Thoya, the philosopher's conlang
UPDATE: I've archived this project, because I realized it's impossible for 1 philosopher to design a good language for general-purpose human communication. To really achieve its goals, this project would have to be undertaken by a team of linguists and philosophers with diverse experience and constant real-world testing. I leave here my attempt at the project for public viewing and inspiration.
The phenome and alphabet
The goal is that you should be able to learn the language mostly just by reading the dictionary, but a few concepts get dedicated articles:
Passive and reflexive verbs
The tense system
Demonstrative- and quantifier-type compounds
Articles that aren't strictly about learning the language:
Design insight: the tradeoffs of parts of speech
The phonetic mapping: each sound's ideographic profile as I perceive them
So, here are the reasons why the world needs this so badly, and why Esperanto or others won't do.
The language you speak has an enormous impact on the way you think, and likewise the language a society speaks has an enormous impact on its culture. I'd go as far as to say *most* prevalent harmful ideas can be traced to our languages suggesting them (note that most of these points apply to most or all natural languages):
- Generic "good". "Good" refers to many completely different concepts, such as morality, pleasure, and skill. (The related words "should" and "must" can also refer to probability.) The conflation of morality and pleasure doesn't just obscure the other moral values, it lets people write things like the tvtropes turn-the-other-cheek propaganda piece "PayEvilUntoEvil" and people can get behind the garbage. Making such wrong and destructive ideas sound persuasive would be much harder if morality and pleasure weren't named the same thing.
The other moral values
- Synonyms facilitate circular reasoning. When there are many ways to communicate the same thing, it's easy to see a difference where there isn't one, and people can make statements of the form "X is right because X is right" persuasively by calling X two different things. Even honest people who were raised with bad ideas can do this unintentionally.
- Commands. Commands as a language construct allow you to pressure someone to do something without distinguishing between: you think they morally ought to, you think it's in their interests, or you just want them to. Commands have a lot of harmful psychological power because of this.
- Conflating causation and deduction. The word *because* communicates both the causal relationship of events and logical deductions. "Because X happened, Y happened" and "Because X is true, Y is true". And I have definitely seen people abuse this confusion to create bizarre sophistry like a time I argued with a metaphysical materialist and he argued that all of my arguments were appeal to consequence fallacy because I was refuting his ideas by showing that they entailed untenable consequences.
- Emotion vocabulary is useless. We have several dozen words for emotions, and most of them are poorly defined or conflate multiples, which breeds a culture of not understanding how people work. We need this vocabulary section to be devised by someone who really understands human emotions. And that's not me yet, but it will be eventually.
Esperanto doesn't address most of these problems.
Ease of learning
It would be a massive benefit if children learned to communicate faster. One reason is that they could learn other things and mature faster, but a more important one is that sophisticated communication is important leverage for being treated as a person. Hence children and animals being the two most oppressed groups.
General design philosophy
- As much as possible, have a one-to-one mapping of concepts to lexical constructs. If two sentences use the same concept, they should use the same grammar; for example "You should do X" and "It's okay to do X" are both making statements about morality so the sentence shouldn't need to be restructured. It should only need to switch out "should".
Another example is causation. English says "I made X do Y", but Thoya says "I caused that X do Y". Thoya's grammar is more intuitive and flexible - sometimes in English when the make-verb construction doesn't seem to cut it we say something like "I made it so ..." which sounds a little awkward. Thoya's grammar works everywhere.
- Speed is important, and so we should use our phenome thoroughly. Probably most one-syllable words should be words, and most two-syllables. The most common words should be the shortest. Three-syllable words should be a rare exception. Part of the reason speed is so important, besides the obvious, is that if the language is slow then people will be motivated to take shortcuts that fudge their meaning, which harms philosophical accuracy. I certainly do that every day even in English (which is by far the fastest of the languages I know).
- No homophones. Of course there'll be no single-word homophones, but I also want to minimize "multi-word homophones", where all the *individual* words are unique but two words in a row can sound the same as an unfortunate third word. Thoya also doesn't have any words distinguished only by voicing, because that distinction is lost in whispering.
- Intuitive vocabulary. See the phonetic mapping linked above; in short phonemes are associated with certain concepts, and if you know these associations, the vocabulary is more intuitive. Words that are opposites usually have the same structure and just switch one or more of the sounds for "opposite" sounds (for example i/u, e/o).
- Beauty. Thoya should be beautiful. This will make it not only enjoyable to use, but more enticing to learn. (Phonetic appeal was one of the things to drew me to Japanese.) We should avoid having words that are likely to be used in sequence sound ugly together.
Obviously these goals clash often and it's not always clear how to prioritizing them, but I tried to list them in order of descending importance.
Broad concrete choices
- No plural. The difference between one and two is not special and does not deserve to be treated differently from the difference between two and three. Number is unspecified by default because it's often not essential to the intended meaning of your statement; how many times have you had to write '(s)' after a word so it applies to both singular and plural? We have words like many and several, and might add a one-syllable word for "two or more", and the use of this or "one" before stuff won't sound unnatural because we'll be used to it being standard whenever the number actually matters.
- No distinction between nouns and adjectives. Substantive adjectives or placeholder words are used quite often in English: "the poor", "the green one", et cetera. In Thoya any adjective can be used this way by default and it won't need a noun like "one" in that second example. Note that while "the poor" works well, if you don't want to use "the" you need a noun like so: "poor people". You shouldn't have to say "people".
Basically there are "entity words" or descriptors in Thoya that just pile together to describe an entity. The entity has whatever traits the descriptors specify.
- SVO word order (subject-verb-object), like in English. SVO is the best word order because the verb is a different part of speech so it makes sense to use that as a natural divider between subject and object.
- No affixes. Pretty much all words in Thoya are standalone; things like tense and the -tion conversion are accomplished with separate words. The distinction is somewhat meaningless, but I think it helps clarity to write them with a space so that they can't be mistaken for a different word. Secondly, in languages that use suffixes for type conversions and stuff, they usually end up needing exceptions for words where the regular pattern sounds too ugly to be used or is hard to pronounce. I think making them technically detached words helps avoid this (it affects how we accent the word intuitively).
- Japanese-like context inference. You're supposed to leave out as much of a sentence as possible if it can be inferred from context. English does this a little bit: "Tried. Didn't work." instead of "I tried. It didn't work.", but in Thoya (and Japanese) this is done much more liberally and not only in casual speech.
Adjectives before or after nouns?
Although I don't plan to grammatically distinguish the two I think we should still have a custom for it. If there's a custom then whether the custom is followed can be used to convey additional information, such as reversing the order being used to emphasize.
I've developed the de facto standard of adjectives-first, but I'm open to having my mind changed.