Thursday, October 18, 2012


Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Arika Okrent, in The Public Domain Review, on a particularly dotty (!!!) language lovingly crafted by a particularly odd German priest:

“A language without umlauts,” he wrote, “sounds monotonous, harsh, and boring.” He decried the “endlessly gloomy u and o,” the “broad a” and the “sharp i” of umlautless languages. Though many members of the growing Volapük community may have agreed with his aesthetic judgment, many others thought that for Volapük to have a serious chance at being a world language, the umlauts had to go.

Not only is this article a shining beacon in the wilderness, it gives us an excuse to mention Okrent's book In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius. NOW, did you try to come up with a language when you were a kid? Or did you just try to learn Elvish? TRICK QUESTION, the Elves spoke many different languages depending on their geographical location.

You could learn more, but Wikipedia tells us those jags in charge of Big Elvish are dragging their feet: "Two magazines Vinyar Tengwar, from issue 39 (July 1998), and Parma Eldalamberon, from issue 11 (1995), are exclusively devoted to the editing and publishing of J.R.R. Tolkien's gigantic mass of unpublished linguistic papers. These are published at a pace considered by many to be excessively slow. The editors have not published a comprehensive catalogue of the unpublished linguistic papers they are working on. Even more disturbing for some is the fact that access to the unpublished documents is severely limited."

35 Comments / Post A Comment


I am always sad that English doesn't have accents. Accented letters always make writing so much more cool-looking!


@rosaline Plus, we might have at some point had a fighting chance of having enough vowels in the written language to make a spelling system that makes sense, instead of closing our eyes and telling ourselves that a hodgepodge of artifacts from semi-literate 14th century scribes who spoke a completely different variety of English and were much better at writing french and latin anyway is a totally sane way of creating a spelling system.
Sorry, what I'm trying to say is, teaching phonetics left me bitter, and I'm jealous of Swedish.

J Walter Weatherman

@Cawendaw We should do what they did with written Korean back in the day--scrap the old system and tell people to learn the new! Or better yet, just use Hangul and say to hell with the Roman alphabet!


@rosaline It's so true! A friend of mine has a last name with an ö in it and after I offhandedly said that every time she posted on my Facebook wall, the text notification on my ancient crappy phone replaced it with an underscore, she decided to switch to a spelling using 'oe' instead because it was easier in English. I'm still a tiny bit sad because I always really liked making sure I got all the dots in when sending her mail.

English is so boring without letter decorations.


@Cawendaw The problem with making spellings more phonetic (one of many) is that there are so many different accents in English - which one do you choose to represent phonetically, and how do you avoid overly privileging that variant? I just try to tell myself that at least the spellings we use made sense once.


@Verity Right, that's why I specified "might have at some point had a fighting chance" of having a sane spelling system. With English spread over oceans and used as an international lingua franca and language of status, it's way too late now to start standardizing (although a usable, commonly agreed upon, easier-than-IPA phonetic alphabet would be nice).
I guess my fantasy was that accents would be adopted in the middle ages and allow the spelling to adapt to the great vowel shift and the disappearance of -ght, and terminal ("silent") e, then be frozen around the time of Shakespeare. It would still be anachronistic, but less nonsensical.


I really enjoy this article! Great stuff! @j

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose



It would still be anachronistic, but less nonsensical....underground racing

Princess Gigglyfart

Hey, I'm looking for penpals who write English with Elvish Tengwar. I've been using mostly a Quenya mode, but any mode is cool. I'm serious. Be a nerd with me.


@Princess Gigglyfart I know how to write my name in Sindarin-mode tengwar, but I don't think I have the patience for a longer correspondence ...

Hot Doom

@Princess Gigglyfart I did actually try to learn Sindarin, but I never got the hang of tengwar. I'm just commenting because I wish I could correspond with you and had had the patience to keep trying to learn it! I'm going to go sit in a nerd corner now and face the wall...


@Princess Gigglyfart To be clear, you want people to write to you in English, but in the Tengwar alphabet/spelling system? Not people to actually go to the trouble of learning Quenya?

Princess Gigglyfart

@Cawendaw I am studying the Quenya language, but just beginning, and I want practice with the Tengwar for now.


I love everyone in this thread.


Invented languages are the greatest. I pretended like I was going to learn Ido during winter break my junior year of college, but opted to do absolutely nothing instead. Personal favorite: Solresol, because of the color thing.

Pop Pop

My roommate and I sometimes communicate in muppet noises to express emotion. Much easier than using any sort of language.

Also, I applaud the use of the insult 'jag.' I still can't believe how many weird looks I get for using it.

Judith Slutler

This is amazing. A one world language is just the awesomest utopian project. Umlauts are just the cherry on the top!

fondue with cheddar

@Emmanuelle Cunt TWO cherries!

I also like cedillas! (as in garçon)


@fondue with cheddar What are the little squiggly bits over Ns in Spanish called? ~~~

fondue with cheddar

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher That's a tilde, which rhymes with "Hilda".


Oh oh oh! When I was 13 my best friend and I went to summer camp and decided to invent "Revised English," which would eliminate all the inconsistencies of the language. I sent my parents a detailed pronunciation guide and grammar primer in my first letter home, then proceeded to write every other letter in Revised English. Needless to say, they couldn't read any of it.

I don't think they saved them, which is a shame. I'd love to go back and see if I could read them now.


I love my umlautty mother tongue, Finnish. You cän never täke my umläuts from me.

Miss Maszkerádi

@Scandyhoovian Hyvaa paiva! ;-)


@CountessMaritza Terve! :P

Miss Maszkerádi

@Scandyhoovian Sans umlauts. I can be an insufferable wise-arse.


@CountessMaritza Don't think I didn't notice. :)

Miss Maszkerádi

Ok guys. Time to get sectarian: I submit to you the eternal question - which is better, Sindarin or Quenya?

J Walter Weatherman

@CountessMaritza Quenya, for reasons my seventh grade self was VERY OPINIONATED about, but my current self has forgotten.


@CountessMaritza Sindarin sounds prettier. It was the language that Legolas and all them guys spoke in the movies. (Quenya was what Saruman was chanting to get Caradhras to drop snow on the Fellowship.)


When I was about ten I decided to write a fantasy novel and never got anywhere with it because I got bogged down in inventing the geography and language. Since I didn't know the first thing about language structure I just wrote out lists of words I thought sounded cool. That notebook is sitting in a box somewhere.


My name has too many vowels to be written effectively in any form of Tengwar (and, I would assume, in any alphabet where vowels are not separate letters).

My fourteen year old self was pretty fucking crushed when she found that out.

Miss Maszkerádi

@thatgirl That just means you get to TRANSLATE your name into proper Elvish. Find out the etymology of your name, get very arcane about it if you like, and poke around in the back of the Silmarillion till you find a decent equivalent. Interpret and misinterpret possible meanings at will to get the coolest sounding Elvish name.

Come to think of it, I should totally do this myself.


@CountessMaritza I've done this! It is good fun, and I highly recommend it.

runner in the garden

Nooooo I spent the whole article trying to figure out how she was related to the inventor of Klingon before I realized Marc OKRAND is not the same as OKRENT. That's as cruel as having Ingrid Bergman appear in an Ingmar Bergman movie.

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