Philosophical language

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A philosophical language (often abbreviated to philolang) is any constructed language whose syntax, morphology, and/or lexicon is based on philosophical principles regarding the relationship of symbol and meaning. The may often claim to bring to light some fundamental underlying philosophical truth, or to organize the world according to a philosophical taxonomy of things and ideas. The latter is the more frequently associated with the idea of philosophical languages, sometimes also called a taxonomic language. Philosophical languages enjoyed the height of their popularity during the scientific revolution of the XVII and XVIII centuries, in which they were often proposed as universal languages, mostly developed by thinkers, philosophers and mathematicians in an attempt to heal the "wound of Babel" and the disparity of tongues.

Examples of famous philosophical languages of the latter include Wilkin's philosophical language, Dalgarno's Lingua Philosophica and Leibniz' Characteristica universalis. Examples taking a more philosophical approach include Ro, Toki Pona and Láadan.

The older philosophical languages follow this taxonomic principle; words are often constructed of one-character morphemes that are stacked together to form a definition of the term itself. An example from John Wilkins' own Real Character:

For instance if (De) signifie Element, then (Deb) must signifie the first difference; which (according to the Tables) is Fire: and (Debα) will denote the first Species, which is Flame. (Det) will be the fifth difference under that Genus, which is, Appearing meteor; (Detα) the first Species, viz. Rainbow; (Deta) the second, viz. Halo.

This characteristic is reminiscent of real world polysynthetic languages, but taken to an extreme in what is termed "oligosynthesis". True oligosynthesis is only theoretical and regarded by some linguists as impractical for productive use by humans.

More modern philosophical languages are predicated on a philosophical ideal or concept and not necessarily a taxonomic categorization. For example, Toki Pona is based on minimalism, having a small number of set concepts and morphemes which it can then expand on by combining them. Láadan, on the other hand, is designed to better represent the linguistic needs of women. Even Esperanto can be said to contain a small philosophical component in how it only lexicalizes "positive adjectives", and "negative" ones can only be formed by way of a prefix, forcing one to always think first on the positive one. What one considers an adjective positive or negative is the philosophical component.


See also