Chraki: Speaking, Thinking, Dreaming The Future

Published December 12, 2020
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I “attended” the Vocal Arts Festival in 2018 put on by the Opera Theatre of the Rockies and hosted by Colorado College in Colorado Springs. I put attending in quotes because I was not a participant per se. Rather, I was tagging along with my opera singing husband who WAS a participant. The organizers were kind enough to be able to put together a way for me to stay with my husband through the program. It is very difficult for me in many ways (including mental health) to be apart from my husband for a long time. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you ask) I was not actually participating as I currently have very little singing ability. In fact, I often “pretend” to sing (quite painfully) to popular tunes in the car with Maus to great amusement. I screech sounds not meant for human ears. My husband, Maus, is the opera singer between us and was participating.

Time To Think, Time To Talk

This left me, as it does when this has occurred before, with an ample amount of time to work on (and think about) a lot of stuff. Usually, this is my favorite kind of setup. There were not so solitary times too. Maus and I played board games and hung out with our friends Kristen and Shannon (who were also participating). I was also able to meet a few new people. In fact, there was an occasional discussion about a number of topics.

I had a lot of conversations with my friends Kristen and Shannon (both also opera singers.) From these, some things started to generally develop. Over my lifetime I have had a voluminous number of ideas, some more memorable and outstanding than others. I have been refining them over that lifetime. When I was in Colorado Springs, at the festival, I began to experience new inspirations and perspectives! These would quickly solidify over the coming ten months into the projects I have now. You’ll note that ten months doesn’t cover the entire period between VAF and now.

However, it was there, in the early hours of the mornings in the dorm room that I began to experience or see new visions. The dorm rooms were hot. We had to put a fan in the window to get air to flow through it at all since there was no air conditioning. The night would descend and everyone would retreat back into their dorm rooms. The light from the window and moon would glow blue in the darkness. Our two-bed dorm room was cast in an eerie atmosphere. I could hear my husband sleeping with his snoring. There I was, sweaty and looking up at the strange ceiling thinking about MY future, my projects, my work, much like the other artists.

Thinking Without Words

At VAF I had the opportunity to talk to many new (and known) people. One of these brief discussions involved a man named Jeff. At lunch, in the cafeteria, he one day posited that you could not have abstract thought without language (or words). I found this claim to be somewhat extraordinary and counter-intuitive. One must ask where language came from in the first place. My friend Kristen also thought the proposal seemed more like a supposition. So we both expressed our own introspected thought processes.

I’ve described my thought process to my therapist Jason before as well. I’ve discovered in my life that I’ve gotten to a point where I often don’t “think” in terms of words much at all. I have heard that there is a phenomenon that happens with many people where they “hear” an inner voice in words, sentences, even phrases when they think about things. I don’t really have that voice, or at least it is not automatic.

My Thought Process In Broad Strokes

Often I have found that my thought process begins first with an emotion or a feeling, and then expands. This emotion is very broad, very particular, and doesn’t necessarily have much to say intellectually, but it is there. From there I begin to “piece together” various things that might have to do with that emotion. These are such things as (moving) images, sounds, memories (sensual information), and even a few basic concepts.

Next, the relationships between these in terms of cause and effect, analogies, metaphors, similarities, contrasts, and so on are explore and established. This is where I begin to automatically route out, sniff, or investigate various questions or suspicions my thought process may have. At this point, there might be a few “words” or phrases here and there. From here I begin to reach a conclusion, or a decision, or plan of action. I then begin the process of actually solidifying the process into something tangible. At this point, I form words, sentences, and even techniques or ways I plan to communicate if necessary. Because that’s the last step I am able to actually take more information in before I speak. This is important information, such as my audience reception, attitudes, possible obstacles, and more.

All of this often happens within the blink of an eye, almost imperceptible even to me.

A Rose By Any Other Name

I explained this to Jeff, but unfortunately, he seemed (in my opinion at least) a bit unimpressed. I honestly doubt he actually believed me. He seemed a bit entangled in what he felt was the ultimate conclusion. It appeared to me that he believed that if you were unable to call a bowl a bowl, then one could not think of a bowl. It made no sense to me. On a side note, this is the same individual with whom I also engaged in a brief and terse debate about free will. As you may be able to guess, Jeff believed there was no free will or at least no proof of free will. That, however, is “another story for another time.”

An Amalgamation Of The Wild

During this time I experienced the beginnings of the grand unification of many of my long-standing ideas. These ideas ranged from fursuits and furry to computer games, politics, and language. For a very long time (since I was approximately twelve) I have experimented on and off with the idea of building a constructed language called Chraki (or originally Trok.) However, over the years, every time I started whatever version of Chraki I worked on, it eventually lost steam and became abandoned.

This is partially due to the fact that it just wasn’t time for Chraki, as I did not have the proper intellectual foundation. I lacked any real unique system for arranging Chraki or making it out to be anything more than crypto-English. Lacking any real reason to create a full-fledged Chraki was another issue. I abandoned the original computer game design it was for (titled Dark) long ago (but I still retain the design document). It didn’t seem to truly fit into any of my other ideas (even The Nomocracy) without it seeming like a frivolously arbitrary detail or just more crypto-English.

At VAF I suddenly became struck with a sort of weird broad inspiration. This allowed me to start gluing many of my long-standing ideas together into a plan of action. I realized that my ideas could potentially be more powerful if they worked in tandem rather than each in its own ad-hoc universe. This gluing lasted for about a year from then. It allowed me to find a renewed purpose for several of my ideas including Chraki. In terms of Chraki, I realized that not only could it be a natural language, it could also be a formidable programming language/environment. This realization breathed a whole new life into the idea.

The Official Chraki Language: Speak The Future

Jeff’s discussion, to return, tried to point out that you can’t think abstractly without language (or words). This actually played a small part in that inspiration as well. I realized that in some ways, even if we think without language, our vocabulary and the way we can put words together do influence how we usually (by habit) think about things.

For example, take a word like blue. Our conception, or thought process involving blue, is bound in some ways to the word blue itself. I am referring to how the word is used or categorized, such as a part of speech. The word blue is an adjective (and sometimes a noun), meaning that it essentially describes a quality something has. We tend to only think of blue as a characteristic of an object. For a native English speaker, it is not necessarily obvious how else one might think of blue since that seems to be how we naturally experience the phenomenon… but what if we could use the concept of blue in more ways than just an adjective? What if we could use many other words, or concepts, as more than the part of speech they are?

At first it sounds absurd, but it isn’t: we already do this in English to a limited extent. When someone feels “blue” they are often times sad, depressed, or melancholic. What does the color blue have to do with depression? Yet, here we are, yellow with fear, red with anger, and feeling the blues.

All In All Is All We Are

This was the first “foundational” idea I had for Chraki, that abstractions and words are actually different things. This explicitly creates a situation where it’s acknowledged constantly that the signifier and the signified (to use Saussure’s terms a bit) are two different things. This may seem obvious in hindsight. But in many, everyday applications of language (and philosophy involving language) this distinction is paid little heed. This means that in Chraki an abstraction (the signified) is defined traditionally in another language such as English and stands on its own. This is known as codification.

Through various means, one can take a codification, or really its resulting encodification (the signifier), and form a word. A word is a grammatical unit of a phrase or sentence. Words can be potentially any part of speech. In our previous example, we could make the codification blue into a verb, an adverb, or even a preposition if we so desired.

But, wait, what would that mean, I can hear many asking (hopefully)? So what if I can construct nonsense sentences, who’d want to do that?

Why Is A Raven Like A Writing Desk?

The mission for Chraki is as follows:

Provide a consistently effective modeling environment for experiential reality, via fundamental abstract organizational processes, that allows for maximum (not optimal) expressive power and freedom in an aesthetically unique and engaging way that celebrates unconventionality and individualism.

The Chraki Mission Statement

Due to part of the mission being “maximum … expressive power” we have the following guideline for design:

Expressiveness – The first and by far most important design principle to adhere to is one of expressive power. Simply because Chraki can be used for “dry” practical purposes does not preclude it from being nuanced and detailed in its varied expression. This is the guiding principle that drives such decisions as making every “codification” (word) able to be used in any form (adverb, adjective, verb, etc.)

About The Chraki Language: Some Guiding Principles

I interpret this to mean: even if something may be nonsense, one should still be equally able to construct it. This isn’t groundbreaking. You can construct nonsense using just about any language although you may have to break a few grammatical rules.

This is an important distinction though. Once you expect or know that a codification may fall into any lexical category it will influence how you might go about its definition. Likewise, a writer/reader may find new meaning in using a codification in an unexpected way. This may not be as easily expressed in more standard language construction. This separation also serves to drive home the philosophical ideology that abstract thought occurs without the allegedly necessary language (the signifier). This is opposed to the other way around.

“The Past Is Always Tense, The Future Perfect.”

This is a quote from Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth.

So what does all this have to do with the future and my other ideas?

In the remaining two years I’ve been slowly and carefully refining my ideas around a, sometimes, vague central core. This core has become clearer over time and is comprised of a number of parts. I hope to expand on these parts in the coming future.

So what is it I want to do? I’ve decided to finally create and work on my constructed language (and programming language) Chraki (pronounced ch-r-ah-k, or tʃɹɔk), which as it develops will hopefully serve as a springboard for a number of other computer-related projects. Chief among these is an interactive simulation engine (read: game engine) and a multi-platform operating system.

“Don’t Wish It Were Easier, Wish You Were Better.”

This is a quote from Chief in [Animal Crossing].

I’m not proposing something here to necessarily make people’s lives easier, though in the future it has that potential. Things designed today are too audience-centric. That becomes a problem when the design starts to become too truncated, slimmed, and packaged making the end product deficient, routine, or ultimately insignificant. This audience-centric notion that I speak of is driven, in my opinion, by a marketing mindset. This marketing mindset becomes super entrenched in the public consciousness when it becomes the default springboard in the hopes of search engine optimization and the internet. The questions start to increasingly become, “Who’ll buy this? Who’ll use this? Who’ll understand this?” until that’s really the only question asked. If the answer is a small few, it is prematurely discarded.

In my experience when that’s the most important question being asked while trying to be creative (at least something artistic) it becomes incredibly stifling. That kind of thinking encourages one to actually not take action. This is because something’s considered too weird, too difficult, too controversial, too abnormal, too intimidating, etc. I believe that one of art’s purposes is to broaden the human experience and its dreams. Shying away from every one of those characteristics serves to undermine that purpose.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

So it is with that mild defiance of the audience that I create Chraki. It’s not that I want something no one cares about! I do not want to take a safe route simply to create another, as I called them, crypto-English conlang. I hope that Chraki, with its unconventionality and individualism, can broaden our abilities to communicate. That it can broaden how we think about, and even implement innovative and interesting ideas. On the Chraki site, I talked about the spirit behind the project:

This uniqueness, non-conformism, and set apart wildness is the type of spirit I hope something like Chraki to have. To me, Chraki is a tool for shaping thought processes and for enabling new viewpoints and communication. Conformity, copying, dumbing down or worrying too much about how many people might use it will only dilute the final product.

So many things today have been diluted to detrimental effect. This includes, in my opinion, traditional education, heritage, morality, history, and politics. It is disheartening. For these and many other reasons, I refuse to dilute my final product. Chraki is meant then as a creation for creativity, beauty, unconventionality, exploration, and individualism.

A zeitgeist is, at its heart, the defining spirit or mood of a time period. This outward thrust outside of the status quo I’ve outlined here is Chraki’s zeitgeist, and I hope, perhaps the coming zeitgeist of the future.

Foundational Elements Of Chraki

What Does It Look Like?

Chraki started out in my beautiful leather-bound personal journal. I don’t really keep a personal journal in these things, but instead, use them to write down my ideas. I realized that in any language we need to determine how it sounds (as in how it is spoken) and how it is recorded (as in how it is written.) So I looked at other languages I have been studying for inspiration and fell upon Japanese.

In Japanese, you write phonetic sounds using a syllabary, which I found very intriguing. All legal sounds/syllables in Japanese are made up of an optional beginning consonant (the onset) followed by a vowel. Each consonant group is split up into voiced, unvoiced, and aspirated (for some consonants like / h /) and then symbols are used to denote their pairing with a set number of vowels. These symbols form the kana (仮名), and are made up of two meaningfully-similar sets: hiragana (平仮名) and katakana (片仮名).

I thought this was nifty, so I decided I’d reproduce a similar system, but with considerably more vowel sounds and consonant sounds. These phonemes would be inspired more by English and Germanic/Latin based languages. And so, I constructed in my notebook the following table:

A scan of a journal page showing many different symbols arranged in a table.
A page from my handwritten development notebook showing the first Chraki syllabary.

As you can see, I created (proto-)syllabograms for the families of potential consonant sounds, and then combined them artistically with the syllabograms for the independent vowel sounds. You’ll note here, though it is not clear, that the sounds / n, m, r, l, th / can all act like vowels or consonants. The sounds / y, w / can as well, however they must be followed by an “independent” vowel (meaning essentially not themselves.) You’ll also notice, if you peruse the Chraki site, that / hg / became it’s own category / gh / and can only be followed by “pure” vowels (as opposed to a part of the / th / mixed vowel family.)

Graphical Developments

It was actually a long time before this table got anywhere farther than my own leather journal. I believe that I actually “digitized” this table before I went to that year’s VAF. Here are two Instagram posts of mine showing my progress inputting the symbols into Adobe Illustrator for my (at the time) computer game hopes:

Using pygame (remember PYGJS?) I actually constructed a sort of “typer” for the language in which you would type the “transliterated” versions of the characters (meaning using roman alphabet letters) and they would get translated through an interpreter into the Chraki syllabogram equivalents. With that I was able to make graphics such as these:

Syllabogramic writing of “gaysiplray” with its tree of encodifications.
The Chraki syllabary “spelling” out didrfrkallvadamujogrdookizilannowakthkanoo.

And the following video (I commissioned an independent artist to compose the music):

You can see from the graphics that I planned for a low-res retro-indie aesthetic for the game (and I still do!)

Evolution Of A Site

At first, I worked on Chraki on a special gated MediaWiki installation on my own server. I actually put some pretty good work into it, finalizing all the syllabograms, converting all of them to SVG, and even combining them into a file that you could style with CSS. My plan was to work on Chraki with a select number of individuals before releasing it to the public. This was in hopes that I would be able to lay out the groundwork enough so that nobody else might, well, mess with it.

Eventually, however, I discovered that I lost steam with the format and the gated element of the server (particularly since I wasn’t really allowing anyone else in until I could implement a single-sign-on solution that never materialized.) From there Chraki laid dormant for a bit as I continued to develop the ideas for it in my head. Maus kept telling me, “Asher, you gotta write this stuff down before you lose it!” I eventually bit my lip and got the courage to post my ideas publicly online. This site, The Official Chraki Language, was live for a while but eventually became defunct and went offline. I’m currently in the works of bringing a version of it back online.

You might notice that a lot of the graphics for the Chraki site are very low-res. This is on purpose, and also by convenience, as they are the graphics from my original sprite sheet (above) that I made for my computer game Reliqua Dissimilis (the video spells out Reliqua Dissimilis using Chraki phonetic syllabograms).

A Language Server

One of the things I’ve noticed about many conlangs is that, first, many people who invent languages can’t actually speak fluently in them (as they are usually intellectual exercises).

Secondly, many of them lack a large amount of supporting materials that might be necessary for another more casual person to pick up the language. This material includes fonts, scripts, teaching tools, explanatory material (without all the linguistic jargon that even makes my head spin), and so on.

I felt it would be a shame if Chraki suffered the same fate: nice to look at, but not really very well known or useful. So I’ve decided early on that I want to make Chraki as accessible and learnable as possible. One of the ways I hope to do this is through what I call a “language server.” This is an internet endpoint that users can use to obtain supporting materials for the language as they see fit.

Flashcards, Fonts, Scripts, and APIs

So what exactly would this “language server” do?

As it is right now I am using the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) to serve up information about Chraki. I chose this CMS because of its potential flexibility (it can be very friendly to plugins in terms of what’s possible) but also because I just frankly knew the most about it (as opposed to TypePad or DokuWiki or so on.)

How It’s Laid Out Now

On this installation, I have three (sub-)sites: the main informational blog, a wiki encyclopaedia to which users can contribute, and a user-friendly forum. Yes, all these things run on/through WordPress (and MediaWiki). I told you, it can be powerful!

As the site develops I plan to develop my own plugins to extend the functionality of the site to also include even RESTful API interfaces. One of my first goals is to develop a means of “working on” and processing the Chraki syllabograms in terms of SVG files and fonts.

How It Will Look In The Future

I hope to create a database of SVG files that could potentially be edited online (with the right permissions). These SVG files would form the basis for a service that could combine them together into a Unicode compatible font that would render them as any other font on the computer (with the proper encoding.) It could also serve up a “bitmap” font that could also be used to render text in images as well to varying degrees of resolution (useful for maintaining the “8-bit” aesthetic.) This same technology will be even handier when it comes to the encodifications, their creation, editing, and collation into a Unicode mapped font.

One of my other early goals in this regard is to be able to build a database that can store and relate the different Chraki codifications together along with their encodifications and definitions. This will allow for a standard central place to continue to further develop the language and its vocabulary with ease, as opposed to doing it in physical notebooks or haphazardly in distributed cloud documents. With this, we could also easily see the relationships between the codifications without having to do a lot of research.

In the future, I hope that the language server will also be able to serve up (java)scripts for converting transliterations into Unicode mappings, and even offer a spaced-repetition-system (SRS) for learning the syllabograms, encodifications, and grammar (much like the beloved WaniKani does for Japanese kanji.) I also hope to establish a Pinterest account and a YouTube channel.

So, That’s Chraki!

So that’s what I’ve been working on guys, a good ol’ fashioned conlang of epic proportions. In this post, I haven’t even touched upon Chraki as a programming language, but that is due to the fact that the syntax and grammar haven’t yet been defined. When it comes time to start really hammering those out, you can be sure I’ll post about the programming side of Chraki in detail.

This is one of my few sites at the moment where you can actually register an account and participate along, offering feedback and opinions. Feel free to come along and join in the fun. There’s no expectation in terms of participation or dedication, but it would definitely be nice to know that others are interested in what I’m currently working on.

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