isaac-newton

Isaac Newton Tried To Make His Own Language And It Was No Klingon

Those who can speak more than one language have something useful they can boast about, unless it’s a version of Klingon or Elvish, then there are only a select view with whom they can converse. That’s because languages like Klingon have been created for the realms of science fiction, but that doesn’t make the language any less valid.

Even Sir Isaac Newton tried to construct his own language where he imagined words would follow a more orderly format, allowing for instant clarification based on what letter it started with. For example, all instruments would begin with the letter s, all animals with the letter t, with prefixes and suffixes modifying the meaning of words, much in the same way that the metric system uses a base unit and prefixes change its measure, ie from metre to millimetre. Newton’s language would use a base word like “tor” for temperature with variations like owtor, awtor, etor,and aytor to describe varying degrees of heat, allowing for extremes of hot and cold and everything in between based on the base word “tor”.

The people that work to create new languages either as a career or as an extremely tedious hobby are called conlangers. Usually the languages they create are limited with small vocabularies of only a few thousand words, but some have become successful, the most notable of which is Esperanto. Constructed in 1887 by a Polish ophthalmologist, he aimed to create an international language that was easy to learn and currently up to two million people worldwide that can speak it, and it’s even the language of instruction at the International Academy of Sciences in San Marino.

There are few examples to match those of Esperanto, but communities exist especially online that are dedicated to preserving these constructed languages. Lord of the Rings trilogy writer J.R.R. Tolkien invented several Elvish languages that were meant to be spoken by the various tribes of Elves, including Qenya, the proto-language of the Elves and it’s based on Tolkien’s extensive knowledge of Old English, Old Norse, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Finnish. Online communities dedicated to Tolkien’s work, especially his Elvish language, work diligently to preserve the it and those two Elvish publications are still releasing previously unreleased works by Tolkien himself regarding Elvish and its rules.

Other notable languages have been developed for books and film, and fans of both the work and the language have formed tight knit communities. There’s a dedicated online community for learning the Na’Vi language that appears in the movie Avatar constructed by Caltech linguistics professor Paul Frommer and though it’s followers are small, they’re determined to see that it Na’Vi remains and becomes viable. Other newer languages have also made it to more mainstream venues. Mark Orland created the entire Klingon language for Star Trek III’s The Search For Spock, and you can’t go to a sci-fi convention without eventually having some sort of Klingon growled at you. It’s the same for some of the languages from HBO’s Game of Thrones, including the Valerian and Dothraki languages.

Newton’s language never caught on and it seems he realised that it would take a literal lifetime to complete the project, with little chance of it succeeding. He abandoned his attempt and moved on to bigger and better things.

References:

  1. http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15360.html
  2. http://personal.southern.edu/~caviness/Eo_unue/Eo_unue.html
  3. http://www.elvish.org/
  4. http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/feature/language_crafters