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Ptydepe is a fictional artificial language featuring in Czech playwright Václav Havel's 1966 play The Memorandum (or The Memo). The play concerns the events that unfold when Ptydepe is introduced as the new official language of an unspecified organization. In Czech, the word has been used in the meaning of incomprehensible bureaucratic jargon, or newspeak intending to hide its true meaning.
Scientific principles of Ptydepe
According to the characters of the play, ptydepe was constructed along strictly scientific lines, with none of the messiness and ambiguity of natural languages. In order to be able to express precisely all the subtle and easily-misunderstood nuances of natural language, Ptydepe has a large, non-expandable vocabulary. Another problem of natural language that Ptydepe was intended to eliminate is the frequent similarity of unrelated words, or homonyms. To entirely avoid the possibilities for confusion that arise with homonyms and similar unrelated words, Ptydepe was created according to the postulate that all words must be formed from the least probable combinations of letters. Specifically, it makes use of the so-called "sixty percent dissimilarity" rule; which states that any Ptydepe word must differ by at least sixty percent of its letters from any other word consisting of the same number of letters. This led to the necessity of creating some very long words. The inevitable problem of pronounceability is solved by breaking very long words up into smaller clusters of letters called "subwords", which nonetheless have no meaning outside of the word they belong to and are not interchangeable.
Length of words, like everything else in Ptydepe, is determined scientifically. The vocabulary of Ptydepe uses entropy encoding: shorter words have more common meanings. Therefore, the shortest word in Ptydepe, gh, corresponds to what is so far known to be the most general term in natural language, whatever. (The longest word in Ptydepe, which contains 319 letters, is the word for "wombat" in an English translation. However in the Czech original it is a name for a nonexistent member of the genus Apus, rorýs říční.) Theoretically an even shorter word than gh exists in Ptydepe, namely f, but it has no meaning assigned and is held in reserve in case a more general term than "whatever" is discovered.
Havel's younger brother, computer scientist Ivan M. Havel, helped in its formulation.
Example of the language
From the memorandum discovered in the office in Scene 1:
Ra ko hutu d dekotu ely trebomu emusohe, vdegar yd, stro reny er gryk kendy, alyv zvyde dezu, kvyndal fer teknu sely. Degto yl tre entvester kyleg gh: orka epyl y bodur depty-depe emete. Grojto af xedob yd, kyzem ner osonfterte ylem kho dent de det detrym gynfer bro enomuz fechtal agni laj kys defyj rokuroch bazuk suhelen...
- Václav Havel. Hry. Praha: Lidové noviny, 1992. 56.
- Havel, Vaclav: The Memorandum. Translated from the Czech by Vera Blackwell. Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1980.
- Havel, Vaclav: The Memo. Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson. Theater 61 Press, New York, 2012.