Lunatics and Yaguello
|From:||Sally Caves <scaves@...>|
|Date:||Friday, September 25, 1998, 2:30|
Hi there, Baba! Yes, I asked about this very book a few weeks ago. I
love it! The passages you quote below are ones I've highlighted.
The lucubration of language making is what gets to me, and Yaguello
describes this perfectly. Of course she was talking about lunatics
like Wilkins, whose grandiose natural language was rejected by the
Royal Academy, but she might as well be talking about me.
"So much energy spent for so little result." I would take issue with this
remark if I had not known that it was directed mostly at language
philosophers: "So much energy spent for so little recognition" is what
I'd have emended to. What fascinates me about the invention of private
languages, i.e., the kind of stuff we stay up late at night in our
dens doing, is that it primarily stays private. So much energy spent
pursuing a private obsession that so few others can participate in.
Years and years of it.
I've also invented whole cities and towns, down to the drugstores on the
I'd really like to talk about this formally, and hope to raise it at the
Albacon session on conlanging. I'm fascinated that a discussion of
Yaguello returns us yet again to the problem of gender: why do so few
women participate on this listserv compared to the men that do? I dislike
making generalizations about gender and natural inclinations, but I wonder
if it doesn't have something to do with how women are acculturated in
"practicality"--far more so even than men? The practical-- the hard facts
of the world and having to survive in it-- has been urged upon us for
thousands of years: you will not be supported by your parents forever.
Accept a man to support you; give him children so that you will have
respect in your community; if you can't, make a living somehow. Even in
more liberal days it's very hard to shake off that ancient shadow of
woman's teaching, so that intellectual pursuits that don't make you money
or give you status are not appealing. Conlanging is especially strange
because you don't have a product at the end of all this that everybody can
exclaim over: it doesn't hang in a gallery, it can't easily be a
collector's item, it doesn't get critiqued in the New Yorker, it doesn't
frequently move or inspire non-conlangers. Someone mentioned model
trains, and remarked that women don't often participate in that hobby.
WRONG! The equivalent of the model train obsession is the doll house.
Many MANY women (and many men actually) are obsessed with fitting out more
and more elaborate miniature rooms. But non dollhouse makers can ooh and
ahh over them. They command terrific prices. Some of them end up in
the Art Institute's Thorn Miniatures, or are featured in the magazines
published by Miniature Enthusiasts. Not so with conlangs. Until the web,
there was no place to hang our languages.
I think many very smart women today, even those good at language, are
schooled in the pragmatism that it is better to spend vast amounts of time
pursuing college degrees in language, honing interpreting skills, visiting
foreign countries. Not that men aren't similarly pragmatic, and not that
conlanging prevents you from so doing (look at our ambitious and
productive linguists on the list for instance). The only
point I want to make is that for centuries, men have occasionally been
allowed to relax that pragmatism, that need to make something of
themselves in the world, and to pursue private worlds. The word for
"school," for instance, comes from the Greek word for "leisure." What did
the Greek nobleman do for leisure? He listened to Socrates. What did the
noblewoman do? She wove. She got something TANGIBLE done.
It's a cultural quirk that still persists. Surely, SURELY there are
gazillions of women who spend vast amounts of time doing the kinds of
things I've done with private worlds etc, who are creative and
perseverent--but another practical tip crammed down our throats for
millenia was discretion and non-disclosure. If you have private worlds,
don't blab about them, especially in public. I'm not saying there aren't
exceptions. Look at me! <GG> Treating Conlang as though I've come out of
the closet. But I think this is one small, and perhaps narrowminded,
answer to this vast question of why there are perhaps two hundred men on
conlang and maybe fifteen women. Or rather: maybe seventy men who actually
post to conlang and five women who do.
Does anyone wish to do a count? "review conlang" on the first line. Some
of the foreign names are hard for me to determine gender.
Yes yes, and it has also been noted many times that more men than women
use the internet, but I think that gap is narrowing.
And yes, yes... if Yaguello's book speaks any truth at all... inventing a
language was considered a lunatic occupation for mostly MEN. I think
women are warier about being involved in highly technical, high energy,
high-maintainance language games that have a high obsession quotient/low
practicality quotient and that are considered questionable and fruitless
by society at large--even for men.
My two cents.
Sally--been there, done that.
Maybe I'll post that long letter and questionaire that starts with
Yaguello... that I had been meaning to post, and have postponed for some
reason. Feminine discretion? Burned out of me long ago.
On Wed, 23 Sep 1998, Baba wrote:
> --- On Mon, 21 Sep 1998 wrote:
> Marina Yaguello, *Lunatic Lovers of Language. Imaginary Languages and
> Their Inventors*, Catherine Slater, tr. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson
> University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-485-11303-1 (hc)
> Short book (223 pages), steep price ($40). I recommend it to anyone with
> an interest in the wild side of linguistics. Excerpts follow.
> Brian Chapman
> Just take a look at the lunatic in love with language, the logophile, the
> inventor of languages. Sitting in his book-lined study, he collects great
> piles of information, he collates and classifies it, he makes lists and
> fills card indexes. He is in the clutches of a denominatory delirium, of a
> taxonomic madness. He has to name everything, but before being able to
> name, he has to recognise and classify concepts, to enclose the whole
> Universe in a system of notation: produce enumerations, hierarchies and
> paradigms. A lunatic ambition; yet there is something grandiose in it
> which you can't help admiring. So much energy spent for so little result.
> I don't belive any other fantasy has ever been pursued with so much ardour
> by the human spirit, apart perhaps from the philosopher's stone or the
> proof of the existence of God; or that any other utopia has caused so much
> ink to flow, apart perhaps from socialism.
> The inventor is possessed by his idea, he sacrifices his personal life and
> his financial resources to it, for he is often obliged to publish at his
> own expense works that no publisher will touch. He knows that it is more
> than the work of his own lifetime to get to the end of the task. With a
> bit of luck, his son, or maybe a disciple or even a friend, will pick up
> the threads of the unfinished work: Bishop Wilkins died without being able
> to complete his project for a philosophical language, but he bequeathed it
> to a group of friends; C. Nodier's *archeologist's* project, or repertory
> of universal roots, had been handed on to him from the President De
> Brosses via a pupil of Court de Gebelin's; Charles Callet's son devoted
> himself to publicising the work of his father, and so on.
> Now let's suppose that our inventor brings his project to the light of
> day. The demon of logophilia will drive him to start another and then
> another again. A good many authors of artificial languages have thought up
> numerous languages, either successively or simultaneously. Thus the
> Russian Petro Stoyan, a perpetual emigre, left behind him in his
> wanderings through Europe over a dozen languages devised between 1910 and
> 1960 [p. 17].
> The logophile is also a solitary figure for the most part, although he is
> working for the good of humanity and engages in proselytising.
> Unfortunately, every time he leaves his study to face the public, he falls
> victim to the rivalry, jealousy, criticism, and infighting which
> characterise the history of the Universal Language: "Almost always
> unrecognised, they were met with scepticism and obscurantism, sometimes
> even mockery", writes Monnerot-Dumaine (1960), himself a proponent of the
> idea of a universal language.
> The inventor of languages is a passionate amateur: in love with language
> and with languages, and ignorant of the science of language. What moves
> him especially is an aesthetic concern--a desire to produce something
> complete, a totality, a self-contained but exhaustive whole, perfectly
> symmetrical, and well-oiled down to the last cog, so that no false note or
> ambiguity can creep in, where there is nothing wasteful, equivocal or open
> to misunderstanding. He seeks to construct something pleasing to the eye
> and satisfying to the mind, with none of the regrettable exceptions, the
> failures, the gaps or the vagueness which flaw natural languages.
> He is an idealist: if he creates a philosophical language, it is to
> reconcile language and thought; if he creates a language for
> international communication, it is to reconcile mankind. He is often a man
> from Central Europe, born in a country divided and torn apart by history:
> many inventors from the turn of this century came from the Russian or
> Austro-Hungarian Empires. Mostly, he is a man of the church, a teacher or
> a doctor, in other words precisely a study-dweller, a man with a pointed
> beard and gold-rimmed spectacles, as he appears in the portrait gallery
> which graces Monnerot-Dumaine's book, one of the two "bibles" of
> If, however, there are logophiles who turn to the future, there are also
> those who turn to the past; indeed they are sometimes one and the same.
> Imagine now what it is like to reconstruct the original primitive
> language. You have to accumulate words and roots from all the languages of
> the known world; but of course you yourself only know two or three, or at
> most half a dozen. There's no question, in these circumstances, of looking
> at grammatical structures; it would be far too complicated, and besides,
> you hardly imagine that your own language, or the Indo-European languages,
> are *not* the only model of language. You work on written corpuses,
> second-hand ones, on hit-and-miss transcriptions of "exotic" languages
> brought back by travellers, for you are rarely a fieldworker yourself. You
> grasp the world's languages from the safety of your study. You are not
> concerned with the relationship between written and spoken forms. For you,
> letters equal sounds. How could you know that there are systematic laws
> governing phonetic correspondences? Bopp has not yet founded comparitive
> grammar, nor have Grimm and Verner formulated their famous laws of
> consonant mutation; or perhaps you have you have either never heard of
> them, or else try to ignore them [pp. 18-19].
> This then is the task of the logophile: on the one hand to grasp a
> totality, the set of all languages, the totality of human language, in a
> desperate desire for exhaustiveness; it is essential not to let anything
> escape. Next, to reduce this totality to a minimum of elements by a
> process of progressive atomisation. Thanks to which Marr, for example,
> ended up with a hard core composed of four primitive elements. If he had
> been able to arrive at a single and solitary primitive word, he would have
> been even happier.
> To carry out this reduction of all languages to a common denominator, you
> track down coincidences, resemblances, however distant, and from time to
> time, quite by chance, you hit on a telling comparison; but taken in
> isolation, what is it worth? To reduce the irreducible there are many
> devices, often borrowed from real features of natural languages--but in
> isolation, what do they signify? You juggle with shifts in meaning, with
> metonymies, metaphors, antiphrases, comparison of antonyms, metatheses,
> epentheses, and goodness knows what else. Everything is grist to your
> mill. It's easy when all you bother with is resemblances between isolated
> words [pp. 19-20].
> Who are these inventors of languages, whether philosophical systems or
> ones created for utilitarian ends? Who are the authors of theories on the
> origin and development of language?
> Men, always men. Out of some four hundred inventors of artificial
> languages listed by Couturat and Leau, and later by Monnerot-Dumaine, only
> one is a woman, and she is a nun [p. 23].
> And, given the culturally determined distinction we have seen emerging
> between a female and a male relationship towards language, a worn
> metaphor is bound to rear its head here: that of a language in the guise
> of a mistress, of a woman: capricious, unpredictable, illogical,
> unfaithful, deceitful (because ambiguous), fickle, unstable, prodigal with
> herself (because full of redundancy), rebellious (because difficult to
> master), needing man to tame her and bring her to heel. For these defects
> are precisely the ones which the inventors of languages--all of them men,
> remember--have always accused natural languages of showing [p. 27].
> -----------------End of Original Message-----------------
> Barbara "Baba" Barrett b@rbara: baba ba:r;et
> E-mail: email@example.com
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