Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 18

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues.


Jean Perdrizet (French; 1907-75) is one of the many eccentric thinkers featured in the very interesting current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London on non-mainstream ideas about many subjects ( An excellent book is available to purchase if you can’t make the show itself; the article on Perdrizet (pp. 116-120) is by Eimear Martin.

Perdrizet was an inventor of speculative machines; many of his diagrams but none of his prototypes survive. He was interested in linguistics (among many other subjects), and more specfifucally he was very concerned with communication, especially by/with spirits, ‘robots on the moon’, Martians, etc. (Compare artificial languages such as aUI and Lincos aimed in part at communicating with extraterrestrials. Perdrizet was aware of some such proposals, notably Flournoy’s ‘Martian’ and Loglan.)

Whatever the arguable merits of some of his specific proposals, it has to be said at the outset that Perdrizet’s thinking about language appears conceptually confused. Notably, his ‘language’ Sidereal Esperanto is said to be modelled not only on Esperanto (the well-known alphabetically-written invented LANGUAGE) but also on Initial Teaching Alphabet, a 1960s alphabetic SCRIPT specifically intended by its author James Pitman to represent [certain accents of] British English.

However, Sidereal Esperanto is itself written logographically (one symbol per word or morpheme, as in Chinese) or ideographically, NOT alphabetically, and indeed (by intention) pictographically, with 92 symbols. These symbols are drawn as far as possible from those available on French typewriters, but they are not used alphabetically or indeed phonologically (it is not clear how they would be pronounced). They are chosen to represent specific ‘thoughts’, because the letter-forms supposedly suggest those thoughts and because Perdrizet believed that thinking is predominantly visual. For example, the ampersand (&) signifies the notion ‘knot’; M denotes ‘walking’ (it resembles legs in motion); C represents ‘hook’; etc. In some cases the link between form and meaning is rather abstract, as in the choice of lower case J to represent ‘date in time’ (it supposedly represents a point on a time-line), or is simply obscure. And some of the symbols used are, predictably, mainly used in French, such as the cedilla which ‘softens’ a C in order for it to represent /s/ rather than /k/ before a back vowel.

Perdrizet’s ideas are often intriguing but would benefit from collaboration with linguists.

For my own book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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