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New iConji Language For the Symbol-Minded Texter 195

Posted by timothy
from the dissimilar-to-not-from dept.
billdar writes "As texting evolves into its own language, a Northern Colorado Business Review article covers an ambitious project to develop a new symbol-based language called iConji for mobile texting and online chatting. 'iConji is a set of user-created 32x32-pixel symbols that represent words or ideas, not dissimilar from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics or American Sign Language.' There is an instructional video for the iPhone app and it is also integrated into Facebook." Behind this project is Kai Staats, formerly CEO of Terra Soft Solutions, the original developer of Yellow Dog Linux.
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New iConji Language For the Symbol-Minded Texter

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  • 3000BC called... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fph il quozientatore (971015) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:04AM (#32312792) Homepage
    3000BC called... they want their idea back!
    • No we don't even need to go that far back... Here is a simpler idea... Chinese, Japanese anyone? Why invent a new language when we just need to learn those languages and all of our problems will be solved...

      • Is there an Esperanto App? Some ideas' time will never come.

        • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:52AM (#32312968) Homepage Journal

          The problem with Esperanto is that it is European in focus, while iConji may appeal more to people in Asia.

          • iConji is western/European too. In Asia they already have one of these, and a billion people know how to use it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by phoenix321 (734987) *

            1 billion people in Asia are perfectly capable of reading and writing "Chinese simplified".
            Then there's several million people in Macao, Singapore, Taiwan that can read and write "Chinese traditional"
            Another 130 million are perfectly capable of reading and writing Japanese symbols, which are "Chinese traditional" symbols plus one or two entire alphabets added.
            People capable of writing Simplified or Traditional characters don't lose their sleep when trying to read text of the other character set, it's not to

        • Esperanto is a terrible solution to international communication. The intent is good enough, but the strategy is arse backward. There's no readily availabe stream of living usage to learn it from and if you did put the effort into speaking it by the book you'd have no one to talk to anyway! Shouldn't have called it hope, really, the irony is thick....

          Seriously, what have people got against learning each others existing languages? Aren't there enough already without having to confuse the situation by inventin

          • by Rophuine (946411)
            And even if Esperanto became popular, which it won't, there would be a mad scramble to "save the traditional languages".
            • I think thats over simplifying the issue a bit though. Esperanto will never even have that much of a threat value to cause a reaction like that. I wouldn't rule out something similar to esperanto emerging on its own, but it would be far more natural and spontaneous. The large scale version of languages borrowing words from each other. Individual words being able to float above national borders and become part of a larger world, that sort of thing. It may cause the all around raising of heckles when it does

          • It's just Latin with the grammar all took out.

          • by PRMan (959735)

            As with many things, I would say that George Lucas was a visionary in Star Wars.

            In Star Wars, notice how everyone SPEAKS their own language, but everybody understands pieces of everyone else's. I took 2 years of High School Spanish and I have trouble putting a sentence together. But I can usually follow a conversation between 2 Spanish speakers no problem, even though I only know about half the words. I can infer another quarter by context, making the conversation easy to understand.

            So we shouldn't lear

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dangitman (862676)

        Chinese, Japanese anyone?

        Yes, I'll have the dim sum with a side of sashimi, thank you.

      • Re:3000BC called... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Speare (84249) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:25AM (#32313058) Homepage Journal

        Just go back to 3000 BC...

        No we don't even need to go that far back... Here is a simpler idea... Chinese, Japanese anyone?

        The beginnings of Chinese characters are at least 8000 years ago, and they modernized over the millennia, so that is going that far back. Why do you think this project has the name "iConji" (pronounced the same as "i-kanji", the Japanese word that literally means "Chinese characters")?

        • Why do you think this project has the name "iConji" (pronounced the same as "i-kanji", the Japanese word that literally means "Chinese characters")?

          It's a portmanteau of "icon" and "kanji", so it's a mix of both words.

      • I've been suggesting this for physics for years. There just aren't enough symbols between English and Greek to cover everything.
    • Re:3000BC called... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Cruise_WD (410599) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:19AM (#32313034) Homepage

      I've been saying for a while now that the last few decades have seen the devolution of language. I'm not a linguist, as I'm probably about to demonstrate, but the development of written language went (very) roughly like: pictograms -> consonants -> vowels -> punctuation

      Each level adding a bit more subtlety and complexity while reducing ambiguity.

      Computer based communication has followed this path backwards almost exactly. Punctuation was the first to suffer, followed by an increase in consonant only abbreviations, and smilies started the trend towards the final step. It looks like we've just hit rock-bottom.

      The trouble is, all the previous developments in written communication happened for good reasons, which are generally not explained, taught or understood any more.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        English is and always have been the bastard child of every other language. merging and combining new words into it. it is constantly changing. It had gone formal for several years and is now gone more open. By the end of this century it will swing back to becoming more formal.

        English does this on a regular basis.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by cyp43r (945301)
          English incorporates foreign words for foreign or new concepts just like every other language. All languages grow and develop or they wouldn't have become languages.
      • by rolfwind (528248)

        I don't think it's devolving. To me, many of these developments are closer to shorthand. People always sought to abbreviate their communications somehow, although I don't think this iConji will catch on too much.

      • I've been saying for a while now that the last few decades have seen the devolution of language.

        I agree. The Scottish and Welsh [wikipedia.org] have always talked funny. And you should see how they write. One lot use made up words like "slinkit" and "crivens", the other lot don't use any vowels.

        I'm not a linguist

        No shit?

      • People have been bitching about the downfall of their language since humans invented it.

        It wasn't but a few centuries ago that we didn't even have consistent punctuation nor did we have any real notion of paragraphs.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          It wasn't but a few centuries ago that we didn't even have consistent punctuation nor did we have any real notion of paragraphs.

          Yep, and it looks like we're going right back to that time.

          I'm thinking the English language hit its peak around 1900.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zaydana (729943)
        This post is remarkably narrow minded. Not all written languages in the world are made of symbols representing consonants and vowels, you know. In Japanese, for example, you use either Kanji (where a character has an associated meaning as well as multiple pronunciations), or kana (where each symbol is composed of a consonant as well as vowel, with a few exceptions). Or take Chinese, where each symbol has a single pronunciation, but also has a meaning attached. I'm not a linguist either by any means (I'm sur
      • by Tolkien (664315)

        Easy. It has become so natural to people, that they forget that everything has context and emphasis.
        Which would you prefer?

        Coffee back at "her" place, or "coffee" back at her place?

        Or the classic:
        I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse.
        or
        I helped my uncle jack off a horse.

    • by netsharc (195805)

      Made me think more of the future, and Idiocracy...

      "Durrr we're too dumb to spell so we'll just use icons!"

      But then again, it's less presses than using the keyboard, and maybe more universal. Although I remember reading an MSDN article about the universality of icon languages... not everybody in the world might interpret "@" as "at"...

  • 8=D

    (I'm sorry slashdot)

  • by siddesu (698447) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:07AM (#32312804)
    <nitpick>don't necessarily represent ideas or words, they actually represent sounds and are used like your alphabet is (see e.g. http://www.omniglot.com/writing/egyptian.htm [omniglot.com]). now, if those user-created symbols would function like pictograms, not dissimilar to the traditional chinesich characters we love and cherish, it'd be a totally different matter.</nitpick>
    • If by "traditional Chinese characters" you mean the first writings made on oracle bones many thousands of years ago, then perhaps they can be called pictograms. However, the modern Chinese writing system is not pictographic or ideographic and Chinese characters, far from being some kind of abstract referents to things, is tightly bound to the structure of the Chinese language. See DeFrancis' classic work The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy [amazon.com] (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984).
    • by suffe (72090) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:43AM (#32312930) Homepage Journal
      Actually, they worked in three different ways. Pictograms, sounds and determinants.

      If you were in a "hurry", had a lack of space or artistic reasons, you could just draw the symbol for bird and be done with it.

      You could also use them to describe sounds (like a modern alphabet). This would combine a few symbols into a word that could be sounded-out.

      Lastly, you could use them to simply be more clear, to help _determine_ the meaning of a word. You'd spell out the word for bird and then draw a bird (and underline the bird to distinguish it from the rest).

      Interesting sideline to all of this is that you can write with hieroglyphs from both left to right and right to left. Doesn't really matter which one you pick. If you want to read it, just keep an eye out for the birds again. The direction of their mouths indicate which way to read the text.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by plut4rch (1553209)
      If you really want to be pedantic, it's not hieroglyphics but hieroglyphs. Also, the signs can be made to represent objects/ideas instead of sounds. If you want the hieroglyphic character to represent what it looks like, one just needs to add a small determinative stroke underneath. For example 'r' can be made to mean 'mouth' just be adding a small stroke underneath the mouth shaped sign.
  • by lolbutts (1638867) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:15AM (#32312826)
    You don't need to have thousands of different glyphs available so that people can communicate. "Coffee at 4?" works fine for my uses (well, in a theoretical world where I drink coffee).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by drewhk (1744562)

      You are so uncool

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      The other cool thing is that you can easily create new words from them. Japanese newspapers have this problem. If you create a new glyph in Kanji, which is an ideographic writing system, then people don't know how to pronounce it and you don't have a good way of encoding it. It doesn't have a unique unicode representation, and even if it did most web browsers wouldn't have a font installed that had the correct glyph, so you can't use it online. In contrast, phonographic alphabetic writing systems provid
      • by snowgirl (978879)

        you'll often see English words in the middle of Chinese writing because there is no ideographic equivalents.

        No, usually it is because they are names.

        And what's the matter? "electric talk" isn't clearly enough "telephone"? or "far seeing thing" isn't clearly enough a "television"?

        Inventing the word "skupplenap" for your new invention isn't nearly as likely as naming it something that has some amount of meaning.

        • by lennier (44736)

          Inventing the word "skupplenap" for your new invention isn't nearly as likely as naming it something that has some amount of meaning.

          And yet you're writing this on a blog called Slashdot, while you Google...

          • by snowgirl (978879)

            Inventing the word "skupplenap" for your new invention isn't nearly as likely as naming it something that has some amount of meaning.

            And yet you're writing this on a blog called Slashdot, while you Google...

            "Slashdot" is composed of two words, each with independent meaning.

            "Google" is your closer argument, however it was intended to be the same as "Googol", or 10^100. The original term does appear to have been invented seemingly from thin air.

            However, I didn't argue that this never happened, but rather that inventing new terms from juxtaposing other terms is more common.

            Human language, much like the genome, doesn't tend to spontaneously generate new words out of the air. Rather, the vast amount are from muta

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:20AM (#32312854) Homepage Journal

    the product itself is not open source; the code is proprietary. Symbols representing commercial products are verboten without a license, allowing iConji to remain free for users by generating revenue for commercial symbols. Companies would pay a nominal fee every time their symbol is used, and in return, would be able to know where and when people were discussing the product.

    Okay so McDonalds will pay to have a unique symbol in the language and in return they get data on when and how people use it. So if I copy that symbol and write a free implementation I am presumably violating copyright.

    • by ColaMan (37550) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:53AM (#32313174) Homepage Journal

      Okay so McDonalds will pay to have a unique symbol in the language and in return they get data on when and how people use it.

      Wait. A few questions:

      - So if there is no symbol for a certain brand already licensed in the system, how do you, as a user, discuss it?

      - What if I am a company that iConji disagrees with for some tedious moral/administrative reason and refuses to licence me? Could be double-plus ungood.

      - What if the 'nominal fee' for my suddenly wildly-popular product is too much for me to bear or becomes irritating? Can I remove the symbol from usage? Does iConji come after me with hired goons for the cash?

      - What if some other company licenses *my* symbol and uses it to track their efforts to dethrone me? Can I petition to get the symbol transferred to me?

      - What if some other company licenses some sort of disparaging symbol to describe my fine product. Can I petition to get the symbol removed? Can I hire uber-lawyers and grind iConji into dust if they disagree?

      All these questions will be running through the minds of company lawyers everywhere as soon as they hear of this.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        - So if there is no symbol for a certain brand already licensed in the system, how do you, as a user, discuss it?

        you can always discuss the house of the venerable and inscrutable colonel.

      • by snowgirl (978879)

        - So if there is no symbol for a certain brand already licensed in the system, how do you, as a user, discuss it?

        You use some transliteration. So for say a particular burger joint, you would use a symbol starting with M, then C, then D. The symbols chosen also attempting to portray some additional subtext. Like, say... "Meat Cheese Dog".

  • "It's that simple" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ewrong (1053160) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:36AM (#32312900)

    She announces gleefully after spending nearly 2 minutes flicking through tabs and scrolling through mountains of icons to enter a message that would take most people a few seconds to type normally.

    Dumbest idea I've seen in a long time.

  • Captain Blood called (Score:3, Informative)

    by Myoukochou (1817718) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:54AM (#32312980)
    Captain Blood called, and he wants his UPCOM back. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Blood_(video_game) [wikipedia.org] This is an utterly terrible idea, however, as you can type way, way faster on, say, an iPhone than you could ever select symbols from a list. I mean, a bunch of custom smilies is what this is, and a bunch of them are commercial. This is highly likely not to take off. (Also, where’s the Android app?)
    • by snowgirl (978879)

      Captain Blood called, and he wants his UPCOM back. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Blood_(video_game) [wikipedia.org]

      This is an utterly terrible idea, however, as you can type way, way faster on, say, an iPhone than you could ever select symbols from a list. I mean, a bunch of custom smilies is what this is, and a bunch of them are commercial. This is highly likely not to take off.

      (Also, where’s the Android app?)

      Forget just the Android app... where is the freaking link-in to use it with Facebook?

      If these iConji aren't around commonly, it will actually be harder for people to read than just the words... and heaven help you if you're dyslexic.

  • Blissymbolics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vintermann (400722) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:58AM (#32312990) Homepage

    It could maybe become useful to some degree. If you can make people think of it as a game, a challenge, maybe it will develop to the point that it will be useful. People love the artificially constrained communication of Twitter, so why not?

    Yet, I would advise the initiators to read the sad story of Blissymbolics. I wanted to link to wikipedia, but they don't tell it (in fact they tell an extremely sanitized story!) It's recounted in other places, such as Arika Orkent's book "In the land of invented languages".

    In brief, Bliss wanted to create an internationally intuitive symbol language, suitable for full communication. That didn't work, but by chance, a centre working with CP children came across it. These are children who have normal intelligence, but extremely few ways of expressing themselves. They were also too young to have learned to read, so they couldn't slowly spell out what they want a la Hawkins. Instead they used Bliss' symbols as a sort of rebus: One kid who wanted to go as a vampire on halloween pointed to the signs for "dark", "man", "blood", "mouth" etc.

    Bliss was at first overjoyed. Then he was furious, because he found out the teachers (and the kids) used it "wrong", not according to the rules he'd set up. He threatened to sue. Eventually they were forced to settle, for a large sum. So in essence he stole money from handicapped children, but had to give up his dream of an international symbol language.

    • Bliss was at first overjoyed. Then he was furious, because he found out the teachers (and the kids) used it "wrong", not according to the rules he'd set up. He threatened to sue. Eventually they were forced to settle, for a large sum. So in essence he stole money from handicapped children,

      Thus proving once and for all that ignorance is not Bliss.

      • by snowgirl (978879)

        Bliss was at first overjoyed. Then he was furious, because he found out the teachers (and the kids) used it "wrong", not according to the rules he'd set up. He threatened to sue. Eventually they were forced to settle, for a large sum. So in essence he stole money from handicapped children,

        Thus proving once and for all that ignorance is not Bliss.

        I thought the moral was that Bliss is ignorant...

    • by lennier (44736)

      Instead they used Bliss' symbols as a sort of rebus: One kid who wanted to go as a vampire on halloween pointed to the signs for "dark", "man", "blood", "mouth" etc.

      And that's why George Orwell was wrong about Newspeak in 1984. Human intelligence always finds a way to creatively extend any broken symbol-system into a true language, and that's a good thing.

      It's also why I'm very frustrated by the current trend in GUIs away from generativity and towards locked-down task-based interfaces. Icons in themselves aren't necessarily brain-damaging, but if you don't let people mix and combine them, then they become something much less than a language when they could be so much m

  • The name seems to be a portmanteau of "icon" and "kanji," or perhaps just "icon" and "ji," which is Japanese for "character." That's the first thing that came to mind when I read the name... small, discrete symbols that represent a concept.
  • I like the idea very much, having had similar ideas myself some years ago to bridge the gap of communicating with people whose languages I don't know. The problem is that the grammar of different languages can be different enough to make direct transcription using these symbols more difficult than simply using Google's translate or a dictionary (or even learning the basics of the language itself).

    For example: The basic word order in English is Subject Verb Object. In Turkish, it is Subject Object Verb. So,

  • keeping your parents confused about what you're s^Htexting.
  • Privacy issues? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alef (605149) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:44AM (#32313148)
    From the FAQ on their site:

    Q: Do my iConjisations get stored somewhere?
    Yes, in the iConji database which is housed in a secure environment on one or more servers.

    If this means that all conversations are recorded and stored by iConji when you use their apps, it is without any doubt a deal breaker for me.

    • by Xarius (691264)

      I'm pretty sure my mobile network stores all SMS messages I send though... (P.S I think iConji is a dreadful idea.)

  • destined to fail? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ascari (1400977) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:51AM (#32313170)

    The successful "techno-social" languages seem to emerge spontaneously in response to real needs. (Think of things like twitter's @ syntax, the web's emoticons, IRC's one letter words, even 1337-speak etc.) The very fact that this language is the fruit of an "ambitious project" to meet a need merely postulated suggests that it's destined for a life in obscurity. Nobody will bother to learn it.

    • In other words: If we would need it, it would already have been invented. (...shortly after the first SMS in 1992, not now at the end of phones just having the default numeric keypad.)

  • There doesn't appear to be any sexting icons. How can they expect this to catch on? ch'uh

  • hieroglyphics (Score:2, Informative)

    by paulatz (744216)

    the article (and its summary here on slashdot) states:

    symbols that represent words or ideas, not dissimilar from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics

    unfortunately hieroglyphics compose a phonetic alphabet, not dissimilar from the roman or the cyrillic ones, with only a few ideograms for very common names. The idea that hieroglyphics are a graphical alphabet was very popular before the 1820s, when this writing started to be deciphered; archaeologists went as far as providing colourful "translations" from the gr

  • Am I the only one here surprised that vectorized symbols are not encouraged, or required?

    Sure, they can be retraced later, when someone needs the free-res version. But in 2010, isn't Vector-fonts kindof de-facto?

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashd[ ]org ['ot.' in gap]> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:07AM (#32313534)

    What are they inventing this NOW for? It could have been useful back in 1992. But nowadays phones have full keyboards or touch screens, and the older methods (e.g. T9) die quickly.

    But considering how they practically re-“invent” hieroglyphs, I will await their coming re-invention of another very old idea: The wheel!

  • ...to a problem that doesn't exist. Esperanto anyone? They'd have more luck if they'd implemented Tolkien's Dwarven Runes.
    • by yotto (590067)

      They'd have more luck if they'd implemented Tolkien's Dwarven Runes.

      At least some people are already conversant in THAT language.

  • The most beautiful iconic language ever designed. Unfortunately, it didn't catch up. A quick intro [tugraz.at]. The official page (it's an authentic webpage from 1994, be indulgent with the formating!) [www.khm.de].

  • and just as useful

    in a couple of years, google voice & google translate will do the heavy lifting anyway.
  • by Hognoxious (631665)
    Apparently, my comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. I'm going to try less whitespace and/or less repetition. who'sd have thought that my comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter? What the joe heck is a "postercomment" compression filter anyway?

    Will this fit in 32 x 32?

    res ipsem XXXXX
    loqauatur xx xx
    xyXXX;x
    x x
    x
    • by Dracker (1323355)
      The filter exists because ASCII art is unwanted on Slashdot. Congratulations getting your art through. That doesn't mean it's wanted, and it's certainly not "OB" as your subject says. You could have just typed "A picture of a middle finger" much more easily, and of course that will fit into 32x32.
  • I feel like this [courageunfettered.com] is painfully apropos.

  • Is the app written in APL or Lisp?
  • You cannot make parts of a language itself commercial, which is why this is bullshit. Or let's be nice and call it a bastard marketing ploy. How do you know McDonalds did not fund this project? Wet dream of advertising agencies. Control how you think, etc. So you may get icons for fries andshampoo, and Wella, and McDonalds, before you get enough icons to complete the language.

    The only way this will succeed is if it is hijacked.

    One interesting point is that it does not attempt to make a worldwide unified lan

  • One icon we all don't want to see... the goatse icon...

  • iConji is a set of user-created 32x32-pixel symbols that represent words or ideas, not dissimilar from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics

    I'm going to assume that these guys did next to no actual research before making this statement. Egyptian hieroglyphs were mostly consonantal symbols with the occasional ideogram appended to words to clarify the ambiguity stemming from the lack of written vowels. There were a very few cases where an entire word was represented with a single symbol; in the overwhelming majority of cases, words were spelled out with multiple symbols just as they were in the truly alphabetic scripts that arose later.

    Oh, and hi

  • If it weren't marketed as a "bright new idea" with an appropriate product, company and undoubtedly, patents, behind it, it could actually be useful if it was integrated into "normal" IM applications in approximately the same way the smileys are today. It would serve a purpose similar to "message macros" in IRC and others - a shorthand writing in situations where the messages are simple, with the default still being the "normal" way of typing messages. Using just the pictures is extremely constrained without
  • First off, I don't think this will catch on, because it requires users to learn something, and in order to be really popular it needs to be so simple that they pick it up almost intuitively. Having to learn a few hundred symbols sorted into only 8 categories is likely to be a problem with adoption.
    That said, it brings some of the power of Chinese style writing to other languages.Its been a while since I studied Linguistics, but if I recall correctly:
    * China has 5 basic language groups (Mandarin, Cantonese,

    • by rainmayun (842754)
      And yet, at the same time English (and presumably also Mandarin, with which I have no experience whatsoever) is constantly being fractured into dialects that are sometimes unintelligible to one another. You cannot conclude from the loss of distinct languages that overall human expressive capacity is diminished, only that the organizational taxonomy of human language is changing.
  • The glaring lack of proper nouns (specifically, people in my contacts or people I know, my individual pets, etc) makes this not so useful to me.

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