are ultimately
easier to distinguish than elevela, elevale, elevali, elevalo, elevalily,
etc.  Wilkins' system also allowed for no neologisms, and ultimately his
language was just too difficult to learn.  He and other contemporaries of
his were much influenced by the centuries old search for the Perfect
Language, long thought to be Hebrew, and the subject of Umberto Eco's book,
already mentioned.

Sally Caves
Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.
"My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."

----- Original Message -----
From: "Christopher Wright" <faceloran@...>
To: <CONLANG@...>
Sent: Thursday, January 16, 2003 5:04 PM
Subject: Re: Comparison of philosophical languages

> I thought, in the first place, that philosophical languages were > something else entirely, though I'm not exactly sure how to define them, > only that Laadan would be one. Correct me if I'm wrong. > In the second place, perhaps there is another mailing list that would be > more receptive to a comparison of IALs, which are most certainly not all > philosophical languages. If you wish to discuss Ygyde in terms of being > constructed rather than being the language to beat Esperanto, then we'd > be happy to provide feedback. I believe there is at least one member of > this list who has an IAL and has discussed it, but we try to avoid > international auxiliaries because of the Highlander factor: there can be > only one. This only invites flame wars. > > I'll be interested in hearing about your compounding method, though. > > ~Wright. >


And Rosta <a.rosta@...>In defence of philosophical languages (was: RE: Comparison of philosophical languages