|Created by||John Quijada|
|original (Içtaîl), with romanized transcription|
|ISO 639-3||None (
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2013)|
Ithkuil is a constructed language created by John Quijada, designed to express deeper levels of human cognition briefly yet overtly and clearly, particularly with regard to human categorization. Ithkuil is notable for its grammatical complexity and extensive phoneme inventory. The name "Ithkuil" is an anglicized form of Iţkuîl, which in the original form roughly means "hypothetical representation of a language".
The many examples from the original grammar book show that a message, like a meaningful phrase or a sentence, can usually be expressed in Ithkuil with fewer sounds, or lexically distinct speech-elements, than in natural human languages. Quijada deems his creation too complex and strictly regular a language to have developed naturally, but nonetheless a language suited to human conversation. No person, including Quijada, is known to be able to speak Ithkuil fluently.
The second "definitive (or 'official')" revision is a major revision that was released on 15 July 2011 and is also named Ithkuil out of convenience and continuity. A sizeable portion of this article deals with the original version of Ithkuil released in 2004, but it is indicated which sections deal with which version of Ithkuil.
- 1 Outline
- 2 Phonology
- 3 Grammar
- 3.1 Ithkuil (2004)
- 3.2 Ithkuil (2011)
- 4 Orthography
- 5 Possible advantages
- 6 References
- 7 External links
For his influences, Quijada cites the "morpho-phonology 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 Yimidhirr, the Semitic triliteral root morphology, and the hearsay and possessive categories of Suzette Elgin's Láadan language".
Ilaksh: the first revision of Ithkuil (2007)
|Created by||John Quijada|
|ISO 639-3||None (
Since the mention of Ithkuil in the Russian magazine Computerra, several speakers of Russian contacted Quijada and expressed enthusiasm to learn Ithkuil, with several complaining about its difficulty in pronunciation. Quijada remade Ithkuil's morphophonology and published the revision on 10 June 2007 as Ilaksh. The innovation featured other amendments to grammar, like some additional Levels or a slight shuffling of noun cases.
The Ilaksh script was redesigned. It has two forms, a 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 represents 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 have particular shapes 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 spell out the shapes of particular lexemes. The cartouches form phrases, with primary phrases overlapping subordinate phrases. The coloring system utilizes different color densities and texturing for different colors in order to be usable by color-blind people. These density conventions also allow the formal system to be inexpensively printed in black-and-white, or inscribed or imprinted on stone or other materials.
As of July 2011, Quijada plans to adopt the formal script "for use as an alternative, 'ornamental' writing system for artistic purposes" to the 2011 revision of Ithkuil, which was made to be morphologically similar to Ilaksh.
/m n̪ ŋ l ɫ ɭ˞/ can be syllabic. /h/ is [ɸ] when preceded by a vowel and followed by another consonant. [cʎ̥˔ʰ] is in free variation with [cʎ̥˔ʼ], the latter being more common at the beginning of a word. All consonants except /j w/ can be geminated; when geminated, /h/ is a bidental fricative and /ɽ/ an alveolar trill.
The vowels are as follows:
|Close||i y||ʉ||ɯ u|
|Close-mid||e ø||ɤ o|
The diphthongs of the original Ithkuil are /ai̯/, /æi̯/, /ei̯/, /ɤi̯/, /øi̯/, /oi̯/, /ʊi̯/, /au̯/, /æu̯/, /eu̯/, /ɤu̯/, /ɪu̯/, /ou̯/, /øu̯/, /aɯ̯/, /eɯ̯/, /ɤɯ̯/, /ʊɯ̯/, /oɯ̯/, /ɪɯ̯/, /æɯ̯/, /øɯ̯/, /ʉɯ̯/, /ae̯/. All other sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables.
/m n̪ ŋ l/ can be syllabic. /h/ is [ɸ] when preceded by a vowel and followed by another consonant. All consonants except /j w/ can be geminated; when geminated, /h/ is a bidental fricative and /ɽ/ an alveolar trill. The clusters /n̪j/, /tj/, /dj/, and /lj/ may be pronounced as such or as the palatals [ɲ], [c], [ɟ], and [ʎ].
The vowels are as follows:
The 14 diphthongs of Ilaksh are /ai̯/, /æi̯/, /ei̯/, /əi̯/, /oi̯/, /øi̯/, /ui̯/, /au̯/, /æu̯/, /eu̯/, /əu̯/, /iu̯/, /ou̯/, and /øu̯/. All other sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables.
The newly revised Ithkuil has 45 consonants and 13 vowels. The consonants are as follows:
The 13 vowels of Ithkuil are as follows:
The diphthongs in Ithkuil are /aɪ̯/, /ɛɪ̯/, /əɪ̯/, /ɔɪ̯/, /œɪ̯/, /øɪ̯/, /ʊɪ̯/, /aʊ̯/, /ɛʊ̯/, /əʊ̯/, /ɪʊ̯/, /ɔʊ̯/, /œʊ̯/, /øʊ̯/. All other sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables.
The lexicon of Ithkuil potentially consists of 3,600 word roots; just 900 were assigned individual translations. Each root consists of 2 consonantal radicals, and can derive thousands of lexemes through the use of Ithkuil's complex rules of morphophonology, which involve 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 can function both as nouns and as verbs, depending on the morpho-semantic context. Both nominal and verbal formatives are inflected to one of the possible 3 stems, 3 patterns, 2 designations (formal or informal), 9 configurations, 4 affiliations, 4 perspectives, 6 extensions, 2 foci, 4 contexts, 2 essences, and 81 cases; formatives also can take on some of the 153 affixes, which are further qualified into one of 9 degrees. Verbal formatives are additionally inflected for 7 illocutions and 7 conflations.
Verbal adjuncts work in conjunction with adjacent formatives to provide additional grammatical information. Two types of verbal adjuncts are 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.
An example of morphological analysis
- (based entirely on the original Ithkuil grammar book)
The word iţkuîl is a formative derived from the root k-l (broadly concerning "speech", "voice", or even "interpretation") through the addition of several morphological determinants:
- The -u- vocalic infix
- kul is the holistic variety of the Stem 2 of the three other possible stems from k-l. Translating roughly as "a meaningful unit of speech", i. e. "a word", it gives no emphasis on the meaning or the vocal rendering of the word.
- The u → uî mutation of the infix
- Secondary, as opposed to primary, mode, means that the word kuîl refers not to a real-life phenomenon, but rather to a mental representation, or projection, of that phenomenon; to an imaginary or hypothetical object. Thus "a made-up word".
- A grade 8 mutation of the first radical consonant: k → ţk
- The configuration of the term is composite. Roughly corresponding to the plurality concept in Indo-European languages, it also implies the objects in question (words, kuîl) to be diverse, while forming a "coherent emergent entity" (rather than just a collection or an array of different words), thus meaning "a vocabulary/lexicon".
- The i- vocalic prefix, one of the 24 possible for formative roots
- The extension is delimitive, perceiving "the vocabulary" as entire, with clearly distinguished boundaries, as opposed to it being just a local manifestation – such as slang or a dialect – of a broader lexicon (-ţkuîl).
- The affiliation of the set of objects in question is coalescent. This indicates that the individual members of the set act together toward a higher purpose by coordinating their complementary functions. Thus, "a vocabulary/lexicon" becomes "a language".
- Syllabic stress on the penultimate syllable (-u-)
- The perspective of the noun is monadic, seeing "the language" as a single and specific entity, rather than a collection of many languages existing separately, the general phenomenon ("human languages") or the abstract idea of language.
Thus, the approximate translation of iţkuîl is "an idea/fantasy of a complete purposeful system of complementary speech elements", or simply "an imaginary language".
A compound sentence
The following sentence is composed and written in the original, 2004 version of Ithkuil.
Romanization: Pull̀ uíqišx ma’wałg eřyaufënienˉ päţwïç auxë’yaļt xne’wïļta’şui tua kit öllá yaqazmuiv li’yïrzişka’ p’amḿ aìlo’wëčča šu’yehtaş
IPA: [ˈpʊ́l̪l̩̪̀ ʊˈɪ́qɪ̀ʃx ˈmáʔwàɫ̪ɡ ɛʁjaʊ̯fɤˈn̪ɪ́ɛ́n̪ ˈpǽθwɯ̀ç aʊ̯ˈxɤ́ʔjàɬt xn̪ɛʔwiɬˈtáʔʂʊ̀ɪ̯ ˈt̪ʊ́à kɪ̂t̪ œl̪ˈːâ jaˈqázmʊ̀ɪ̯v l̪ɪʔjɯɾˈzɪ́ʂkàʔ pʼamˈm̩̂ aɪl̪ɔʔˈwɤ́tʃːà ʃʊʔˈjɛ́ɸt̪àʂ]
Translation: As our vehicle leaves the ground and plunges over the edge of the cliff toward the valley floor, I ponder whether it is possible that one might allege I am guilty of an act of moral failure, having failed to maintain a proper course along the roadway.
Ithkuil uses a numeral system of base 100. There are roots for the numbers 1 to 10 (l-s, k-s, š-s, p-s, ţ-s, t-s, n-s, x-s, f-s, and m-s), and the stem-specific derivative affix is used with a root to add a multiple of 10, providing the numerals up to 99. Ithkuil does not use the concept of zero. Numbers greater than 100 are expressed periphrastically in speech, whereas Içtaîl has logograms for the numbers 1 to 100 and for even powers of 100.
The lexicon of Ithkuil potentially consists of approximately 3,600 word roots. So far, just over 900 are assigned with individual translations. Each root consists of a cluster of 1–4 consonants (five-consonant clusters are also available, but remain without an assigned meaning). From the root, word stems are formed by affixing the vocalic affix that indicates pattern, stem type, and function.
Ithkuil words can be divided into just two parts of speech, formatives and adjuncts. Formatives can function both as nouns and as verbs, depending on the morpho-semantic context. There are words that function as nouns and verbs, but these derive from the same root.
Roots are Ithkuil's most basic semantic units. All Ithkuil formatives are derived from a limited number of roots. Each root consists of a consonants cluster of 1 to 5 consonants. There are approximately 3,600 roots, of which just over 900 have been assigned meanings. No five-consonant-cluster roots have been assigned meanings.
Stems and pattern
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 non-human higher-order animal lifeform
|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 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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Extension||the referred part of a set, e.g. its beginning or its end.|
|Essence||whether the referred set is in the real world or exists solely psychologically.|
|Context||the psychological relevance of the set, e.g. merely its existence or the set as symbolic for something else.|
|Designation||the authority or permanence of a set.|
|Transrelative||the participants to the verb|
|Possessive||possessive relationships between nouns|
|Associative||non-possessive relationships between nouns and adverbial relationships with verbs|
|Spatial||spatial relationships; this does not cover spatial relationships such as 'to be inside of', which are covered by separate formatives|
|Comparison||comparisons to other nouns|
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)|
|Mood||attitudes or perspectives on the act or the degree of factuality|
|Illocution||the general purpose of the speech act (assertion, question, warning, demand, etc.)|
|Relation||whether the verbal formative is part of a subordinate clause|
|Phase||the temporal pattern of the act or occurrence|
|Sanction||the sort of truthfulness the listener should ascribe to it (assertion, allegation, counterargument, refutation, etc.)|
|Valence||the manner of participation of two separate entities to the verbal formative|
|Version||whether the action is goal-oriented or not + whether successfully completed|
|Validation||the evidence supporting the statement|
|Aspect||the temporal relationship of the verbal formative in its context|
|Bias||the speaker's emotional attitude towards the action|
Ithkuil nominal formatives also carry a function, but cannot be inflected for them, always remaining in the "stative".
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 indicating using verbal adjuncts, whereas the others can also be expressed on the verbal formative.
Ithkuil's native script is called Içtaîl, the (2004) Ithkuil word for 'hypothetical writing system'. It is 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.
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. One may also argue that, Ithkuil being an extremely precise and synthetic language, its speaker would, under the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, have a more discerning, deeper understanding both of everyday situations and of broader phenomena, and of abstract philosophical categories.
However, John Quijada (Ithkuil's creator) 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. 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.”
- Joshua Foer, "John Quijada and Ithkuil, the Language He Invented", New Yorker, Dec. 24, 2012.
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language – Introduction
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language
- (Russian) «Скорость мысли», Станислав Козловский – Speed of thought by Stanislav Kozlovsky, Computerra, №26–27, June 20, 2004
- Ithkuil and its philosophical design (Russian) by Mikhail Gertelman, Kompyuterra (17(781)2009 p 12)
- The 2008 Smiley Award Winner: Ithkuil
- Ilaksh script diagram (indicates what the various parts of an Ilaksh logogram indicate) (no longer available on site, link shows archive.org's cache)
- Ilaksh formal / ornamental script example, an updated version of the older script diagram
- Ilaksh Chapter 11: The Writing System
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.6 - Parts of speech
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.6.2 - Parts of speech - Adjuncts
- Ithkuil.net - Chapter 11, Section 3
- Chapter 2: Morpho-Phonology, 2.2 Root and stem formation
- The Lexicon
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.4 - Parts of speech
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.3 - Semantic instantiation of stems
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.2 - Root and stem formation
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Chapter 3 – Basic morphology
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.1 - Configuration
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.2 - Affiliation
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.3 - Perspective
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.4 - Extension
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.5 - Essence
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.6 - Context
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 3.7 - Designation
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Chapter 4 – Case morphology
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language – Section 6.2.4 – The comparison cases
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Chapter 5 – Verb morphology
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 2.4.2 – Adjuncts
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Section 8.1 – Personal-reference adjuncts
- A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language - Chapter 6 – More verb morphology
- Speedtalk and Newspeak were merely “sampled” by their creators, with an outline of neither grammar nor lexicon.
- Ithkuil official site, now presenting the version as of July 2011
- New Yorker article on the history of Ithkuil – December 2012
- Community on Reddit devoted to the Ithkuil language