Utopian language

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Utopian
Created by Thomas More, Peter Giles
Date 1516
Setting and usage Utopia (book)
Purpose
Utopian alphabet
Sources Influenced by Greek, Latin, and Hebrew
Official status
Official language in
Utopia
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)

The Utopian language is the language of the fictional land of Utopia, as described in Thomas More's Utopia. A brief sample of the constructed language is found in an addendum to More's book, written by his good friend Peter Giles. Pretending to be factual, the book does not name the creator of the language; both More and Giles have been alternately credited, with Giles often thought to have designed the alphabet.

Grammar[edit]

Although some words in Utopian show different forms corresponding to different cases in the Latin translation, there is no evidence of a consistent relationship between form and meaning, as can be seen from the following comparison of the nominal, pronominal, and adjectival case forms:

Singular Plural
Nominative Vtopos, Boccas, bargol, he
Ūtopus, dux, ūna, ego
Accusative hā, chamāan, āgrama, gymnosophon
mē, insulam, civitātem, philosophicam
heman, paglōni
mea, meliōra
Ablative chama, gymnosophāon
insulā, philosophiā
Dative bōdamilōmin
mortālibus
Genitive māglōmi, baccan
terrārum, omnium

There are only four verbs in the Utopian poem, and these also show no evidence of a correspondence between form and function:

1st person 3rd person
Present barchin, dramme
impartiō, accipiō
Perfect labarembacha
expressī
polta
fēcit

Writing system[edit]

The Utopian quatrain and its Latin translation in the 1518 edition of Utopia.

Utopian has its own 22-letter alphabet, with letters based on the shapes of the circle, square, and triangle.[1] These correspond almost exactly to the 23-letter Roman alphabet used in the 16th century, lacking only z. The letters f, k, q, and x only appear in the alphabet, not in the Utopian text.

Examples[edit]

The only extant text in Utopian is a quatrain written by Peter Giles in an addendum to Utopia:

Vtopos ha Boccas peu la chama polta chamaan.
Bargol he maglomi baccan ſoma gymno ſophaon.
Agrama gymnoſophon labarembacha bodamilomin.
Voluala barchin heman la lauoluola dramme pagloni.
[2]

It is translated literally into Latin as:

Utopus me dux ex non insula fecit insulam.
Una ego terrarum omnium absque philosophia
Civitatem philosophicam expressi mortalibus
Libenter impartio mea, non gravatim accipio meliora.
[3]

This, in turn, is translated into English as follows:

The commander Utopus made me into an island out of a non-island.
I alone of all nations, without philosophy,
have portrayed for mortals the philosophical city.
Freely I impart my benefits; not unwillingly I accept whatever is better.[4][5]

Armed with these translations, it is possible to deduce the following vocabulary:

Vocabulary of the Utopian Language
Utopian Latin English
agrama civitatem city (accusative; cf. Sanskrit grāmam, village)
baccan omnium of all
barchin impartio I impart
bargol una one, the only
boccas dux commander
bodamilomin mortalibus for the mortals
chama insulā island (ablative)
chamaan insulam island (accusative)
dramme accipio I receive
gymnosophaon philosophiā philosophy (ablative)
gymnosophon[6] philosophicam philosophical (accusative)
ha me me
he ego I
heman mea (those which are) mine
la non not
larembacha expressi I have represented (perfect)
lauoluola gravatim unwillingly (la + voluala)
maglomi terrarum of the lands
pagloni meliora those which are better; better things
peu ex from, out of
polta fecit made (perfect)
soma absque without
voluala libenter freely, willingly
Vtopos Utopus Utopus (mythical founder of Utopia)

In accordance with 16th-century typographical custom, the letters v and u marked a distinction in position, not sound; v was used at the beginnings of words and u elsewhere, but the same letters could represent the sounds of either u or v. Analysis of the metre of the verse shows, however, that the reader was expected to read Vtopos as Utopos, voluala as volvala, and lauoluola as lavolvola.

More's text also contains Utopian "native" terms for Utopian concepts.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Page 13 of the Basel 1518 edition of Utopia.
  2. ^ Word divisions are taken from the 1st edition of 1516.[1] The 2nd edition of 1518 merges peu and la together as well as gymno and sophaon (in the latter case certainly correctly); it also separates labarembacha into labarem and bacha. The text in Utopian letters in the 1516 edition writes cama, camaan, and pafloni in place of chama, chamaan, and pagloni. These discrepancies were corrected in the 1518 edition; however, new errors were introduced, e.g. utoqos for utopos and spma for soma.
  3. ^ Copied from [2] (page 13).
  4. ^ More, Thomas (2002). George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (eds.), ed. Utopia. Raymond Geuss and Quentin Skinner (series eds.) (Revised Edition ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 119. ISBN 0-521-81925-3. 
  5. ^ Ralph Robinson, a 16th-century translator, rendered the passage into English as follows:
    My king and conqueror Utopus by name
    A prince of much renown and immortal fame
    Hath made me an isle that erst no island was
    Full fraught with worldly wealth, with pleasure, and solace.
    I one of all other without philosophy
    Have shaped for man a philosophical city.
    As mine I am nothing dangerous to impart,
    So better to receive I am ready with all my heart. [3]
  6. ^ Gymnosophos (γυμνόσοφος) is an unattested Greek adjective meaning "naked (and) wise." Gymnosophist was the Greek name for Indian yogis.

External links[edit]