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You know, the way you talk about this, coupled with the fact you're reading Foucault's Pendulum, makes me want to point you in the direction of Eco's 'The Search for the Perfect Language'.

You'll be amazed by the number of people who have tried to recreate an Adamic language -- one where the word precisely and perfectly indicates the thing. In other words, in such a language, the very letters of the word 'tiger' would indicate it's essential tigerness.

The implication is that you can reverse the process, because an invented word in this language would precisely and perfectly indicate a type of thing -- even if that thing didn't exist.


It's a very readable book, but if you fancy a novel, Eco's The Island of the Day Before covers a little bit of the territory with a machine based on one of the ones mentioned in Search...
Jon - Wed 21 May, 13:45:35

Hmm, sounds an interesting read. That to distinguish a tiger from a lion, you'd have to get quite detailed, and to distinguish a tiger from another tiger, you might as well be communicating in DNA strings?

I'll keep a look out for it. I've been enjoying the *writing* of Foucault's Pendulum, just glazing over a bit when Eco whaps a big stack of research onto the desk and forces you to read it with him.
Kevan - Thu 22 May, 13:07:12

Ah, yes, the great undigested chunks of historical data. He does go in for that.

The perfect language thing tends to take a more taxonomic approach. So 'tiger' might be constructed from a code for: Animal, Cat, Large, Fierce, Striped. Or: Mammal, Striped, Indian, Pointy Teeth. Or: Creatures in Poems, Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, Tyger Tyger,

Whatever you like really. You can see why they struggled.

The stroke of genius is that a lot of these people imagined that Hebrew (or some similar ur-language) was by definition a perfect language, so spent a lot of time trying to show how it all worked. Hebrew does number-value letters and there are instances such as YHWH ("I am that I am") so it's not entirely as bonkers as it first sounds.

Not entirely.
Jon - Tue 27 May, 10:56:09

New comments have been disabled for years, now, as this blog is no longer updated. Sorry.