In the midst of the 12th century, a German Benedictine abbess of Rupertsberg, St. Hildegard von Bingen, invented a vocabulary called Lingua Ignota – Latin for “unknown language” – it is one of the oldest invented languages. Its purpose is unclear, speculations reach from secret cipher to universal language. What’s certain is that Hildegard is its author. Since Lingua Ignota only lists 1001 nouns, it is rather a ‘lexique’ than an actual language. The accompanying Litterae Ignotae – Latin for “unknown letters” – are often wrongly attributed as the letters used to write Lingua Ignota, while a lack of the three letters j, v and w points to a use in Latin.
After being invited by Akiem Helmling of Alphabetum to create a contemporary sans-serif revival of Litterae Ignotae, one following the characteristics of my typeface Logical, Iimmediately felt excited about this steep challenge. It brought together my interest in universal languages and optimal typeface legibility. For the past several years, I have explored these topics through the abstracted symbols included in Logical, and through other exhibition and research projects.
To give such a revival the fairest and most informed treatment, I needed to consult as many original manuscripts as possible. Enthusiastically planning a research trip to Bingen in the German Rhineland, it turned out that the actual sites where Hildegard lived had very little by way of documentation – barely any written examples of Litterae Ignotae survive today – and there was likewise little material online.
The poster displays the glossary of 1001 words written in Lingua Ignota, Old Latin, Old German, English, and Litterae Ignotae. All information is set in Logical.
Alphabetum is an initiative by Akiem Helmling at the contemporary art center West Den Haag. An artistic space to explore the formative and formal aspect of language and that has a ever growing collection of books and artefacts.