Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

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Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby kiwehtin » Fri 19 Mar 2010 7:55 pm

In my research reconstructing the Gujarati origins of several indigenous Indonesian and Philippine scripts, I've come across a recurring theme of alphabets used as codes or secret scripts. In northern India, the commercial scripts (Mahajani, Baniyo etc.) were written without vowel marks as a sort of combined shorthand/hard-to-read script that helped keep traders' and shopkeepers' accounts inaccessible to others. In Indonesia and Malaysia there are several examples of code scripts: "Gangga Malayu", a code script used in Malaya, which combined invented cipher letters with mostly Javanese vowel markings; a cipher code based on modified Arabic numerals used mostly for poetry, especially a riddle genre, in Bugis and Makassarese (again with the ordinary vowel markings); and various code alphabets used in Java, with a small accompanying industry of "textual gateways", books with tables of code alphabets. These Javanese code alphabets used letters from Bugis and Sumatran scripts among others.

These seem to be historically related to the development of the Gujarati-based alphabets. The Old Makassarese script (the "bird" script) seems to have been adopted for Makassarese at least a century - if not two - after the original Bugis-Makassar script was adopted in South Sulawesi (likely around 1400). The original letterforms of Bugis-Makassar script, mostly preserved in the Old Philippine script, shows some of the closest relations to the original Gujarati, but the Old Makassarese letters were adopted (in the early 1500s) from a set of letter variants in South Sumatran scripts that undergone at least a century of changes from the more conservative shapes; but it keeps the same vowel marks as in Bugis without adopting the ones used in South Sumatra. I can only conclude that this was a conscious effort to give Makassarese its own script to distinguish it from the Bugis language.

The most surprising thing is that although only a Gujarati origin explains the shapes of the letters in the various scripts and the relationships between these scripts - in a way that no other theory has come even close to doing - the vowel marking systems are clearly Kawi in origin and there is only the slightest plausible evidence for North Indic vowel marking in some of the Sumatran scripts. This makes me think that Bugis, Makassarese and Malay traders first adopted Gujarati letters for writing their languages as a sort of secret script different from the official late Kawi/pre-modern-Javanese script of Adityawarman's kingdom, but used the Kawi-based vowel markings they were used to. (After the script spread in the Malay areas of eastern Sumatra, it seems a couple of letters were possibly borrowed from Kawi into the neo-Sumatran script.)

So I'm wondering if anyone knows of secret or code scripts used this way outside south and southeast Asia. I know that in these areas there is a particular notion that each language should have its own script distinct from others, so scripts seem to have a special role as emblems of group identity that they don't to the same extent in Europe or the Americas. (Though I know indigenous scripts have been created for Cherokee, Vai, and other American and African language groups, for example.) Since there seems to be a special connection between code scripts as emblems of group identity and the development of indigenous script in the Indonesian case, I'm wondering if anyone knows about a similar connection with code scripts elsewhere?
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby Jeisuke » Sat 27 Mar 2010 8:26 am

I'm not sure I fully understand the questions you raised about code scripts. I do know about the Bugis/Makassarese "Arabic Number Code" that uses modified Arabic numbers along with Bugis/Makassar vowel points. To take it further, Maldives "Tana" script is made up of Arabic numbers and remnants of Dhivehi Akuru. Also, there are a number of cryptic/numeral scripts in Thailand, especially in the Lanna area where they are used for talismans and in fortune-telling, but I have not seen this really extended outside of Asia (unless you count the Masonic/Rosicrucian type secret alphabets). Are these what you were referring to?

On a different note: Gujarati connection to scripts of Indonesia? I thought it was more or less established that they came via Pallava => Khmer, Cham, Kavi => Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese => Bima,Makassar,Recong,Bugis,Batak, and Philippine scripts. Does your new data turn this progression on its ear? Do you have any preliminary data you can share? Please elaborate. I am quite interested in seeing it.

Also, what other secret alphabets are you referring to with regards to Indonesia and the Philippines. Please elaborate (and if possible, let me know of some www links) further on this, as I would like to be made aware of more.
b.regs,
JG
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby kiwehtin » Sat 27 Mar 2010 5:45 pm

A pleasant surprise to find someone else acquainted with the Bugis-Makassar code script, to say the least!

My question was rooted in the suspicion that the development of cipher scripts in the Indonesian archipelago might have its original stimulus in the introduction of Gujarati as an unvowelled "shorthand" commercial script of the type once common in North India. I don't know much about the context in which cipher scripts developed elsewhere, hence the question. The relationships between letters in the Sumatran-Sulawesi-Philippine scripts are best accounted for on the basis of a hypothetical proto-script reconstructed by comparing Gujarati and old Philippine letter variants, supplemented with pre-modern Bugis-Makassar variants. However, the vowel marking systems of all these scripts are clearly Kawi in origin, and not North Indian. Hence the likelihood that a Kawi vowel-marking system was grafted onto the basic post-Gujarati letter inventory when it was first adopted, likely in southeast Sumatra.

Apart from the Bugis-Makassar cipher described by Matthes and in a recent paper by Tol, there is a short article on the Malayan Gangga Malayu script with analysis by Hendrik Kern, and a chapter by T. E. Behrend on the Javanese manuscript tradition in Ann Kumar and John McGlynn's edited volume Illuminations. The writing traditions of Indonesia. Behrend's chapter touches on the popularity of cipher scripts in 19C Java and illustrates a page from a manuscript using a script with letters drawn directly from Bugis-Makassar, South Sumatran Surat Ulu and possibly Philippine scripts, as well as apparent imitations of Batak letter shapes and some unidentifiables. The Gangga Malayu paper is available here:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2843133

(You need to be a member of a participating library to access the paper. Otherwise, I can send you the PDF myself.)

Like the numeral-based letters in the Bugis-Makassar cipher, the GM base letters are supplemented with a basically Javanese- set of vowel marks with some modifications partly inspired by Arabic vowel marking.

The theory of a Kawi origin for all Indic scripts of Indonesia and the Philippines (not only those of Java, Bali, Lombok, and Adityawarman's Sumatran kingdom) originates in Hendrik Kern's (1882) Over de opschriften uit Koetei in verband met de de geschiedenis van het schrift in den Indischen Archipel. Numerous other theories have been proposed before and since, but his is the one that for whatever reason has become the most widely known and quoted. However, his arguments are not overall superior to those found elsewhere — the steps in logic often depend on unspoken and undefended assumptions — and not one of the theories yet published has made a strong, systematic case for its hypothesis equivalent to what is expected of any theory of historical relationships between spoken languages.

The current consensus among specialists working with scripts of Sumatra and Sulawesi (the Philippines being less well represented) is that although there are affinities between these scripts and Kawi, the differences are too great for these scripts to have evolved from Kawi in the same time frame as the Javanese-Balinese scripts. They generally add that although Kawi may have some distant relationship to the "Sum-Sul-Phil" scripts, only the discovery of some as yet unknown inscription(s)/manuscript(s) is likely to provide evidence of how these scripts evolved from an earlier source (if Kawi it is).

As for my work, I am in the middle of writing up a paper for this year's Berkeley Linguistics Society proceedings. I can send you a draft version in a week or two when I have managed to rework the content and fit it into something close to the 12 page limit. In the meantime, I can send you links to download an expanded version of my BLS slideshow and a separate PDF with somewhat edited and expanded presenter notes. I have included as much data as possible to support my thesis, but the argumentation inevitably suffers because of the limits to what I can present in that format, and the same is true of a 12 page proceedings paper. To do real justice to the multiple interlocking issues involved really requires two separate papers if not a whole monograph.

By the way, I'm wondering where your interest in these scripts comes from?
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby Jeisuke » Sun 28 Mar 2010 2:06 am

Hi Kiwehtin,
You might have heard about me in the "font world"....I'm Jason Glavy of GlavyFonts (maker of the Javanese, Balinese, Jurchen, and a bunch of West-African fonts) that Simon used for his pages. I used to have a web at Geocities before they closed down. Now I have to find time to re-upload my fonts at the Athinkra LLC site. My e-mail is jglavy@gmail"dot"com. I would very much like to see the Gangga Malayu jstor article, and draft of you paper when you are finished. In turn, if you are in need of any fonts, I would be happy to make them or supply you with them (in the case that I've already made them). I did make a number of Bugis/Makassarese fonts (non-unicode) including the number ciphre one that I found in Matthe's big door-jam book. You are more than welcome to use them in your paper(s)....now and in the future.

Unfortunately, I can't upload the fonts here....sorry.

Best regards,
Jason (Jeisuke)
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby Mintzman » Sat 10 Jul 2010 5:00 am

ok, first off, where can u find a picture of the Bugis-Makassar code script? i am not fully understand the concepts of this code. what language is it based off of? i am really confused on what this code is for.:?: :?: :?: :?: :?:
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby kiwehtin » Sat 10 Jul 2010 9:25 pm

Hi Mintzman, nice to "talk". It's a bit of a surprise to find another posting on this thread after all this time!

The code was used to write Bugis and Makassarese poetry. The letter shapes are based on Arabic numerals modified by lengthening or shortening their stems and/or adding crossbars or dots. The numeral-based characters were assigned to each letter of the Bugis-Makassarese script (also known as " Lontara'/Lontaraq/Lontarak " depending on how you transcribe the glottal stop at the end of the word). Omniglot has a page on the script here:

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/lontara.htm

I recently figured out how the number-based ciphers were assigned to the Bugis-Makassarese letter values. Since the Arabic numerals adopted from India largely replaced the earlier use of letters to represent numbers, there already existed Arabic letters (in the old order similar to Hebrew) with number values: 'a=1 b=2 j/g=3 d=4 h=5 w=6 z=7 H=8 T=9 y=10 and so on, with the following letters indicating tens, then hundreds and so on. For the first four numbers the Bugis-Makassarese letter equivalent to the Arabic value was assigned, then up to five other letters with similar shape or sound value were grouped with the first one and the Arabic numeral was modified in different ways to represent each of them. After 4, it gets a bit more complex because of the way the Jawi and Serang scripts (extensions of Arabic script to write Malay and Makassarese) represented sounds not in Arabic by adding dots to certain Arabic letters. The vowels were represented by the normal Bugis-Makassarese vowel marks that are illustrated in the Omniglot page on the script/

I'm working on a short paper on the principles behind the cipher script letter values and can send it to you when I finish it. Just email me at christophermiller@mac.com.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links. The first is the book by B. F. Matthes (in Dutch), which first reported on this cipher script:

http://books.google.com/books?id=1e6Ag3 ... &q&f=false

The next is an article by Roger Tol that deals with a genre of cryptic poetry in Bugis that uses this cipher script as just one layer of meaning to be cracked to get at the final meaning:

http://www.kitlv-journals.nl/index.php/ ... /2874/3635

Finally, I came across a holding at the KIT (Koninklijke Instituut voor de Tropen/Royal Institute for the Tropics) Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam several months ago that is identified as an amulet and appears to be written in this cipher script. The Tropenmuseum English home page is here:

http://www.tropenmuseum.nl/eCache/FAB/5/853.html

This URL takes you right to the artifact:

http://collectie.tropenmuseum.nl/nBasic ... lturenode=

I tried attaching a very preliminary PDF of my analysis of the principles behind the number-letter pairings, with very bare-bones explanations, but it doesn't seem to be showing up here. I can send it by email if you like.
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Re: Secret/code/cryptic alphabets

Postby Mintzman » Mon 12 Jul 2010 1:45 am

hey kiwehtin,

thanks for giving me a summary. as u have seen, i was waaay confused. but not anymore. thanks so much.
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