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Excerpts from Uncleftish Beholding
Healthy Disrespect for Authority
> Hierarchical Language
The Basic Idea
SpeedtalkHere's a description of an imaginary language from the Robert Heinlein story Gulf. I consider this a perfect example of science fiction as a literature of ideas. Not only does it transmit the idea of inventing a language (with a few variations that make it different than, say, Esperanto), it also hints at the idea of a hierarchical language and the distinction between words and reality. And that's just a small part of the story—it's mainly focused on the idea of the genetic superman.
Anyway, here's the part about the imaginary language.
Long before, Ogden and Richards had shown that eight hundred and fifty words were sufficient vocabulary to express anything that could be expressed by “normal” human vocabularies, with the aid of a handful of special words—a hundred odd—for each special field, such as horse racing or ballistics. About the same time phoneticians had analyzed all human tongues into about a hundred-odd sounds, represented by the letters of a general phonetic alphabet.
It's not stated explicitly, but I think it's a small step from the idea of numbered words to the idea that the sequence of digits might be a hierarchy, with, say, the first digit indicating the appropriate special field.
For more about vocabulary, see How Many Words?.
Finally, here are the few good bits about words and reality.
The world—the continuum known to science and including all human activity—does not contain “noun things” and “verb things”; …
@ January (2001)