Saint Hildegard of Bingen

The image to the right is of St. Hildegard of Bingen, the unofficial patron saint of conlanging and conlangers. This abbess and Christian mystic would have been an extraordinary woman in any time, let alone an age when women had few choices open to them. It is believed she suffered from terrible bouts of migraines; however, she saw these episodes as the source for her religious visions. When she was in her early 40s, she felt she received a command from God through these visions to write down all that she experienced. This provided her with the inspiration to complete her book Scivias or Know the Ways of the Lord which was given official approval by Pope Eugenius III. With the distribution of Scivias, Hildegard's fame began to spread beyond her native Rhineland. Hildegard's talents went well beyond the recording of her visions. She was an author of natural history and medical texts, a composer of music, and a writer of plays. In addition to running the convent at Bingen, she also founded a second one just to the north in Eibingen.

Hildegard's connection to conlanging comes via her Lingua Ignota or unknown language, a collection of 1,012 nouns which Hildegard attributed to divine revelation. The abbess used Latin for the grammar of her language but also wrote the Lingua Ignota in an accompanying script, Litterae Ignotae or unknown letters. The glossary contained in Ignota lingua per simplicem hominem Hildegardem prolata in the Riesencodex is arranged hierarchically, with God and divine beings first, followed by humans (with their relations, occupations, crafts, etc.), then on to animals, birds, plants, and insects. This categorization approach to a universal language would be echoed centuries later by Dalgarno, Wilkins, and others. Some of Hildegard's words include:

Hildegard's canticle "In dedicatione ecclesiae" contains five Lingua Ignota words (in italics) within its Latin structure:

O orzchis Ecclesia, armis divinis praecincta, et hyacinto ornata, tu es caldemia stigmatum loifolum et urbs scienciarum. O, o tu es etiam crizanta in alto sono, et es chorzta gemma.
Unfortunately, only one of these, loifol "people" (+ the Latin genitive ending -um) is in Hildegard's surviving glossary list. The others can only be guessed at. The translation of the Latin (plus loifolum) reads:
O orzchis Ecclesia, girded with divine arms, and adorned with hyacinth, you are the caldemia of the wounds of the people, and the city of sciences. O, o, you are the crizanta in high sound, and you are the chorzta gem."

The image is of Hildegard in the scriptorium in the process of receiving a divine message while sketching on a wax tablet. She is attended by the monk Volmar who is taking dictation from the saint. Dr. Sarah Higley of the University of Rochester has written the definitive study on Hildegard's Lingua Ignota: Hildegard of Bingen's Unknown Language: An Edition, Translation, and Discussion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).