04 August 2007

Sir Thomas Urquhart's Logopandecteision of 1653

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation]

The object is 'to appropriate the words of the universal language with the things of the universe'. Only a 'Grammatical Arithmetician' . . . will bring about this indispensable accord. Urquhart's interlingua contains eleven genders and ten cases besides the nominative. Yet the entire edifice is built on 'but two hundred and fifty prime radices upon which all the rest are branches'. Its alphabet counts ten vowels, which also serve as digits, and twenty-five consonants; together these articulate all sounds of which the vocal organs of man are capable. This alphabet is a powerful means of arithmetical logic: 'What rational Logarithms do by writing, this language doth by heart; and by adding of letters, shall multiply numbers; which is a most exquisite secret.' The number of syllables in a word, moreover, is proportionate to the number of its significations. Urquhart kept his 'exquisite secret' but the anticipation of his claim on modern symbolic logic and computer languages is striking. As is Urquhart's assurance that the phonetic and syntactic rules of his 'universal character' have inherent mnemonic advantages. A child, he says, will acquire fluency in the new speech with little effort because the structure of the idiom in fact reproduces and reenacts the natural articulations of thought.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

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