27 April 2008

weights and measures

My thoughts on the most logical units of weights and measures. The goal here is to have intuitive, easily understood units.

The length and weight units would be equal to the height and weight of the average adult human.

The unit of liquid measure would be equal to the bladder capacity of the average adult human.

But there is a problem here. The size of people varies from culture to culture and from century to century.

The unit of currency might be equal to one day's wages for the least-skilled, lowest-paid workers within the culture, if I'm creating units for use within one culture. There is so much variation in pay scales around the world that such a unit would not make sense on a worldwide basis. Indeed, there are still a few cultures that live close to nature and don't have the phenomenon of paid employment, lucky devils.

Still contemplating units of light intensity and sound intensity. Something like the old candlepower might make sense, or perhaps the brightness of sunlight at noon on a clear day would be the basis. For loudness, I think the regular speaking voice of the average adult human would be the reference point.

20 April 2008

New English Calligraphy

Above are two glyphs made by artist Xu Bing in a project called An Introduction to New English Calligraphy. In this project, anglophones are taught to write English words in a square Chinese-like manner. The new characters are written in vertical columns rather than left-to-right. Above you see the words play and ink.

You can learn more with a Google search. According to one of the pages I found, “When we read a new language we have to unlearn what we know, then learn a new language. We feel alone and uncomfortable, but that feeling is self-induced.”

My reaction was, “What a nifty cipher! Throw in a few real Chinese glyphs and you’ve got a great way to make text ‘hide in plain sight’!”

13 April 2008

basic fun: ciphers

If you had known me when I was in 5th grade, you would have been able to predict that I would become a language maniac. I kept checking out Herbert Zim's book Codes and Secret Writing from the school library, over and over again. I believe an interest in alphabets and ciphers is one of the early signs that someone is going to become a langmaker. Unfortunately none of my friends wanted to exchange coded messages with me. We didn't have any secrets that really required such measures.

A couple of weeks ago I was perusing the unicode.org website when I happened to find the Myanmar (formerly known as Burmese) character set. Before I knew what hit me, I was gripped by an urge to use some of those characters as a cipher for encoding English. It ran through my brain like wildfire, absorbing every free moment for three days. I even had a dream about it. Still tweaking it. I like the result; it's ultra attractive to me, but I don't know if I will use it much. Still don't have any secrets.

09 April 2008

lang-making in prison

I try not to watch TV but sometimes I succumb to the temptation. A few weeks ago I was watching an hour-long program about life in Alaska prisons. A teacher working there mentioned that three of the inmates who attend his classes have IQs above 140 and are some of the most brilliant students he's had anywhere.

It started a train of thoughts in my head. Langbuilding takes time. Perhaps it would be a good hobby for those few prison inmates who would be interested in such things. No doubt a few are already doing it. (Poliespo for example.)

How would you spread the idea to more prisoners? (More than a million Americans are behind bars.) You'd need a book available through Amazon and other companies that are allowed to ship books to prisoners (most prisons won't accept books mailed in by ordinary individuals). Eventually this book might be banned from some prisons out of fear that a constructed langauge would be an unbreakable code that the inmates could use for nefarious purposes.

If you were langmaking in prison you'd want to keep as much of it as possible in your head. In that kind of environment you don't want to get emotionally attached to any possessions, including papers and notes.

Hmm, I might enjoy trying that, making a language entirely in my brain, not using paper or computer.

05 April 2008

note to dictionary collectors

The New Lakota Dictionary will be available in a few months. The sample pages available online look very tantalizing.

The Kamusi Project, a high-quality online Swahili-English dictionary, will soon be including additional African languages in its lexicon.

04 April 2008

poll reults

We have the results in our poll about aesthetic reactions to the word "conlang." 7 votes for "it's ugly," 9 votes for "it's neutral," and 1 vote for "it's pretty."

I think the next poll will be something like "how old were you when you started inventing languages." I'll contemplate that for a few days.

Trivia question: Two language inventors whose langs were described in books published during the 20th century were fluent in Baluchi. Do you know who they were?