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Rosetta Project for secret languages

Pig Latin, P Language, preserved for posterity
  [vote for,

The Rosetta project is a plan to etch sample texts and documentation in all surviving languages to preserve them for posterity. However, i have recently noticed that there are no examples, so far as i can find, of Eggy-Peggy language on YouTube, which gives me pause for thought. It turns out, for example, that there also used to be a secret language called the "P Language", spoken in Bangalore in the 'seventies. For all i know, this may have died out now.

So, my idea is this: do another Rosetta Project, but for secret languages which may also be endangered. Etch samples and Paninian-style transformational rules for well-formed words in the languages on a disc just as others have done for that. Also stick stuff about counting songs and other lore and language of schoolchildren on the same. Half a dozen cubed dozen years from today, archaeologists may find the disc and be able to reconstruct playground games and Pig Latin from the early twenty-first century.

nineteenthly, May 04 2011

World's least widely spoken languages http://en.wikipedia...wer_native_speakers
Taushiro and Yaghan only have 1 speaker each. Who do these people speak to? [Wrongfellow, May 04 2011]


       //Who do these people speak to?// Linguists.
mouseposture, May 04 2011

       I think I must have hit the hard-stuff last night, because I'm in a considerably grumpier mood today, even than usual - and so please disregard any overtly philistinious observations in the following remarks...   


       Is it useful or important to preserve a language? If language is a semantic map between concept and vocalisation, isn't one particluar set of semantic mappings a fairly arbitrary thing? Especially if it's an artificially created language, such as these 'secret' ones we're focusing on here. I can sort of see some use in preserving, or snap-shotting, a language over a long period of time in order to observe how it may change over time, either through some natural pressure, or in direct response to events. But a secret language, or at least one mainstream enough to make it known to enough people to include it in this project, like for example, Esperanto, is useful for what, exactly?   

       And what of the secret language that I used to talk and write to my teenage-girlfriend? Only two people knew that one, and I bet there are millions of similarly private languages that would be lovely to gather up and compare and contrast agaisnt one another - but which may be tricky to get samples - and even trickier to validate their authenticity.   

       I do like the idea of documenting playground lore - as I have a belief that there are some deep and ancient continuities that persist at that least-regulated of human communities.
zen_tom, May 04 2011

       //If language is a semantic map between concept and vocalisation [...]//   

       Well, it isn't, because "concepts", in the sense of things referred to by language, aren't really discrete. Rather, each language provides a slightly different way of dividing continuous data. {add hand-waving here} Therefore, it is important to preserve a language.   

       The question of whether it is useful is more problematic, because utility pre-supposes values, which are influenced by language.   

       I expect [nineteenthly] can explain the above better, and with proper scholarly references, if he has a mind to.
pertinax, May 04 2011

       Languages also embody social history and the attitudes and outlook of the speakers of that language. For example, the Norwegians came up with the word "quisling" and the Swedish came up with the word "ombudsman" - the fact that these countries came up with special words for these very particular concepts is interesting.

English contains real history too - for example the distinction between Anglo-Saxon words mostly used by servants (e.g. "pig") and Norman words used by the ruling class ("pork").
hippo, May 04 2011

       //Well, it isn't, because "concepts", in the sense of things referred to by language, aren't really discrete.// Good point, but I don't see how it serves as a counterpoint to the "semantic map" analogy.   

       "Bournemouth" isn't particularly discrete, geographically (it is helped by being on the coastline so at least one edge is more clearly defined than some places e.g. Middlesex) it appears in the maps, in the same way that a particular word will have a spectrum of meaning associated with it that may well overlap and inter-nuance with other closely, but subtly different words - will still appear in the dictionary.   

       But, the point I think you're trying to make is that each language is like a different style of map, so while one may clearly identify Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch as being three (albeit slightly overlapping) things, another one might see the same agglomeration and refer to it (and surrounds) as "Wessex City". My question is, does that help?   

       And if neologisms occur all the time (and they do) and should some previously undiscovered bit of Bournemouth be discovered tomorrow, someone is sure to come up with a way of referencing it on the map, (just that extra-specific bit) and assuming the mew name catches on, it'll be in the OED in no time.   

       Or, to put it another way, what have these other languages ever done for us?   

       Latin, of course, I'm quite happy to preserve, because there's plenty of stuff out there that's been written in it - but preserving a secret, private language (one in which there are no remaining artifacts) seems akin to me to preserving the details of what I had for breakfast. It might be of interest to someone I suppose, I'm just not sure what for.
zen_tom, May 04 2011

       I'm not thinking about idioglossia, i.e. languages invented to be spoken between two people. The home ed children have had a private language i never understood and have no intention of investigating, fascinating though it is, because i think they do that to keep their own personal space. That's fine. However, there are a lot of others which are just games without being particularly restricted. I'm not sure they're always artificial. Your and your teenage girlfriend's secrets are safe with you.   

       Concerning the preservation of natural languages, i think there's a different issue. A language tends to embody part of a mode of thought to which the rest of a culture in which it's spoken contributes too, so that would be lost to some degree, but i've noticed that recently, it seems more common than it used for a language to be declared for political reasons rather than in terms of mutual intelligibility.   

       [Pertinax], the problem with commenting on that is that my opinions are idiosyncratic and only represent me. However, when i encounter the word "concept" i tend to think of Frege, whose view was that concepts have objective existence, entailing that there are uncountably infinite numbers of them even in a tiny area of human thought like the idea of a nearby feather blowing in the wind. This leads to a rather overstuffed view of the world.   

       Paninian-type rules would define word and clause formation in a way which is probably independent of semantics. His grammar is ancestral to BNF.
nineteenthly, May 04 2011

       The important point here is that the concepts that can be considered and expressed are bounded by the language available to the observer.   

       An aboriginal tribesperson who's society has never previously encountered (for example) a car, will have no linguistic forms related to cars and will in all likelyhood have no means of envisaging or describing a wheeled conveyance propelled by internal combustion without creating (or more usually borrowing) both the linguistic form and the concept from another culture.   

       On the good side, wales isn't a very big place.
8th of 7, May 04 2011

       They can adapt their own concepts. I think it's Choctaw which uses a beast metaphor for parts of vehicles. A car is a "chidi", the headlights are the "chidi's eyes" and so on. The new concept is expressed by the new word but that word is onomatopoeic. I'll look for a link because this sounds a bit like the Esquimau snow word myth to me right now.   

       Edit: It's Navajo.
nineteenthly, May 04 2011

       //Eskimo snow word myth// I got over twenty and I'm at the same latitude as you.
FlyingToaster, May 04 2011

       Harking back to some old rambling debate that a person wasn't a person unless they were regarded as such by other people, presumably a language ceases to be a language as soon as there is only one speaker?
MaxwellBuchanan, May 04 2011

       //presumably a language ceases to be a language as soon as there is only one speaker//   

       Would that mean Latin's out, as the last native speaker died a while ago. I think we should include languages that still exist on paper.
not_morrison_rm, May 04 2011

       I think language would cease to exist if there will never again be anyone who will recognise any surviving or reconstructable trace of it as a language, whether or not they can translate it. For instance, Linear A clearly is a language, it's just that nobody can read it. I'd also say a language is dormant rather than dead unless it's gone unreconstructably without trace, because they occasionally get revived, e.g. Hebrew and Cornish. Latin is sort of dead but not quite - i use Latin to communicate with foreign herbalists in Eastern Europe and the Med if we have no common language, for example. Sanskrit isn't because for some reason there are still first-language speakers of it (i think it's part of some sinister Krishna Consciousness breeding programme).
nineteenthly, May 04 2011

       " think I must have hit the hard-stuff last night, because I'm in a considerably grumpier mood today, even than usual - and so please disregard any overtly philistinious observations in the following remarks..."   

       Now there's a tagline.
normzone, May 04 2011

       // They can adapt their own concepts. //   

       Yes, but only retrospectively.   

       A person who is born deaf can never truly understand the concept of music; it can be explained to them, but could never originate the concept because- in the absence of a sense of hearing- they can never experience sound,in the same way your species has no understanding of slood.   

       A concept which exists only in the consciousness of the observer and cannot be conveyed externally in effect doe not exist; therte is no wave function to collapse.   

       ( c.f. Maxwell, Schrodinger, Bohr, et al.)   

       Think of it in terms of an Event Horizon for information.
8th of 7, May 04 2011

       Who are you to decide whether a language is "unimportant"?
On the other hand, a global language would be a good thing, eventually. Of course, it's unlikely to be a language that any of us speak (it will be a while coming, and languages evolve).
neutrinos_shadow, May 05 2011

       Tried that already with Esperanto.
rcarty, May 05 2011

       No no, Esperanto was an attempt to 'force' an artifical global language. As I said, languages evolve. Any global language will just happen, it cannot be forced to exist.
Already, many people know multiple languages (particularly in Europe and Asia - the English speaking parts of the world are mostly a bit self-centred, in that learning a second language is not a 'normal' thing); there will come a time when most people speak at least 2, and some time after that it will become evident that nearly everyone speaks a particular language in common (it may be their main language, may be a secondary). As the world shrinks (modern communication technolgy and travel) the 'common' language will get used more and more, and the 'local' language will recede further from use. I think there will always be 'local' slang/dialect/pronounciation, but global language is almost inevitable, if we want to progress as a species (global co-operation on big projects, etc).

Ahem, sorry for minor rant-iness...
neutrinos_shadow, May 05 2011

       // Already, many people know multiple languages //   

       I think that used to be the norm. In Papua, most people are bilingual because most languages are very local and groups need to communicate with each other. I reckon Palaeolithic people were usually in that situation.   

       Concerning Esperanto, i can't resist the observation that due to how it works, "neutrino" means "female eunuch".
nineteenthly, May 05 2011

       Are you quite sure you weren't in wales? It sounds horribly familiar.
8th of 7, May 05 2011

       OK Ian, thanks for that, contradicts what i'd heard and leads me to wonder how typical that situation is long-term, i.e. clearly true in Papua and shows the perils of not being able to check stuff out directly.
nineteenthly, May 05 2011

       "Oh, it's hard to say
Oly-ma- kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi...."
MaxwellBuchanan, May 05 2011

       // The discrete villages traditionally don’t understand each other, are afraid of each other, and every now and then, are compelled to fight each other.//   

       This is not helped by the fact that "Bapang! Kemetumaka n'petineme pan-pan kerusai." means "Good afternoon! We have come to admire your beautiful garden" in Ma (the language used in much of Madang), but means "No shit! Your father fucks wall-lizards." to a neighbouring speaker of Nimboran.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 05 2011

       The phrase "more and bloodier wars" has begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing my mind.
nineteenthly, May 05 2011

       A traverse which requires pitons.
lurch, May 05 2011

       Well, it might as well try. It's not got far to go.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 05 2011

       "One small step for a man, one giant leap for a woman …   

       <dives behind sandbags>
8th of 7, May 05 2011

       <becomes the first semisentient being ever to have been beaten up by sandbags>
MaxwellBuchanan, May 05 2011

       <Lady Bracknell>   

       A… SANDBAG…?   

       </Lady Bracknell>
8th of 7, May 05 2011

       Well, the women would be going considerably further than the men, wouldn't they?
nineteenthly, May 06 2011

       Well, if you think about the role of mirror neurons and that of neural interconnectedness, and where they both fit in gender-stereotyping, then maybe the "small step" and the "giant leap" are the wrong way around. One gender might be expected to take a large number of small steps, not necessarily in the same direction. The other, to take fewer, longer steps with less variation. Imagine a team of triple-jumpers crossing a hall where a cha-cha class is in progress.
pertinax, May 15 2011

       I was referring to Venus.
nineteenthly, May 15 2011


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