In the book “Spook Country”:http://www.amazon.com/Spook-Country-William-Gibson/dp/0399154302/ William Gibson paints a picture of Cuban-Chinese gangsters who do parkour and communicate through a manufactured language called “Volapuk”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volapuk_encoding.

Gibson describes Volapuk through the character Milgrim on page 16:

bq. When the Russians got themselves computers, the keyboards and screen displays were Roman, not Cyrillic. They faked up something that looked like Cyrillic, out of our characters. They called it Volapuk. I guess you could say it was a joke.

I sometimes find myself doing a similar thing if I have to send a Japanese-language email on a Windows box that doesn’t have East Asian languages installed. But Volapuk isn’t simple phonetic translation, it selects Latin letters based on *visual similarity* to Cyrillic letters. Some letters can be encoded a number of different ways, thus, like “l33t”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L33t, Volapuk can sometimes prove difficult to translate.

With the spread of the Internet use since the 1990s (and rise of Unicode) this problem has pretty much been solved – with the exception of mobile phone-using Russian immigrants, I would suspect. Then there is the “Soviet” solution to just create a separate Russian internet, as covered by “Passport”:http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/7563 and “AE”:http://rethinkingsecurity.typepad.com/rethinkingsecurity/2008/01/report-russias.html.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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6 Responses to Volapuk

  1. ElamBend says:

    I’ve seen examples of Arab users of the internet doing the same thing.

  2. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    Thank you for introducing me to the constructed language of Volapük – I had not encountered it before. I tried to look up “Coming Anarchy” in Volapük, but the only dictionary I could find on line did not have the word. Can anyone translate this blog into Volapük?

  3. Younghusband says:

    “@ElamBend”:http://cominganarchy.com/2008/01/04/volapuk/#comment-381487 IS the Arabic phonetically transliterated? I can’t imagine them doing it based on visual likeness like in Volapuk.

  4. dda says:

    In Korea, geeks used to type Korean in old-day chat rooms just the same way they’d do it on a Hangul-enabled system: q would stand for ㅂ, w for ㅈ, e for ㄷ etc… Korean typed in Latin characters would look like gibberish, but it worked pretty well, since there was little mental conversion to do. You just have to recreate in your mind the process of typing the keys…

  5. ElamBend says:

    I believed it was both. It was shown and described to me by someone who was visiting (as I don’t speak Arabic), but it used letters and numbers, and IIRC only worked for a few words and phrases

  6. Aceface says:

    Volapuk reminds me of Anthony Burgess’s “Nadsat” in “A Clockwork Orange”.