Monday, January 21, 2008


I spend much time now driving from house to house to walk dogs. Accordingly, I listen to lots of radio & CDs. During my walks, I often fantasize about artistic projects: websites to build, instruments to acquire, music to compose, languages to learn, & languages to create. My thoughts don't always lead me to anything concrete, but I like to have them.

Recently, I've thought about getting some CDs & learning a language as I drive around. I've had a number of thoughts about which language to learn, based on various conflicting ideas about what I'd like to do with a language if I learn one.


This means a language that someone has created for communication between different cultures, a logical, easy-to-learn, culturally neutral secondary tongue. I love th principle behind this. Esperanto represents th most well-known & -spoken IAL in th world. I started to learn this a few years ago, but I found a few things about it that frustrated me. In particular, it contains at least two biases: it borrows exclusively from European languages (no Asian, Middle-Eastern, Native American, etc. languages represented); & it retains some sexism from its source languages: many nouns for professions refer to males by default & females only if you add a special suffix. It also contains no sex-neutral 3rd person personal pronoun (a word that means "he or she"), requiring its speakers to constantly identify people by their sex, even when such identification hinders rather than helps communication. English has this shortcoming as well. In a language constructed from th ground up to help bring us together, I don't consider these biases acceptable.

After Esperanto had developed advocates & had existed for a while, a group of linguists revised it to fix th sex bias & a few other illogicalities. This newer language, known as Ido seems quite superior to me, but has far fewer adherents. Esperantists significantly outnumber Idists. Ido still maintains th Euro-centric bias, which bothers me almost as much as th sex bias, so I still don't consider it th ideal international language.

I wouldn't find many speakers of either of these languages, altho Esperanto in particular has its own little world I could become involved with. Given th peaceful goals of Esperanto (& Ido), I imagine I'd find these folks easy to get along with.

A few years ago, I studied Lojban & got relatively deep into it. Lojban attempts to eliminate ambiguity from human communication. Its designers based it not on natural language, but upon structures of logic. In some ways, it has more in common with a computer programming language than a human tongue. At first, I found this very exciting. I like how differently it works. It contains some structures that I still really appreciate. However, I eventually decided th philosophy didn't fit at all with th universe I live in. It contains way too much built-in assumed meaning. It takes itself literally, always, always. We live in a relativistic, ambiguous, symbolic universe, not th perfect fantasy of Plato. I don't think Lojban can handle th sublime, th absurd, th beautiful. Altho I wrote three silly songs in Lojban (which probably goes against th whole spirit of th thing), Lojban poetry seems to me an oxymoron.

Plus, I didn't get a very positive impression of th speakers of Lojban that I found online. I joined their email list, & kept up with it for a while, but then a couple Lojbanists started ranting & raving about exactly what two of th articles, "le" & "lo" really, really, really mean. Talk about a bunch of Grayfaces. These guys needed to experience a good Turkey Curse.

So I stopped learning Lojban, & my wonderful flashcards sit unused in a box. No other constructed language seems worth taking up at this point.


Every person raised in th United States should have learned Spanish thoroughly from a very young age. We owe it to our brother & sister Americans who've immigrated from Spanish-speaking countries & deserve our recognition & understanding. In their shoes, I'd consider it an insult that your average white American knows about twelve Spanish words, & most of them represent Mexican foods.

So, to remedy this, I ought to consider learning Spanish. In Chicago, I would never have to go far to find someone to practice with.

But Spanish has lots in common with English, lots & lots. They both come from Europe & box your thinking into European thinking, to some extent. I want to learn a language that will really blow my mind, & I don't think Spanish will do that.

But for reasons of camaraderie & respect, Spanish makes sense for me to learn. Better late than never, si?


To really learn to think differently, I have to learn to assemble meaning differently, & learning a non-Western language could really force me into that. Thus, I consider learning Chinese, Arabic, & a Native-American language like Anishinaabemowin, th language of th Ojibwe. I've had a look at th grammar of th latter, & it seems so incredibly different that I find myself really tempted by this one. It has no adjectives, it builds its words up from lots & lots of little particles, it allows free word order, & instead of distinguishing between male & female, it distinguishes between animate & inanimate (& has some interesting ideas about what constitutes each). Also, it has a so-called "4th person," really a 3rd person considered less important than another one. How perfectly, wonderfully, odd.

So I will continue to obsess about this, at least for a few more days (before I forget about it entirely & move onto another obsession).


Rebelfish said...

I would say go for Spanish, based on its ease of learning, and ability to find people to say stuff with. Otherwise, I think Chinese would be very useful, and a nice departure from English.

Anonymous said...

Finnish or Icelandic gives th opportunity to talk to interesting people and some are in Chicago. For more of a challenge to find someone to talk to, Yi has the coolest written language I have seen.