Fifteenth- to Nineteenth-Century Language Inventions

  • Sarah L. Higley
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Since the advent of printing, language experiments have been easier to make public. The exuberance with which neologisms were being penned in England by the ynkhorn writers testifies to the success of the printing press in making closeted pursuits more available to readers. The rest of this book must include medium in its discussion of glossopoeia— whether chirographic, printed, seen in a shewstone, written in a memoir, induced in a séance and recorded on a phonograph, enacted in person, or published on the Internet. The following invented languages are satiric, heretical, divinatory, faked, “channeled,” and playful. They illustrate various dimensions, aided by their media, of the serious and the ludic, the secret and the plain.


Printing Press Latin Translation Dissociative Identity Disorder Divine Power Supernatural Explanation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffrey, Imagining Language: An Anthology (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1998), p. 137.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a lively examination of invented languages in science fiction, see Walter Early Meyers, Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A specimen of Alexarchus’s language is preserved by Athenaeus in his Deipnosophistae (3.98d—e); Peter Green compares it to Nadsat, the mishmash language in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990], pp. 395).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thomas More, The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963–1997), p. 180.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., p. 18. The translation given on the facing page is over-embeUished and so 1 provide my own. 1 have also rearranged the lines into a true “tetrasti-chon,” as the texts claims it to be and as it is portrayed in other editions.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Sylvestre de Sacy, “Kitab asl al-maqasid wa fasi al marasid: Le Capital des objects recherchés et le chapitre des chose attendues; ou Dictionnaire de l’idiome Balaibalan.” Notices et extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque impériale et autres bibliothèques, 9 (1813): 365—396.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Alessandro Bausani, Le Lingue Inventate: Linguaggi artificiale, linguaggi segreti, linguaggi universali (Rome: Ubaldini Editore, 1974), pp. 89—96; see also his article “About a Curious, Mystical Language: Bala i-Balan.” East and West 4.4 (1954): 234–238.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Qtd. by ibid., pp. 88, 89, 92.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p. 88.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    hiber âivinorum operum, I.iv.105, ed. Albert Derolez and Peter Dronke, CCCM vol. 42 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), p. 251: “Quia cum sonante voce oinnes creaturas suscitauit.”Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Ibid., p. 255.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Deborah E. Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 85, 89.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    The Voynich Manuscript is so called because it was brought to light by a nineteenth-century Lithuanian scholar Wilfred Voynich who described it in detail. Its date is disputed, and suggestions range from the late thirteenth to late sixteenth century. It contains botanical, astrological, and scientific drawings—pictures of flowers and tubes of water fJled with naked women—but its outstanding feature is the writing no one can decipher. The “letters” have been assigned Roman characters to ease the process of interpretation, but it is not known whether they spell out a natural language, an invented one, or a code that represents the sounds of individual letters in a word. The “sentences” obey certain laws, but many of them are strings of repeated phrases. There have been many examinations in print and on the Internet, but perhaps the most comprehensive one is that by Mary d’mperio, The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma (Laguna HiUs, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1978). Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill’s recent study. The Voynich Manuscript: The Unsolved Riddles of an Extraordinary Book Which Has Defied Interpretation fior Centuries (London: Orion Books, 2004), summarizes and reflects upon the most prominent theories, even comparing it to Hildegard’s Lingua, along with her illuminations. There are some weaknesses in this comparison, obviously, but the text is one of the most mysterious ciphers—or invented languages—known to us.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Aryeh Kaplan, Sefier Yetzirah: The Book ofi Creation in Theory and Practice (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1997), p. 23.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Ibid., p. xi.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    John Dee, Claves Angelicae, Sloane MS 3189; reproduced in Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary ofi the Angelic Language as Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley, ed. trans. (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1978, 1994), pp. 247–267.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Richard Deacon, John Dee: Scientist, Geographer, Astrologer, and Secret Agent to Elizabeth I (London: Frederick MuUer, 1968), pp. 150–151.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Geoflrey James, The Enochian Evocation ofiDr.John Dee (Gilette, New Jersey: Heptangle Books, 1984), p. xxi.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    No longer convinced that the original language of Adam could be discovered, the precursors to the creators of Volapiik, Esperanto, Novial, and other contemporary International Auxilliary Languages decided to return speech to a refurbished pre-Babelian state, purged of its arbitrary nature, and words made to reflect their positions within a great taxonomy of signification. This movement, best reflected by John Wilkins’ Essay Towards A Real Character and Philosophical Language (1668), is well-covered by various scholars, especially by Umberto Eco (The Search for the Perfect Language, trans. James Fentriss [Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997]). I have no room to discuss its vast dimensions, especially since this study focuses on personal languages.Google Scholar
  20. 30.
    See Michael Keevak’s recent study: The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), pp. 1–16.Google Scholar
  21. 31.
    See John Matthew Gutch, Caraboo: A Narrative of a Singular Imposition, Practiced upon the Benevolence of a Lady Residing in the Vicinity of the City of Bristol, By a Young Woman of the Name of Mary Willcocks, alias Baker, alias Bakerstendht, alias Caraboo, Princess ofjavasu (London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1817). See also Debbie Lee, “The Governor and the Princess,” chapter four of her book Romantic Liars: Obscure Women Who Became Imposters and Challenged an Empire (New York: Palgrave-MacmiUan, 2006), pp. 139—200.Google Scholar
  22. 36.
    Thomas Reisner, “Tongue with a Tang: Survey of an 18th-Century Pseudo-Language, “Langues et linguistiques 19 (1993): 192; qtd Keevak, The Pretended Asian, p. 74. [187–203].Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    See Karma Lochrie’s chapter entitled “Tongues Wagging,” which observes the connection between women’s dangerous gossip and the exposure of privacy (Covert Operations: The Medieval Uses of Secrecy [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999], pp. 56–92). Medieval clerical misogyny made much of woman’s damaging speech.Google Scholar
  24. 42.
    Théodore Floumoy, From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages, ed. Sonu Shamdasani (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), based on Daniel B. Vemiilye, ed. trans. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1900). My source is the original French, with introduction and commentary by Marina Yaguello and Mireille Cifíli (Des Indes a la planète Mars [Pans: Seuü, 1983]).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah L. Higley 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah L. Higley

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations