|2 Morpho-Phonology||7a Using Affixes||12 The Number System|
|3 Basic Morphology||7b Using Affixes (continued)||The Lexicon|
|4 Case Morphology||8 Adjuncts||Revised Ithkuil: Ilaksh|
Ithkuil is an artificially constructed human language systematically designed to blend a high degree of communication of cognitive intent and meaning with a high degree of efficiency, i.e., to allow speakers to say a lot in as few syllables as possible. The navigational links above (or at the bottom of this page) lead to chapters on the major grammatical components of the language and should be read in sequence, as each chapter is cumulative and assumes knowledge of the preceding. While this grammar assumes only a basic knowledge of linguistic concepts, it will be helpful to briefly familiarize the reader with the hierarchical/schematic structure of human language in general, as the organization of this grammar is somewhat based around this structure. The analysis of human language can be organized into the following hierarchical schema of primary concepts:
The interrelationships between these components can be illustrated by the following diagram.
0.2 How the Language Works
As a model for human language, Ithkuil is capable of high levels of conciseness and semantic detail while overtly reflecting a deep level of cognitive conceptualization, more so than in natural languages. This means, essentially, that Ithkuil is designed to convey large amounts of linguistic information using fewer words, with those words being based on monosyllabic roots and word-parts. In turn, the grammar supporting these words reflect the speakers cognitive intent explicitly, while displaying little of the euphemism, vagueness, circumlocution, redundancy, polysemy (i.e., multiple meanings), and ambiguity manifested in natural languages.
NOTE: The preceding paragraph may remind some readers of the Speedtalk language in Robert Heinleins novella Gulf, in which every morpheme (meaningful word-part) is apparently represented by a single phoneme (sound). To some extent, Ithkuil approaches this ideal. However, Heinleins Speedtalk appears to focus only on the morpho-phonological component of language (i.e., the correspondence between sound and individual grammatical components) without any corresponding focus on the logical redesign of a languages morphology, lexico-morphology, or lexico-semantics to provide an equally compressed morpho-syntactical and lexical component. Ithkuil has been designed with an equal focus on these latter linguistic components. Additionally, the apparent purpose of Heinlein's language is simple rapidity/brevity of speech and thought, while Ithkuil is focused on maximal communication in the most efficient manner, a somewhat different purpose, in which brevity per se is irrelevant.
As an example of the morphological richness and efficiency possible in this language, examine the following Ithkuil sentence, comparing it to its literal English translation:
|TRANSLATION:||On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point.|
The reader may well wonder why it takes a 19-word sentence in English to translate a two-word Ithkuil sentence. One might assume the sentence cheats in that the two Ithkuil words simply have innately intricate and specialized meanings. While it is true that the first word, oumpeá, translates as on the contrary, I have a feeling it may turn out at some point (that), and the second word, äxääuktëx, means the unevenly high range of mountains in question trails off, it would be quite erroneous to conclude that these are simply autonomous words one might theoretically find in an Ithkuil dictionary. Indeed, the only part of the sentence that represents any sort of root word is -xä-, a stem more or less meaning hill or upland. The remainder of the sentence is made up entirely of morphological, not lexical components, i.e., prefixes, suffixes, infixes, vowel permutations, shifts in stress, etc. For example, the first word, oumpeá, has four parts to it as shown below:
|1.||ou-||=||an aspectual prefix translatable as it turns out that or it is revealed that|
|2.||-mp-||=||an infix indicating both a rebuttal to an allegation and a conclusion based on the speakers intuition, translatable as on the contrary, I have a feeling|
|3.||-ea||=||an aspectual suffix translatable as at some point or somewhere along the way|
|4.||stress on final syllable + falling tone = subjunctive mood, translatable as may|
The second word, äxääuktëx, breaks down morphologically as follows:
|1.||ä-||=||a prefix indicating, among other things, that the entity displays depletion (i.e., trailing off or petering out)|
|2.||xä||=||a stem derived from xä hill, upland (in turn derived from the root x- indicating the level of a landscape), the mutation of the initial consonant x- into x- indicating that the stem is to be re-interpreted as comprising a composite entity of non-identical members consolidated together into a single segmented whole (i.e., hill becomes uneven range of hills)|
|3.||-ukt-||=||a demonstrative suffix translatable as this (= the one in question or the one at hand)|
|4.||-ëx||=||a suffix indicating that the stem is to be interpreted as being very large in size, and furthermore, that the increase in size creates a new gestalt entity, i.e., not simply a very large hill or upland but rather a mountain|
|5.||stress on antepenultimate (i.e., third-from-last) syllable (indicated in the Romanized spelling by doubling of the stem vowel -ä-)||=||generic statement neutral as to time or present impact|
|6.||falling tone (unmarked)||=||statement reflects objective fact as opposed to subjective interpretation, i.e., that it describes a real situation irrespective of the speakers beliefs, opinions, convention, usage, etc. (i.e., the fact that the mountain range does have an ending whether one knows where it is or not)|
The following additional example sentences illustrate how the
language manifests a combination of semantic richness with morphological conciseness:
Such detail plus conciseness is possible due to the design of the grammar, essentially a matrix of grammatical concepts and structures designed for compactness, cross-functionality and reusability. This matrix-like grammar is combined with a vocabulary/lexicon of semantic stems which (1) are capable of a high degree of flexibility and synergism within that matrix, (2) have been completely reconceptualized from the cognitive level up regardless of their correspondence to actual word roots and grammatical categories in existing languages, and (3) reflect the inherent dependencies and interrelationships between one semantic concept and another. Therefore, the morphemes of the language (i.e., word-roots, suffixes, prefixes, grammatical categories, etc.) are as phonetically brief as possible, function in multiple roles with one another, and correspond more closely to human cognitive categories than in natural languages. In this fashion, a limited number of sounds and word-roots can be made to generate a vast array of variations and derivations corresponding to and even surpassing all of the grammatical and semantic functions of the usual stock of words, phrases, and idiomatic constructions in natural languages. These linguistic design principles are described in greater detail in the sections below by means of illustrative analogies with English examples.
0.3 A Synergistic Matrix of Semantic and Grammatical Categories
The above-described matrix can be dramatically illustrated by describing the distinct difference between Ithkuil and other languages in the way its lexicon (stock of word-roots) has been created and the principles underlying its lexico-semantics (the relationship between words and meaning). In natural languages, the choice as to what mental concepts and categories will be overtly reflected as word-roots and stems is arbitrary and unsystematic (while in most invented languages, the lexicon is by and large consciously or sub-consciously patterned after that of natural languages). While it is true that virtually all languages reflect certain basic universals of word choice (e.g., all have words for sun, moon, speak, mother, father, laugh, I, you, one, two, water, blood, black, white, hot, cold, etc.), the manner in which these words are created is haphazard and with little regard for basic conceptual interrelationships. The result, in most cases, is a plethora of separate, distinct word roots which bear no morpho-phonological, or morpho-semantic relation to one another (i.e., the patterns of sounds used to create particular words are unsystematic and independent for each word-root regardless of whether those word-roots are semantically or cognitively related to one another). Ithkuil word-roots have been created in a more efficient and systematic manner, with a recognition that the interrelatedness between what are large sets of discrete words in other languages can be formalized and systematized into a vast array or matrix of derivational rules, the result being a drastic reduction in the number of basic word-roots, which in turn allows all individual stems to be extremely compact phonologically-speaking.
For example, consider the following series of English words: see, sight, vision, glimpse, stare, gawk, view, panorama, look, eye, glance, visualize. Note how each of these is a separate, autonomous word despite the fact that it shares a single underlying semantic concept with the others (a concept which we can conveniently refer to as SIGHT/VISION), each representing a mere manipulation of either durational aspect, situational perspective, or manner of participation relating to that underlying concept. What is more, these manipulations are, by and large, haphazardly applied, vague, subjective, and particular to the specific underlying concept (i.e., the aspectual/perspectival manipulations applied to SIGHT/VISION do not parallel those manipulations applied to the concept TRANSFERENCE OF POSSESSION by which we derive the series give, take, receive, steal, donate, lend, borrow, send, etc.).
In Ithkuil, it is the seminal underlying concept which is lexified into a word-root which then undergoes a series of regular, predictable, and universally applicable modifications at the morphological (i.e., grammatical) level to generate new words that, in some cases, parallel such series of English words, but in most cases, far exceed the dynamism and range of such English word series. This is illustrated by the list of Ithkuil words in the table below, all of which are simply grammatical derivations, using affixes and systematic phonemic mutations (i.e., sound shifts), of a single word-root rq whose meaning is translatable as EXISTENT THING; TO EXIST (AS SOMETHING). Alongside each word is its translation. (Note: the translations below represent convenient approximations at best, as purely literal translations would have to capture the systematic and derivative structure of the Ithkuil words. For example, the word amriqoçi translated below as destroy literally means unmake a constructed componential set by extreme violence. Note also that the list below represents only a small number of the thousands of derivations theoretically possible for this single word-root.)
Another principle underlying the formation of words in Ithkuil is complementarity. Western thought and language generally reflect Aristotelian logic in the way they conceptualize the world and the interrelationships between discrete entities in that world. Ithkuil, on the other hand, views the world as being based on complementary principles, where, instead of discrete independence between related entities, such concepts are seen as complementary aspects of a single holistic entity. Such complementarity is in turn reflected in the derivation of word-roots. By complementarity is meant that the manifestation of a concept appears in any given context as either one sort of entity or another, but never both simultaneously; yet, neither manifestation can be considered to be a discrete whole without the existence of the other. A simple illustration of complementarity is the flip of a coin: the coin can only land on one side or the other, yet without both sides being part of the coin, any given coin toss has no meaning or contextual relevance no matter which side is face-up.
For example, in Western languages, words such as male, night, limb, sit, and happen are all autonomous words, linguistically representing what are inherently considered to be basic mental concepts or semantic primitives. However, in Ithkuil, none of these words is considered to be a semantic primitive. Instead, they are seen to be parts of greater, more holistic semantic concepts, existing in complementary relationship to another part, the two together making up the whole.
Thus, Ithkuil lexical structure recognizes that the word male has no meaning in and of itself without an implicit recognition of its complementary partner, female, the two words mutually deriving from a more basic, holistic concept, translatable into English as living being. Similarly, the word night(time) derives along with its complement day(time) from the underlying concept translatable as day (24-hour period), while limb, along with its complement trunk or torso, derives from the stem (corporeal) body.
Actions, too, are not exempt from this principle of complementarity, an example being the relationship between sit and seat; one has no meaning without an implicit and joint partnership with the other, i.e., one cannot sit unless one sits upon something, and whatever one sits upon automatically functions as a seat. We see the awkward attempt of English to convey these jointly dependent but mutually exclusive perspectives when comparing the sentences Please sit down and Please be seated. Another example involves the word happen or occur, which Ithkuil recognizes as having no real meaning without the attendant implication of consequence or result, the two being complementary components of a holistic concept roughly translatable as event or situation.
The Ithkuil word for hole illustrates another instance of complementarity. Holes can be looked at from two different, but interrelated perspectives: either as an opening connecting two different spaces (or access point to a previously unavailable space, i.e., a pit), or as a discontinuity in the surface or structural integrity of the dividing entity separating the two realms. In other words, one can focus on the potential function or consequences of the hole, or on the structural nature of the hole. Either of these two perspectives represents a legitimate, but complementary way to consider a hole or puncture. Thus, the Ithkuil word would have two derivative roots each indicating one of these two perspectives. One such root would be used when saying Theres a hole in your shirt, while the other would be used when saying She saw me through a hole in the fence.
Ithkuil recognizes that such complementarity exists for virtually any concept, in fact that it is one of the foundational principles of the universe itself. No beam of light can be spoken of without implicit recognition of its source. No signal can be described without accounting for the signaling device. Indeed, in Ithkuil no river is without its channel, no surface without its firmament, no message without its medium, no sense impression without its sense faculty, no contents without their container, no occurrence without its consequence, no memory without its present effect, no plan without its purpose, no music without its playing, no relief without prerequisite deprivation, no pleasure without its absence, no motion without space in which to move.
Other principles underlying Ithkuil word-derivation include the interrelated principles of fuzzy logic, prototype theory, and radial categorization. Incorporation of these principles into the architecture for word-formation allows roots to be grouped into various types of affiliated sets, each of which then functions as a conceptual gestalt, the individual members of which being marked as having varying degrees and kinds of relatedness or similarity to a hypothetical prototype member or archetype. Thus, Ithkuil is able to systematically derive words such as crowd, mob, group, troop, club, association, assembly, and gathering all from the single root-word person. Similarly, words such as grove, orchard, forest, woods, jungle, and copse can all be derived from the single root-word tree.
As one last example exemplifying the dynamism and conciseness of Ithkuil lexico-semantics, consider the following list of English words and phrases: drenched, wet, damp, moist, near-dry, dry, parched. Rather than provide separate autonomous words for these concepts, Ithkuil recognizes that these terms all indicate relative degrees of moisture along a continuous range. Such continua would be addressed by a single root whose meaning more or less corresponds to [DEGREE OF] MOISTURE to which an array of simple suffixes would be added to specify the particular degree along that range, all the way from bone dry (or parched) through drenched to saturated. All such phenomena which Western languages tend to semantically delineate into binary oppositions (e.g., hard/soft, light/dark, shallow/deep, etc.) are recognized and lexified in Ithkuil as single roots which then systematically use suffixes to specify the particular degree along a continuous range.
The above paragraphs illustrate how Ithkuil is able to capture and systematically present at the morphological level what other languages accomplish haphazardly at the lexical level. By systematically finding and structuring the covert dependencies and interrelationships between what are disparate words in other languages, the hundreds of thousands of words in a language like English are drastically reduced down to the 3600 word-roots of Ithkuil. This is morpho-lexical efficiency on a grand scale. Nevertheless, by means of the matrix-like morphological scheme previously described, each of these 3600 roots can in turn generate thousands of permutations to convey complex and subtle semantic distinctions and operations which dwarf the capacity of existing languages to convey without resorting to cumbersome paraphrase. This is lexico-semantic and morpho-semantic efficiency on an equally grand scale. Such a synergistic design for grammar lends a dynamism that allows the Ithkuil language to describe reality to a minute level of detail and exactitude despite a limited number of word-roots. This dynamism is visible throughout this work, but is discussed in systematic detail in Chapter 10: Lexico-Semantics.
0.4 Addressing the Vagueness Inherent in Natural Languages
To further illustrate the cognitive depth at which Ithkuil operates, consider one of the most pervasive aspects of natural human languages: semantic vagueness. For example, consider the following four English sentences:
(a) The boy rolled down the hill.
(b) Maybe she just stopped smoking.
(c) Joe didnt win the lottery yesterday.
(d) There is a dog on my porch.
In examining these four sentences most native English speakers would deny that any vagueness exists. This is because the vagueness does not exist in terms of the overt meanings of the words themselves. Rather, the vagueness lies at the nearly subconscious level of their grammatical (or syntactical) relations and cognitive intent. For example, in sentence (a) we have no idea whether the boy chose to roll himself down the hill or whether he was pushed against his will. (In formal linguistic terms we would say it is unknown whether the semantic role of the subject boy is as agent or patient.) And yet knowing which scenario is correct is crucial to understanding the speakers intent in describing the action.
Imagine sentence (b) Maybe she just stopped smoking being spoken as an answer to the question Why does she seem so irritable? In interpreting sentence (b), we have no idea whether the subject is indeed a smoker or not; i.e., is the speaker offering this speculation because he/she knows the subject to be a smoker, or as mere conjecture without knowledge one way or the other whether the subject smokes or not?
Sentence (c) Joe didnt win the lottery yesterday illustrates four-way ambiguity. Joes failure to win the lottery could be either because: the speaker knows Joe didnt play; because the speaker knows Joe did play but lost; because the speaker doesnt know whether Joe played or not and is simply voicing a conjecture; or because the statement is an inference based on some indirect clue (e.g., since Joe showed up for work today, he must not have won the lottery).
And while sentence (d) There is a dog on my porch seems on its surface to be the most straightforward of the four, is the intent of the speaker to simply describe and identify the participants to a scene, or does she wish to convey the idea that the scene has personal significance to her, e.g., because she has a phobia of dogs or has been waiting for a long-lost pet dog to return home? In other words, the sentence itself does not convey the intent behind the utterance, only the static description of the scene.
In all four instances, such vagueness exists unless and until the audience can ascertain information from the surrounding context of other sentences. This shows that, despite the fact that all four sentences are grammatically well-formed English sentences whose words in and of themselves are unambiguous, their grammar alone is insufficient to convey the cognitive information necessary to fully comprehend the intent of the speakers utterance. This failure of grammar to inherently convey the requisite information necessary to understand a speakers cognitive intent is a functional pitfall of human language in general which Ithkuil grammar has been designed to avoid. The Ithkuil equivalents to the above four sentences would mandatorily convey all of the missing information noted above without requiring any extra words not corresponding to the English originals. The grammatical elements of the words themselves (word-selection, declensions, conjugations, prefixes, suffixes, etc.) would convey all the elements mentioned.
Similar examples can be given to show the extent to which natural languages such as English must often resort to idiomatic expressions, metaphor, paraphrase, circumlocution and supra-segmental phenomena (e.g., changing the pitch of ones voice) in their attempts to convey a speakers intended meaning. Ithkuil grammar has been designed to overtly and unambiguously reflect the intention of a speaker with a minimum of such phenomena.
0.5 Comparison to Other Constructed Languages
Those readers familiar with the history of artificial language construction might think this endeavor belated or unnecessary, in that logical languages such as James Cooke Browns renowned Loglan (or its popular derivative, Lojban) already exist. This serves to illustrate exactly what distinguishes Ithkuil from such previous attempts. Loglan was published in the 1950s as a spoken/written language based on symbolic logic (formally known as the first-order predicate calculus), an algorithmic system of symbol manipulation devised by mathematicians and logicians. As a result, one might think that such a language is the most capable means of achieving logical, unambiguous linguistic communication. However, Loglan and its derivatives are merely sophisticated tools for symbol manipulation, i.e., the levels of language previously described as morphology and syntax. It is not within the scope of such languages to address any reorganization of the semantic realm. This means that symbolic logic simply manipulates arguments which are input into the system, they do not analyze the origin of those arguments in terms of meaning, nor are they capable of analyzing or formalizing the structure of the cognitive or semantic realm of the human mind in terms of how meaning itself is assigned to arguments. (Indeed, Lojban derives its roots via statistical sampling of the most frequent roots in the six most spoken natural languages, a method virtually guaranteed to carry over into the Lojban lexicon all of the lexico-semantic inefficiencies previously described.) By not addressing these components of language, Loglan and similar efforts fail to address the inconsistencies and inefficiency inherent in language at the lexico-semantic level. Ithkuil has been designed to systematically address this issue.
Other readers might think of international languages (or interlanguages) such as Esperanto, Interlingua, or Ido, as being logical and efficient representations of language. However, these languages are merely simplified, regularized amalgamations of existing languages (usually Indo-European), designed for ease of learning. While addressing many overt irregularities, inconsistencies, and redundancies of language found at the morpho-phonological and morpho-syntactic levels, they do little to address the problems found within the other components of language, especially the lexico-semantic. For example, while Esperanto admirably employs systematic rules for word derivation as knabo boy versus knabino girl, it preserves the basic lexico-semantic categorization scheme of Indo-European languages in general, rather than seeking opportunities to expand such word derivation schemes into multidimensional arrays as will be shortly illustrated for Ithkuil.
All in all, neither logical languages such as Loglan nor interlanguages such as Esperanto, are designed specifically to achieve the purpose of cognitive exactness and conciseness of communication which is the goal of Ithkuil. Actually, Ithkuil might more readily be compared with the analytical language of John Wilkins of the Royal Society of London, published in 1668, in which he divided the realm of human conception into forty categories, each containing a hierarchy of subcategories and sub-subcategories, each in turn systematically represented in the phonological structure of an individual word. For example an initial g- might stand for a plant, while go- indicated a tree, gob- a particular class of tree, and gobo a particular tree species. While unworkable in terms of specifics, Wilkins underlying principles are similar in a simplistic way to some of the abstract derivational principles employed in Ithkuil lexico-morphology and lexico-semantics. Another comparable predecessor in a simplistic sense is the musical language, Solresol, created by Jean François Sudre and published in 1866.
0.6 The Uniqueness of Ithkuil
The above description demonstrates that Ithkuil is rather unique in the niche it occupies in the array of both natural and invented languages. The design of Ithkuil has slowly and painstakingly evolved from my early attempts as a teenager (following my introduction to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Charles Fillmores seminal 1968 article on case grammar) to explore beyond the boundaries of Western Indo-European languages to a complex, intricate array of interwoven grammatical concepts, many of which are wholly of my own creation, others of which have been inspired by such obscure linguistic sources as the morpho-phonology of Abkhaz verb complexes, the moods of verbs in certain American Indian languages, the aspectual system of Niger-Kordofanian languages, the nominal case systems of Basque and the Dagestanian languages, the enclitic system of Wakashan languages, the positional orientation systems of Tzeltal and Guugu Yimidhirr, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, and the hearsay and possessive categories of Suzette Elgins Láadan language, not to mention ideas inspired by countless hours studying texts in theoretical linguistics, cognitive grammar, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, linguistic relativity, semantics, semiotics, philosophy, fuzzy set theory, and even quantum physics.
The Ithkuil writing system likewise derives from both original and inspired sources: it employs a unique morpho-phonemic principle of my own invention, its logical design borrows from the mutational principles underlying the Ethiopic and Brahmi scripts, and its aesthetic visual design bears a superficial resemblance to Hebrew square script and the various Klingon fonts.
As for the name of the language, Ithkuil, it is an anglicized rendering of the word , whose approximate translation is hypothetical language.
This website provides a systematic presentation of the grammar of the language. In addition to a description of the various components of the grammar, the reader will find example phrases or sentences illustrating those components. Each example comprises an Ithkuil word, phrase, or sentence written in native Ithkuil script, accompanied by a Romanized transliteration, an English translation (sometimes divided into a natural versus literal translation), and a morphological analysis. The morphological analysis is presented serially, morpheme-by-morpheme, using three-letter abbreviations or labels for Ithkuil morphological categories. These labels are presented within the body of the work in conjunction with the explanation of each morphological category. This system is illustrated by the example below, where the labels OBL and PRP refer to the OBLIQUE and PROPRIETIVE noun cases respectively. (These noun cases are explained in Chapter 4):
a fathers title
This work is not meant as a primer or means of self-instruction in speaking the language, a task beyond even its creator, given that Ithkuil may be perhaps the most grammatically complex language ever devised. Simplicity was not my purpose, but rather bridging the gap between extreme morphological dynamism, the overt reflection of human cognitive processes via language, and extreme morpho-semantic economy and efficiency. I believe I have achieved a result which is close to the ideal I sought. I leave it to the reader to explore that result.
I wish to thank all of those who have taken an interest in Ithkuil. I especially wish to thank Stanislav Kozlovskiy, whose 2004 article The Speed of Thought brought Ithkuil to the attention of so many people. Спасибо, Стас! Thanks also to Lexa Samons for his hard work in translating the original Ithkuil site into Russian. My appreciation also to fellow linguist and conlanger David J. Peterson for bestowing upon Ithkuil the 2008 Smiley Award.
I dedicate this work to my brother, Paul, in fond memory of Kccöj, Mbozo, and our other made-up languages, and all the fun times we had as kids learning about and playing with linguistics.
Proceed to Chapter One: Phonology >>
|2 Morpho-Phonology||7a Using Affixes||12 The Number System|
|3 Basic Morphology||7b Using Affixes (continued)||The Lexicon|
|4 Case Morphology||8 Adjuncts||Revised Ithkuil: Ilaksh|
©2004-2009 by John Quijada. You may copy or excerpt any portion of the contents of this website provided you give full attribution to the author and this website.