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Constructed Languages





In much the same way Hollywood has figured out the so-called "foreign" box office can be extremely lucrative, the software world has begun to clue in that there's a huge market overseas for software produced in North America. For example, roughly 50% of IBM's revenue comes from international sales.


While movie go'ers might sit still for a dubbed Harrison Ford shouting "lochen Sie es, Chewie", computer users won't tolerate productivity software that can't handle different currency and date formats.


A movement catching on in the software world is "Internationalization." The Internationalization movement is developing standards that make it easier for programmers to create and maintain applications that can handle a large number of regional differences and languages.



After a night of coding, there's something appealing about running over cubicles, shouting "Qu'vatlh" and whacking at each other with padded "betleHs".



Bear in mind, no one in the software world actually calls it "Internationalization." Programmers really hate typing. The movement is known better as "I18N". "I18N" means simply "Internationalization" with 18 of the bothersome internal letters removed.


A big part of I18N is incorporating a new character code that can comfortably represent every alphabet in the world. The current standard character code is ASCII. ASCII has been around since the days when computers used 8-bit chips. An 8-bit character code can represent 256 distinct characters. ASCII provides enough "slots" for English and French characters but if you want Korean (Hangul) or Hebrew characters, you're out of luck.


Computers today use 32-bit chips. To take advantage of this expanded architecture, programmers are incorporating a thing called "Unicode" into applications. Unicode is a 16-bit code which allows 38,885 distinct characters. Unicode provides more than enough "slots" for most of the world's alphabets.


Programmers like Unicode because it provides lots of room for expansion. One would have to invent thousands of new languages to fill up Unicode's "character space."


Strangely enough, programmers are working on just that, adding made up or "constructed languages" to a slice of the Unicode "spectrum" reserved for such nuttiness.


The best known constructed language is Esperanto, a lingua franca devised back in 1887. Esperanto has a bit too much of a diplomatic air to it, however. Drinking brandy, wearing waistcoats, and discussing European union isn't really all that appealing to the technically inclined. What really fires the imaginations of techies is Klingonese. After a night of coding and drinking Jolt cola, there's something appealing about running between and over cubicles, shouting "Qu'vatlh" (a Klingon curse), and whacking at each other with padded "betleHs" (a Klingon battle axe).


Klingonese was constructed for the film Star Trek III in 1984. Over the last 14 years, the number of speakers has increased "logarithmically," according to its inventor, linguist Marc Okrand.


The Klingon Language Institute was founded in 1992 to help train future generations of warriors/system analysts. In 1996, Klingonese was the first constructed language to have its character set added to the Unicode registry. Since 1996, numerous other invented character sets have been proposed, including J. R. R. Tolkien's Tengwar script and "Suess", a constructed language created by Dr. Suess for his book On Beyond Zebra.


There's fairly lengthy index of other constructed languages at http://www.spacelab.net/~dbell/conlangs.htm. Some of them have pretty exotic names like "Dutton Speedwords" (a verbal shorthand) and "AllNoun" (a language that contains only nouns).


If you're not satisfied with any of the languages found at the index, point your browser to http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/7853/index.html for a list of resources that will show you how to build your own.


Finally, I have to tip my mouse pad to Nels P. Olsen, the author of the Land of the Lost page. Not only has he managed to archive a bunch of information about one of my favorite `70s Saturday morning kid shows, but Olsen has laboriously reconstructed the language and grammar of the show's furry Pakuni creatures.




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Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer

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