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> The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

Here's a quotation from The Analytical Language of John Wilkins. Most of it is from Selected Non-Fictions, but I took the second half of the last paragraph (after the dots) from Borges - Quotations, because I liked that translation better.

Descartes, in a letter dated November 1619, proposed the creation of a similar, general language that would organize and contain all human thought. Around 1664, John Wilkins undertook that task.

He divided the universe into forty categories or classes, which were then subdivided into differences, and subdivided in turn into species. To each class he assigned a monosyllable of two letters; to each difference, a consonant; to each species, a vowel. For example, de means element; deb, the first of the elements, fire; deba, a portion of the element of fire, a flame.


Having defined Wilkins' procedure, we must examine a problem that is impossible or difficult to postpone: the merit of the forty-part table on which the language is based. Let us consider the eighth category: stones. Wilkins divides them into common (flint, gravel, slate); moderate (marble, amber, coral); precious (pearl, opal); transparent (amethyst, sapphire); and insoluble (coal, fuller's earth, and arsenic). The ninth category is almost as alarming as the eighth. These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.


  See Also

  Classification of Functions
  De-Sentimentalization (1)
  Other Hierarchies
  Some Thoughts

@ January (2001)