Made-up language of ‘Utopia’ hardly perfect, but unique part of $85K edition

Thomas More Utopia language

A map of the fictional “Utopia” on the left, with its “language” displayed at right. (Image courtesy, Hordern House)

MYSTERY WIRE — A rare copy of Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia” is expected to sell for $85,000 at New York City’s International Antiquarian Book Fair, according to Hordern House Rare Books of Sydney, Australia.

A made-up language appears on one of the book’s pages, opposite a map of the “perfect world” created by the 16th century Englishman.

READ: For sale: Sir Thomas More’s Utopian alphabet

Atlas Obscura explains the phenomenon of a “conlang” — in this case a crude language that seems to be a cross of Greek and geometric shapes, and completely without any capital letters. Some conlang’s are elaborate — even more complex than real languages.

The 1518 copy of “Utopia” expected to fetch $81,000. (Image courtesy, Hordern House Rare Books, Sydney)

On page 13, “Utopia” — literally, “nowhere” in Latin — contains a short passage in the conlang, translated to Latin.

The passage translates as:

The commander Utopus made me into an island out of a non-island.
I alone of all nations, without philosophy,
have portrayed for mortals the philosophical city.
Freely I impart my benefits; not unwillingly I accept whatever is better.

The language survives today thanks to academics who describe its attributes:

Utopian has its own 22-letter alphabet, more or less a knock-off of the Roman alphabet used in the 16th century, lacking only z. A citation on Wikipedia says, “The letters f, k, q, and x only appear in the alphabet, not in the Utopian text.” Wikipedia also notes the availability of “ZX-Utopian,” a free font with the Utopian alphabet.

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