Thoughts about the language

  1. Why is it called Orthona?
  2. Ambiguity
  3. Directionality
  4. Evolving the Language
  5. Spoken Version
  6. Other non-linear languages

Why is it called Orthona?

It's called Orthona because it's written (has only an orthographic representation, and no speech), and because the lines are the same directions you get in orthographic projections. It was originally called Ortho, and the text editor was called Orthona, but in I like the balance of Orthona, so now the language is also called that too.


I'm comfortable with the language being a little ambiguous. And in any event, the more I've written, the more I've become comfortable with the use of dependent clauses, which solves most problems.

Most proverbs are metaphorical, but I find that because the language is quite vague/general, saying things directly has the same effect to me as saying things metaphorically in English - maybe metaphors in English proverbs are there to increase the ambiguity/applicability, while in Orthona this is unnecessary?


At one point I decided things were too horizontally biased (because one of my goals is to optimize the language for smart-phone entry), so I thought "Ok, this is easy, I'll just rotate the language 90 degrees - time now goes down, and all the grammar structures will be rotated". However, this resulted in the "above/below" senses for all the symbols turning into "left/right" sense, and for some reason my brain has no interest in learning the horizontal distinctions, but can deal with up/down ones just fine.

The direction that verbs go is a weird one - I don't have a consistent rule across all verbs (except the sensory ones). In general, I don't know how much I should strive for consistency. I think I'll let things sit for now.

Evolving the Language

I will likely want to change the language over time. Right now I'm making lots of ad-hoc changes, but here are some principles that I probably will want to abide by if I update it in the future:

  1. Apply a version number + timestamps to all documentation.
  2. Make obsolete documentation available.
  3. Keep a changelog.
  4. Update old texts so they are still readable (while keeping older versions available).
  5. Limit major updates to one per year.

Already some of the texts on the site are out of date, but for any major future update I'll try bring them up to date.

Spoken Version

I haven't documented it on this site, but there is a spoken dialect. The language is meant to be written, and I wanted the spoken language to be clearly secondary, so it consists of drawing instructions that can't be easily formed into sentences - you have to follow the instructions, draw the diagrams, and then make sense of things.

Other non-linear languages


Comparing to UNLWS is interesting. The choice to privilege particular directions and give them functions makes the resulting language a lot more rigid in appearance - but you can still have fun with thickly meshing statements - the problems are more geometrical and less topological.

In particular, late into the development of the language, stumbling across Sai's essay Non-Linear Fully Two-Dimensional Writing System Design and seeing they were also thinking a lot about various connection types was reassuring.

Using the horizontal axis for time gives the whole language a horizontal bias. It seems a bit of a shame to go all 2D and then suddenly slap down a line. I dislike writing sentences that are temporally ordered in the sense of using the horizontal line - with most proverbs it's sufficient to use the past/future tense indicators instead. So maybe I should repurpose the line for some other uses. If only I could think of any.

I need to look at UNLWS again - I've done lots of work on Orthona since I last checked it out.

Other non-linear languages

How the language has changed over time

The meanings I gave directions changed over time - what was possession, slowly also acquired verb-structure, vertical adjectives also acquired the ability to do comparatives, and the upward diagonal, which used to express "a is b", now is used for dependent clauses and implication.

I've replaced a bunch of symbols, and there are three more probably that should get audited out and replaced with better ones (help, fear, implication, sleep). Either they're obsolete, or express just one useful concept (I'd prefer each symbol to have at least three related but distinct uses), or express a concept I very very rarely use.

Before there were negative lines, there was no distinction between above/below senses (there was only an sense - so you could say 'good', but there was no term for 'important') - symbols above a noun were in the positive sense (good, say), and symbols hanging under nouns were their negatives ("bad", say, rather than "important", which is what it is now).

The dot used to mean something, but now it's only useful within the editor as an empty symbol for drawing lines - there are options in the command-line renderer to remove the dots when exporting.

Any questions or thoughts? Just ask/chat on the forums, or mail me directly at analytic@gmail.com.