Why the hell are there four Ithkuils?!
The current ‘stable’ version of Ithkuil is Ithkuil III (natively Elartkʰa), published by John Quijada in 2011. A complete reference grammar is available on ithkuil.net; the language is regarded as complete and stopped receiving updates in 2015. Having been around for almost a decade, it – as well as the design flaws that show upon closer inspection – are fairly well understood. This is what most people refer to as just Ithkuil.
At face value, Ithkuil III is a successful project, attaining all of the goals set forth for it. Nevertheless, prompted by a variety of suggestions, improvements, and criticisms coming from an audience of ‘ithkuilophiles’, in 2018, JQ began working on a revamp of the language – termed Ithkuil IV. The new (and still ongoing) project fearlessly adds, amends, and removes elements from Ithkuil III; the resulting creation is expressive, powerful, sharp-edged, and arguably beautiful, yet regular – and thus learnable (even to those who aren’t familiar with the old language’s concepts). The complete, final documentation is most likely going to be posted in 2022 or so (at which point Ithkuil III will most likely be retired in its favour); currently, it is being thoroughly alpha-tested by JQ together with the more active members of the uhailalepš Discord server.
As you may have inferred from the Roman numerals, Ithkuil III and IV are not the first Ithkuils to have ever existed. Quite the opposite: JQ had started work on Iţkuîl – or Ithkuil I – as far back as in the eighties. The final version was posted in 2004, whereupon it attracted attention from Russians and Ukrainians, especially those involved in a pseudoscientific movement known as psychonetics (owing to a science magazine article entitled Speed of Thought, where Ithkuil is partly alleged to enhance the, ahem, speed of thought).
The attention quickly grew into demand for a simplified version of Ithkuil I, especially with regards to phonology. This motivated JQ to devise Ithkuil II, most commonly known as Ilaksh, which saw the light of day in 2007. However, Quijada evaluated his work negatively, forever after referring to it as a failure. This experience, coupled with his own discoveries about Ithkuil I, led him to finish Ithkuil III three years later.
Should I learn Ithkuil III or IV?
My opinion is that if you need to pick one, pick Ithkuil IV. Surprisingly enough, even though the language is not finalized to any degree, it’s still learnable and speakable (more so than Ithkuil III, even). It is not hard to follow the updates, so you shouldn’t wait until 2022!
To learn Ithkuil IV, you won’t need to know any Ithkuil III. Most people learn Ithkuil III by proxy, as once you’ve acquainted yourself with most Ithkuilic concepts, Ithkuil III turns into a trivial task (just a tedious and lookup-intensive one). Therefore, if you want to learn Ithkuil III, you may paradoxically want to start with Ithkuil IV instead.
Why exactly is Ithkuil IV easier to learn?
Ithkuil IV is regular. Where Ithkuil III opts for arbitrary tables spanning hundreds of random consonantal values (famously, one of those tables has 1728 values!), Ithkuil IV sets the values in a predictable pattern. That 1728-valent monstrosity that Ithkuil III has, Ithkuil IV expands into a fully agglutinative 3468-valent complex that basically involves placing consonants one after another in a sequence – could you ask for more?
Most of its design is based on a standardized vowel sequence. What this means in practice is that almost all tables in the language look the same, but with different captions. This helps immensely when learning since you only have to remember the meaning of a vowel form, not the vowel form itself. In general, the grammar exhibits artistic levels of reusability.
It is easy to pronounce and intuitively designed. While Ithkuil III suffers from arbitrary pairings of values that have little to do with each other, Ithkuil IV emphasizes on a single, general structure that doesn’t vary. Most of the time, there’s one obvious, preferred way to do something, unlike in Ithkuil III. (Phonoaesthetic diversity was not sacrificed to achieve this.)
Last but not least, Ithkuil IV is small. There are fewer moving parts here than in Ithkuil III; there’s no spooky action at a distance that flips the interpretation of a formative on its head. You’ll internalize the most basic concepts of the language almost instantly, and you’ll have a good command of the grammar in a couple weeks. There’s simply not that much to learn, and most of the learning is in the doing. (So come join us and construct your first newbie sentence today!™)
What documents/resources will I need to study Ithkuil IV?
The newest version of each of Morpho-phonology, Roots, and Affixes. and, at times, quick access to ithkuil.net. You don’t need to hold on to older versions of any of these documents (unless as a keepsake? Then again, you can visit the archive).
And what are they?
- Morpho-phonology is the main, most crucial document, defining the phonology and (roughly speaking) all the grammar of the language.
- Roots is a lexicon of roots – i.e., consonantal forms from which all Ithkuil words are meant to be devised. In loose terms: a dictionary.
- Affixes is an index of so-called VxCs affixes – small affixes that derive more complex meanings from simpler ones. (Morpho-phonology goes in depth on how affixes are applied.)
In other words, Morpho-phonology is the reference grammar; Roots and Affixes are two dictionaries, without which the language would be unusable.
How do I input all those weird characters?
For Windows, I strongly recommend WinCompose, which allows you to type in accented characters with great ease by hitting a special ‘compose key’, and then an approximate representation of the character in question. (For example, ’ and a make á; , and t make ţ.)
The Compose key is native to MacOS and Linux, but disabled by default – peek into your OS’s settings/configuration to reenable it.
(Note: the underdot diacritic – as in ẓ – is input as !z.)