|Created by||John Quijada|
Ithkuil is an experimental constructed language created by John Quijada. It is designed to express deeper levels of human cognition briefly yet overtly and clearly, particularly with regard to human categorization. It is a cross between an a priori philosophical and a logical language. It tries to minimize the ambiguities and semantic vagueness found in natural human languages. Ithkuil is notable for its grammatical complexity and extensive phoneme inventory, the latter being simplified in the final version of the language. The name "Ithkuil" is an anglicized form of I?kuîl, which in the original form roughly means "hypothetical representation of a language". Quijada states he did not create Ithkuil to be auxiliary or used in everyday conversations. He wanted the language to be used for more elaborate and profound fields where more insightful thoughts are expected, such as philosophy, arts, science and politics.
Meaningful phrases or sentences can usually be expressed in Ithkuil with fewer linguistic units than in natural languages. For example, the two-word Ithkuil sentence "Tram-m?öi hhâsma?p?uktôx" can be translated into English as "On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point". Quijada sees his strictly regular creation as too complex to have developed naturally, but nonetheless as a language suited to human conversation. No person, including Quijada himself, is known to be able to speak Ithkuil fluently.
Three versions of the language have been publicized: the initial version in 2004, a simplified version called Ilaksh in 2007, and the current version in 2011, with additional updates on the morphophonology and lexicon. As of 2019, a new language is being developed by Quijada based on Ithkuil, tentatively termed Ithkuil 4.
In 2004--and again in 2009 with Ilaksh--Ithkuil was featured in the Russian-language popular science and IT magazine Computerra. In 2008, David Peterson awarded it the Smiley Award. In 2013, Bart?omiej Kami?ski codified the language to be able to quickly parse complicated sentences. Since July 2015, Quijada has released several Ithkuil songs in a prog rock style as part of the album Kaduatán, which translates to "Wayfarers". Recently, online communities for the language have developed in English, Russian, and Mandarin.
Ithkuil evolved over 45 years as a linguistic experiment beyond Western Indo-European languages in response to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Charles J. Fillmore's case grammar into "a complex, intricate array of interwoven grammatical concepts" with "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." Ithkuil was heavily inspired by cognitive linguists including George Lakoff, Ronald Langacker, Gilles Fauconnier, and Len Talmy.
For his influences, Quijada cites the obscure "morphophonology of Abkhaz verb complexes, the moods of verbs of certain American Indian languages, the aspectual system of Niger-Kordofanian languages, the nominal case systems of Basque and Dagestanian languages, the enclitic system of the Wakashan languages, the positional orientation systems of Tzeltal and Guugu Yimithirr, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, and the hearsay and possessive categories of Suzette Elgin's Láadan language". The writing system's logical design borrows principles from Ethiopic and Brahmi scripts, but employs a unique morphophonemic principle. The script used throughout the Ithkuil grammar bears a superficial resemblance to Hebrew square script and the various Klingon fonts, and Ilaksh has also used a "cartouche script" and a cursive format. Because Ithkuil is designed for users to be precise in their speech, it is quite difficult to express humorous concepts in Ithkuil.
The initial publication of Ithkuil in 2004 had an extensive phonology of 65 consonants and 17 vowels. Since the mention of Ithkuil in the Russian magazine Computerra, several speakers of Russian contacted Quijada and expressed enthusiasm to learn Ithkuil for its application to psychonetics, with several complaining about its difficulty in pronunciation. Quijada remade Ithkuil's morphophonology with 30 consonants and 10 vowels (and the addition of tones) and published the revision on 10 June 2007 as Ilaksh. The language featured other amendments to grammar, including some additional Levels and a change of Cases. It was redesigned to be easier to speak and included an additional writing system. The initial sequential "informal" system suitable for handwriting or compact typesetting, and a "formal" logographic system with artistic possibilities resembling Maya scripts.
In the "informal" writing system, several parallel sets of lines are shaped to correspond sequentially to the different parallel sets of lexemes and inflections. It is directly pronounceable. The author designed it with reserve for convenient handwriting. The overall design would permit compact, clear, black-and-white rendering.
In the colorful "formal" script, a single complex glyph represented an entire sentence. Diversely shaped, shaded and superimposed cartouches represent the syntactic relations of the verb and noun phrases of a sentence. The edges of the cartouches had particular shapes that indicate one set of inflections, the colors indicate another set of inflections, and the textures yet another one. On the cartouches, letters of hexagonal outline would spell out the forms of particular lexemes. The cartouches formed phrases, with primary phrases overlapping subordinate phrases. The coloring system utilized different color densities and texturing for different colors in order to be usable by colorblind people. These density conventions also allowed the formal system to be inexpensively printed in black-and-white, or inscribed or imprinted on stone or other materials.
Ilaksh was superseded by a morphologically similar language also termed Ithkuil because of its ties to the initial publication. The script uses a unique morphophonemic principle that allows sentences representing grammatical categories to be pronounced in multiple ways as the speaker sees fit. In 2014 the category of register was introduced and in 2015 a mathematical and measurement-based sublanguage was published. Dozens on the community Reddit forum have proposed revisions to make the language more learnable. Quijada plans to adopt the cartouche script "for use as an alternative, 'ornamental' writing system for artistic purposes" to Ithkuil, in a future update of the language.
Owing to complaints about the difficult patterns in the language morphology, on 30 October 2017 Quijada published a tentative outline for a new version of the language, addressing learners' desires for a more agglutinative morphophonology, including a restructured Formative outline, and extended use of Adjuncts for shortened expression of the grammar to further create phonaesthetics. Quijada has considered mandating verbal categories expressed in Formatives to be redundantly spoken aloud in Adjuncts to be more naturalistic. Despite the complexity of the language, intended only as an experiment without concern for the constraints of human learnability, he has published several updates for a new language predicated off the original grammar, most recently in November 2019. The new language will feature an expanded lexicon and writing system that can be handwritten.
Ithkuil has 45 consonants and 13 vowels. At the left of each cell in the table below is the phoneme, and at the right its transliterated representation if it is not written the same in IPA as in romanized Ithkuil. The consonants are as follows:
|Nasal||m||n? n||? ?|
|voiceless||p||t? t||k||q||? '|
|Affricate||voiced||d?z ?||d j|
|voiceless||t?s c||t ?|
|ejective||t?s' c'||t' ?'|
|Fricative||voiced||v||ð dh||z||? ?|
|voiceless||f||? ?||s||? ?||? ?||ç||x||? xh||h|
In a future revision of the language, Quijada has noted that c?, c' , ?', k?, k', p?, p', q, q?, q', ?, t?, t', and xh will be eliminated, x will be pronounced /x/~/?/, ? will be written as n before k, g, or x, and dh will instead be written as ?, as in the 2004 version of Ithkuil (this phoneme can optionally be written as ? or ?).
The 13 vowels of Ithkuil are as follows:
|Close||i: î||?~y ü||u: û|
|Near-close||? i||? u|
|Close-mid||e: ê||o: ô|
|Mid||oe~ø ö||? ë|
|Open-mid||? e||? o|
|Open||ä a||? â|
In a future revision of the language, ê, î, ô, and û will be removed to allow for easier memorization. The letter ä, pronounced /æ/, will be introduced. a will be pronounced /a/~/?/, e will be pronounced /?/~/e/, i will be pronounced /?/~/i/, o will be pronounced /?/~/o/, u will be pronounced /?/~/u/, and ë will be pronounced /?/~/?/, except when unstressed at the end of the word, where ë will be pronounced /?/ to differentiate it from unstressed word-final a.
The diphthongs in Ithkuil are /ä/, //, //, //, /ø/, //, /ä/, //, //, //, //, /ø/. All other sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables. The grave accent is used to indicate the vowel sequence is not a diphthong. The grave and acute accents are used for stress. In a future revision of the language, circumflex accents will be used for stress, but grave accents will not be used for stress, and will only be used to indicate the vowel sequence is not a diphthong so that the rules for marking stress are simplified.
Ithkuil words can be divided into just two parts of speech, Formatives and Adjuncts. Formatives can function both as nouns and as verbs, derived from the root and depending on the morphosemantic context. They can be expanded through various 'suffixes'. Adjuncts serve two roles, either indicating personal referents like pronouns, or specifying additional verbal information such as grammatical bias. In a future version of the language, adjuncts will be able to convey suffix (or rather, affix) information.
Roots are Ithkuil's most basic semantic units. All Ithkuil formatives are derived from a limited number of roots. Each root consists of a cluster of 1-4 consonants (five-consonant clusters are also available, but remain without an assigned meaning). The current lexicon of Ithkuil can potentially consist of approximately 3,600 word roots. So far, just over 1000 have been assigned definitions. From the root, word stems are formed by affixing the vocalic affix that indicates stem pattern, stem type, function for the stem, and by stressing a particular syllable to indicate informal or formal designation. In a future version of the language, pattern will be replaced by specification.
There are three stems associated with each root. Each stem comes in three patterns, one holistic and two complementary ones. Holistic stem 1 typically refers to the most general manifestation of a root, whereas holistic stems 2 and 3 typically refer to more specific manifestations associated with the root. Each holistic stem has two complementary stems associated with it, which refer to the complementary concepts related to the holistic stem. The specific meaning of complementary stems depends somewhat on the root. These are derived from the word roots by prefixing a vowel or diphthong that also indicates the grammatical category function. Two examples are given in the tables below:
|Holistic stem 1||Holistic stem 2||Holistic stem 3|
|nuclear family member
|male nuclear family member
|female nuclear family member|
|Complementary stems||Complementary stems||Complementary stems|
|Holistic stem 1||Holistic stem 2||Holistic stem 3|
|higher-order animal lifeform
|non-human higher-order animal lifeform|
|Complementary stems||Complementary stems||Complementary stems|
|male higher-order animal lifeform
|female higher-order animal lifeform
|male human being
|female human being
|male non-human higher-order animal lifeform
îq- / ûq-
|female non-human higher-order animal lifeform|
All Ithkuil formatives, whether functioning as nouns or verbs, inflect for various grammatical categories that are quite dissimilar from any of those in natural languages. Quantization is more or less covered by the grammatical categories of Configuration, Affiliation, and Perspective, even though these do not technically refer to number per se.
|Configuration||the physical similarity and relationship between the members of a set, e.g. trees may occur in a collection of the same species, of different species, or even in a patternless collection with plants that are not trees.||Uniplex, Duplex, Discrete, Aggregative, Segmentative, Componential, Coherent, Composite, Multiform|
|Affiliation||the subjective purpose or function of members of a set, e.g. a group of trees may occur naturally and have no purpose, they may have the same purpose, complementary purposes, or different purposes.||Consolidative, Associative, Variative, Coalescent|
|Perspective||the boundedness of a set, i.e. if it is viewed as a single unit, multiple disconnected units, viewed generically, or its characteristics considered abstractly.||Monadic, Unbounded, Nomic, Abstract|
|Extension||the referred part of a set, e.g. its beginning or its end.||Delimitive, Proximal, Inceptive, Terminative, Graduative, Depletive|
|Essence||whether the referred set is in the real world or exists solely psychologically.||Normal, Representative|
|Context||the psychological relevance of the set, e.g. merely its existence or the set as symbolic for something else.||Existential, Functional, Representational, Amalgamate|
|Designation||the authority or permanence of a set.||Informal, Formal|
|Version||whether the action is goal-oriented or not + whether successfully completed||Processual, Completive, Ineffectual, Incompletive, Positive, Effective|
|Register||the mode of personal communication (narration, personal cogitation, subjective impression, direct speech, parenthetical "aside")||Narrative, Discursive, Parenthetical, Cogitant, Impressionistic|
There are 96 grammatical cases in Ithkuil, one special case being the Vocative, used for direct address. Verbal formatives inflect for case under Frame constructions (i.e., dependent clauses). The grammatical cases of Ithkuil can be divided into several distinct groups:
|Transrelative||the participants to the verb||11|
|Possessive||possessive relationships between nouns||7|
|Associative||non-possessive relationships between nouns and adverbial relationships with verbs||32|
|Spatial||spatial relationships; this does not cover spatial relationships such as 'to be inside of', which are covered by separate formatives||6|
|Comparison||comparisons to other nouns, used in conjunction with Level||24|
Several distinct grammatical categories apply only to verbal formatives. These are listed below:
|Function||the general relationship that the verbal formative has with its nominal participants (state, action, description)||4|
|Mood||attitudes or perspectives on the act or the degree of factuality||8|
|Illocution||the general purpose of the speech act (assertion, question, warning, demand, etc.)||6|
|Relation||whether the verbal formative is part of a subordinate clause||2|
|Phase||the temporal pattern of the act or occurrence||9|
|Sanction||the sort of truthfulness the listener should ascribe to it (assertion, allegation, counterargument, refutation, etc.)||9|
|Valence||the manner of participation of two separate entities to the verbal formative||14|
|Validation||the evidence supporting the statement||6|
|Aspect||the temporal relationship of the verbal formative in its context||32|
|Bias||the speaker's emotional attitude towards the action||24|
Ithkuil nominal formatives also carry a function, but cannot be inflected for them, always remaining in the "stative".
Ithkuil uses a variety of affixes, termed suffixes, to further delineate what is described by the formative. They come in three types and often correlate with adverbs.
Personal-reference adjuncts are akin to pronouns in English. There are two types of personal-reference adjuncts in Ithkuil: Single-referent and dual-referent.
Verbal adjuncts are adjuncts that work in conjunction with verbal formatives to provide information about the latter's Valence, Level, Phase, Sanction, Illocution, Modality, Aspect, and Bias. Of these, Modality and Level can only be indicated using verbal adjuncts, whereas the others can also be expressed on the verbal formative.
Ithkuil uses a base 100 numeral system with roots for the numbers 1 to 10, and a stem-specific derivative suffix used with a number root to add a multiple of 10, providing the numerals up to 99. Ithkuil did not originally use the concept of zero. Numbers greater than 100 are expressed periphrastically in speech, whereas a special numerical script had logograms for the numbers 1 to 100 and exponential powers of 100.
Ithkuil uses a morphophonemic script because characters convey both phonetic and morphological information. Its use is closely tied to Ithkuil's grammatical system, which allows much of the phonological aspect of words to be morpho-syntactically inferred. Those parts of an Ithkuil word whose pronunciation is predictable are not written, whereas the characters used to indicate the pronunciation of the unpredictable parts of a word also convey the grammatical information necessary to reconstruct the implicit phonetics. Words are thus written in a highly abbreviated manner, particularly useful for the highly inflected, occasionally elongated words of the Ithkuil language. The script is also used alphabetically for transliterating foreign words and mathematical expressions.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis postulates that a person's language influences their perceptions and cognitive patterns. Stanislav Kozlovsky proposed in the Russian popular-scientific magazine Computerra that a fluent speaker of Ithkuil, accordingly, would think "about five or six times as fast" as a speaker of a typical natural language. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis would suggest that, Ithkuil being an extremely precise and synthetic language, its speakers would have a more discerning, deeper understanding both of everyday situations and of broader phenomena, and of abstract philosophical categories.
However, strong forms of the hypothesis, which postulate that language determines thought and not only influences it, have been disproven within mainstream linguistics. Moreover, in line with this, Quijada has stated he does not believe a speaker would think necessarily any faster because even though Ithkuil is terse, a single word requires a lot more thought before it can be spoken than it would in a natural language.
"For these reasons, I believe use of Ithkuil would probably allow one to think more deeply, critically, and analytically; but think faster? I doubt it."
Kozlovsky also likened Ithkuil to the fictional Speedtalk from Robert A. Heinlein's novella Gulf, and contrasted both languages with the Newspeak of the communicationally restricted society of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ithkuil is by far the most complete language of the three, though Speedtalk and Newspeak were merely "sampled" by their creators, with an outline of neither grammar nor lexicon. John Quijada acknowledged the similarity of Ithkuil's design goals to those of Speedtalk, remarking that,
[h]owever, Heinlein's Speedtalk appears to focus only on the morpho-phonological component of language[, whereas] Ithkuil has been designed with an equal focus on [morphology, lexico-morphology, or lexico-semantics]. 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.
The original version of Ithkuil had a significantly more complicated morphophonology.
At the left of each cell in the table below is the phoneme, and at the right its transliterated representation. The original 65 consonants were as follows (61 in the chart, 4 below the chart):
|Nasal||m||n? n||? ?|
|Plosive||voiced||b||d? d||? ?||?||? ?|
|voiceless||p||t? t||c ?||k||q||? '|
|ejective||p'||t?' t'||c' ?'||k'||q'|
|Affricate||voiced||d?z ?||?||d j|
|voiceless||t?s c||?||t ?|
|ejective||t?s' c'||' ?'||t' ?'|
|Fricative||voiced||v||ð ?||z||? z?||? ?||? y?||? ?|
|voiceless||f||? ?||s||? ?||? ?||? ?||ç||x||? x?||? ?||h|
|Approximant||? ?||l? l||j y||w||?|
The phonological system of the original Ithkuil consisted of 65 consonants; the ones above, in addition to the lateral aspirated and central ejective palatal affricates q? /c?/, ç' /c?ç'/ and the velar affricates x' /k?x'/, x?' /q'/. /m n? ? l ? ?/ could be syllabic. h was [?] when preceded by a vowel and followed by another consonant. [c?] was in free variation with [c'], the latter being more common at the beginning of a word (both spelt q?). All consonants except y and w could be geminated; when geminated, h was a bidental fricative (h) and r was an alveolar trill (/r/).
At the left of each cell in the table below is the phoneme, and at the right its transliterated representation. The original 17 vowels are as follows:
|Close||i î||y ÿ||? ü||? ï||u û|
|Near-close||? i||? u|
|Close-mid||e ê||ø||? ë||o ô|
|Open-mid||? e||oe ö||? o|
|Open||æ ä||a||? â|
The diphthongs were /ai?/, /æi?/, /ei?/, /?i?/, /øi?/, /oi?/, /?i?/, /au?/, /æu?/, /eu?/, /?u?/, /?u?/, /ou?/, /øu?/, /a/, /e/, //, //, /o/, //, /æ/, /ø/, //, /ae?/. All other sequences of vowels were pronounced as separate syllables.
The lexicon of the original Ithkuil consisted of the same pattern as the current form of the language. However, each root consisted of 2 consonantal radicals, and could derive thousands of lexemes through the use of Ithkuil's complex rules of morphophonology, which involved both consonantal and vocal mutation, shifts in syllabic stress and tone, and affixation.
Ithkuil words can be divided into just two parts of speech, formatives and adjuncts. Formatives functioned both as nouns and as verbs, depending on the morphosemantic context. Formatives were inflected for the current grammatical categories, plus 2 foci, and 81 cases; they could also have taken on some of the 153 affixes, which further qualified into one of 9 degrees. Verbal formatives were additionally inflected for 7 conflations.
Verbal adjuncts similarly worked in conjunction with adjacent formatives to provide additional grammatical information. Two types of verbal adjuncts were inflected to indicate 14 valencies, 6 versions, 8 formats, 37 derivations, 30 modalities, 4 levels, 9 validations, 9 phases, 9 sanctions, 32 aspects, 8 moods, and 24 biases.
The word i?kuîl was a formative derived from the root k-l (broadly concerning "speech", "voice", or even "interpretation") through the addition of several morphological determinants:
Thus, the approximate translation of i?kuîl was "an idea/fantasy of a complete purposeful system of complementary speech elements", or simply "an imaginary language".
In an effort to make the language more speakable, Quijada created a revision called Ilaksh that relied on tone to reduce the phonemic inventory.
|Nasal||m||n? n||? ?|
|voiceless||p||t? t||k||? '|
|Affricate||voiced||d?z ?||d j|
|voiceless||t?s c||t ?|
|Fricative||voiced||v||ð ?||z||? ?|
|voiceless||f||? ?||s||? ?||ç||x||h|
/m n? ? l ?/ could be syllabic. All consonants except /j w ?/ could be geminated; when geminated, h is a bidental fricative or a voiceless pharyngeal fricative, and ? is an alveolar trill. The clusters /n?j/, /tj/, /dj/, and /lj/ could be pronounced as such or as the palatals [?], [c], [?], and [?].
The vowels were follows:
The 14 diphthongs of Ilaksh were /ai?/, /æi?/, /ei?/, /?i?/, /oi?/, /øi?/, /ui?/, /au?/, /æu?/, /eu?/, /?u?/, /iu?/, /ou?/, and /øu?/. All other sequences of vowels were pronounced as separate syllables.