Iconic

Recently I was sent details of a image-based communication system that is being developed by some friends of mine at KomunIKON. It’s known as IKON, and according to their website:

IKON is an easy, intuitive, international and transcultural visual language. It is a structured system of graphical communication that combines icons and linguistics.

By being fun and creative, IKON has applications in different fields, from communication technology to graphic design, education, product merchandise and humanitarian crisis support.

Here are some examples – see if you can work out what they mean:

Example sentence in IKON

Example sentence in IKON

Example sentence in IKON

All the examples on the KomunIKON website, and the ones they sent to me, include English labels under each image. The word order for each one is based on English, but apparently “the IKON language is very flexible, so the grammatical explanations that we offer here are meant to show some ideas behind our icons, but they are not rigid rules to be learnt, anyone can use the language as they prefer, as far as the receiver understands.”

So we have a visual communication system without grammatical conventions. That doesn’t sound like a language to me. What do you think?

Pling!

I discovered the other day the the exclamation mark (!), which is apparently known as an exclamation point in American English, has a number of other names. When it was first introduced by printers in the 15th century, it was known as a sign of admiration or exclamation or the note of admiration in English.

In the early 20th century it was known as an ecphoneme [source]. A related word is eroteme, which is another name for the question mark (?), and comes from the Ancient Greek ἐρώτημα (erṓtēma – question), from ερωτώ (erotó – to ask) [source].

In 1950s American typesetting manuals it was referred to as a bang. Related punctuation marks are the interrobang (‽), a combination of an exclamation mark and question mark that was invented in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter, an American advertising executive [source], and the gnaborretni (⸘), an inverted interrobang [source].

Printers might call it a screamer, gasper, slammer or startler.

British hackers apparently call it, or called it, a shriek or pling, which is my favourite name for this punctuation mark.

In Welsh the exclamation mark is known as a ebychnod, from ebychu (to exclaim) and nod (mark), or rhyfeddnod, from rhyfedd (strange, odd) and nod.

In Armenian the equivalent of the exclamation mark (see below) is known as a Բացականչական նշան (Bats’akanch’akan nshan) or “exclamatory mark/sign” or “screamer”.

Here are some exclamation marks in other alphabets:

Exclamation marks in various alphabets

What is the exclamation mark called in other languages?

Here’s a video I made last week about the word exclamation:

Sōsharudisutansu

離れる (hanareru)

The Japanese word 離れる (hanareru) means to be separated, to be apart, to be distant​; to leave, to go away​; to leave (a job, etc), to quit, to give up​; to lose connection with; to drift away from​ [source].

It seems quite an appropriate word for this year, and the winner of this year’s kanji invention contest came up with a new kanji to represent these ideas (see the image). It’s pronounced hanarete suwaru or za and means ‘seated apart’ or ‘social distance’.

Social distancing is also ソーシャルディスタンス (sōsharudisutansu) in Japanese.

The new character is based on 座 (suwaru / za) with one of the 人 (hito – person) characters moved to be more distant from the other. 座 means seat, place; position, status; gathering, party, company; stand, pedestal, platform [source].

The kanji contest or, 創作漢字コンテスト (sōsaku kanji kontesuto), is sponsored by the Sankei Newspaper (産経新聞社) and the Shizuka Shirakawa Memorial Institute for Oriental Characters and Culture (白川静記念東洋文字文化研究所) at Ritsumeikan University (立命館大学). It has been held annually for the past 11 years. Over 26,000 entries were submitted this year – mainly from Japan, and some from Taiwan as well, and the winner was Akinobu Yamaguchi (山口明伸) from Yokohama. You’d think there were more than enough kanji already, but obviously not.

I heard about this via Facebook, and it got me wondering if I could come up with any new kanji or hanzi. Have you thought of any new kanji?

Spelling Reform

Yesterday I was sent another alternative orthography for English. I receive them quite often, usually for English, but sometimes for other languages. Some involve only minor changes to the current system, while others involve significant changes, and often lots of diacritics and/or extra letters.

Spelling bee

I’m also sent adaptations of other alphabets for English (and other languages), and original constructed scripts, some of which use the standard spelling system, and others use reformed/improved versions. I’m more inclinded to add the constructed and adapated scripts rather then the alternative spelling systems, if I think they are sufficiently interesting, original and elegant.

Here’s is an example of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in several alternative orthographies for English, which appear on Omniglot.

This is the original text:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

New English (Nū Iŋglıx)
This is a more logical and consistent spelling for English invented by Richard Parry.

Ōl hyūmən bī’ıŋz ā bōn frī and īkwəl ın dıgnıtī and ruıts. Ðeı ā ındaod wıđ rīzən and konxəns and xưd akt təwōdz wun ənuđə ın ə spırıt ov bruđəhưd.

Tower Orthography (Tawyr Oorthaagryfii)
This is was invented by Timothy Patrick Snyder and Rebecca Spatz with the aim of making a simple and phonetic system of writing.

Ol hjuumanz ar boorn frij and ikwol in dignitij and raits. Dhej ar indawd with riizon and kancints and cud akt twardz wyn ynydhyr in y spirit yv brydhyrhud.

Expressive English Alphabet (IKSPꞋΣSIϽ IИGLIƧ ΛLҒⱭBΣꞆ.)
This is was created by Marcel Burrows. It is designed to have one letter for each sound, and to allow people from any part of the world to write in their own accent.

ΔL HYUMⱭN BEIИZ A BΔN FꞋE ΛND EKႱⱭL IN DIGNⱭꞆE ΛND RÎCS. ꞜѦ AꞋ INDΩD WIꞜ REZⱭN ΛND KꙘNƧⱭNS ΛND ƧÜD ΛKꞆ ꞆⱭႱΔDZ ႱÛN ⱭNÛꞜⱭ IN Ɑ SPIꞋIꞆ ꙘV BꞋÛꞜⱭHÜD.

Here are some others that I decided not to add to Omniglot:

The Script (no other name supplied)
This was devised by Max Khovanski and seeks to make spelling completely unambiguous, and cuts out as many unnecessary letters as possible to improve typing and writing efficiency.

Āāl hūman bēings ar born frē and ēkwal in digniti and rīghts. They ar endawd widh rēson and kons’enc and shúd act tuuwāārds oun anudher in ā spirit of brudherhúd.

Reformed English (Reformd İnglɪʃ)
This was devised by Andy B. to explore the idea of a neatly and consistently formulated English spelling reform.

Ɔl hyuman biyiŋs ɔr born fri and ikwal ɪn dɪgnɪti and rɔits. Ðei ɔr endawd wɪþ rizon and kɔnʃens and ʃʊd akt towards wʌn anʌðr ɪn a spɪrɪt ʌv brʌðrhʊd.

New English (Nū Iŋglıx)
A more logical and consistent spelling for English invented by Richard Parry. There are two versions: the full orthography (shown first), and the new orthography (shown second).

Ool hyuumeun bii’ingz aa boon frii and iikweul in dignitii and ruits. Nhei aa indaod winh riizeun and konxeuns and xu’d akt teuwoodz wun eununheu in eu spirit ov brunheuhu’d.

Ōl hyūmən bī’ıŋz ā bōn frī and īkwəl ın dıgnıtī and ruıts. Ðeı ā ındaod wıđ rīzən and konxəns and xưd akt təwōdz wun ənuđə ın ə spırıt ov bruđəhưd.

To be practical, and easy to type, I think English spelling reforms should stick to the existing letters, rather than adding accented letters, and/or borrowing letters from the IPA or other alphabets. Using the regular aspects of the current orthography might be a good idea as well, rather than coming up with new spellings.

There are alternative ways to write some words in informal contexts, especially online, such as thru for through, that could be used.

What are your views on spelling reform for English, or other languages?

What do you think of the alternative spelling systems I’ve shared here?

Cymru Wales typeface

According to an interesting article I read today on Facebook, a new typeface has been developed recently for Welsh.

The typeface was commissioned by the Welsh government, and is called Cymru Wales. It includes digraphs for double letters like dd, ll and rh, and is used by Transport for Wales / Trafnidiaeth Cymru, who run the trains in Wales.

It was designed by Smörgåsbord, a Dutch design studio with a Swedish name and offices in Cardiff. It is based partly on the styles of handwriting used in old Welsh manuscripts, such as the Black Book of Carmarthen / Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin and the Red Book of Hergest / Llyfr Coch Hergest, and was also inspired by other scripts such as Icelandic and Arabic.

Here are some examples:

Cymru Wales font

[Source]

I haven’t found anywhere to get hold of the typeface yet.

Do you know of other typefaces that have been developed for specifically languages recently?

Standard Writing for Inuit

According to an article I came across today, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami / ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᑕᐱᕇᑦ ᑲᓇᑕᒥ (ITK), an organization the protects and advances the rights and interests of Inuit people in Canada, have agreed on a standard way of writing the Inuit languages of Canada.

There are currently nine different ways to write these languages, using either the Roman alphabet (qaliujaaqpait) or the Inkutitut syllabary (ᖃᓂᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ / qaniujaaqpait).

On 10th September 2019 the ITK decided to adopt a standardised way of writing all the Inuit languages and dialects of Canada using the Roman alphabet known as the Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system. It includes ways to write the sounds found in all these languages, even though some are only used in a few of the languages. More information.

Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system

I’m not entirely sure how all the consonants are pronunced – the illustrations of the orthography don’t include pronuciation.

The intention with the new orthography is to provide an alternative, auxiliary writing system that can be used as well as, or instead of, the existing systems. The new writing system will make it easier to produce learning resources and other written material. It is also hoped that more speakers of Inuit languages will write in them, rather than using English.

Eskimo-Aleut languages on Omniglot
Aleut, Alutiiq, Greenlandic, Inuktitut, Iñupiaq, Yup’ik (Central Alaskan), Yupik (Central Siberian)

Voynich manuscript deciphered?

According to various news stories, such as this one on the BBC news, the Voynich manuscript, a mysterious medieval manuscript, has been deciphered by an academic from Bristol.

The Voynich Manuscript is named after Wilfrid M. Voynich, a Polish antiquarian book dealer who acquired it in 1912. It is a lavishly illustrated manuscript codex of 234 pages, written in an unknown script. It is housed in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in the USA. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon dated to the early 15th century (1404-1438).

Here is an example of the script used:

Writing from the Voynich manuscript

Many attempts have been made to decipher the text but none have succeeded so far. One theory is that is was written sometime during the 13th century by a Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon (1214-1294). Some think the manuscript is gibberish, and was probably a practical joke played on Rudolph II.

According to the latest decipherer, Dr Gerard Cheshire of the University of Bristal, Voynich is a therapeutic reference book written in a lost language called Proto-Romance. He believes that the manuscript was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, the great-aunt to Catherine of Aragon.

Proto-Romance, a previously unknown language, was commonplace in the Mediterranean during the medieval period, but was not used in written documents as Latin was the main written language, according to Dr Cheshire.

Apparently when you try to decipher any parts of the text using Dr Cheshire’s method, it comes out a incomprehensible nonsense, and only parts of it can be understood with reference to many different Romance languages, and a lot of fudging and wishful thinking. So the manuscript remains undiciphered.

Critism of this ‘decipherment’
http://ciphermysteries.com/2017/11/10/gerard-cheshire-vulgar-latin-siren-call-polyglot
https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/05/no-someone-hasnt-cracked-the-code-of-the-mysterious-voynich-manuscript/
https://voynichportal.com/2019/05/07/cheshire-recast/
https://voynichportal.com/2019/05/16/cheshire-reprised/

More information about the Voynich Manuscript
https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/collections/highlights/voynich-manuscript
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript
http://ciphermysteries.com/the-voynich-manuscript

le mystère Champollion à Plougastel-Daoulas

A Czech friend sent me a link to an interesting article (in Czech) about a mysterious inscription found on a rock in the village of Plougastel-Daoulas in Brittany in the northwest of France. Verisons of the article in English and French are also available.

Mystery inscription from Brittany
[source]

The writing is in the Latin alphabet, but the language is unknown – people have suggested that it’s an old form of Breton or Basque.

Parts of the inscription are “ROC AR B … DRE AR GRIO SE EVELOH AR VIRIONES BAOAVEL… R I” and “OBBIIE: BRISBVILAR … FROIK … AL”, and there are two dates 1786 and 1787.

It looks most like a form of Breton to me, although the word VIRIONES looks more Gaulish.

A reward of €2,000 is being offered to anybody who can deciper this. If you take part, you have until November 2019 to submit your decipherment. The most plausible entry will receive the prize. You can contact veronique.martin@mairie-plougastel.fr to register for the competition, find out more and to receive photos of the inscription.

The British Library

My trip to the British Library in London on Wednesday went well. Although I’ve been past the place many times, I haven’t been in before, so it was interesting to explore.

The first thing I saw was the Making Your Mark exhibition, which official opens today. I went to a press view for journalists, bloggers on Wednesday morning, although decided not to go to the big opening bash last night.

The exhibition is divided into several sections covering the history of writing, the development of writing tools and styles, the use of writing, and the future of writing. Highlights for me include ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, Mayan and Chinese inscriptions, texts and other artifacts, and books and manuscripts from Europe, Japanese, Thailand and other places with beautiful writing and illustrations.

Here are the photos I took:

The British Library

You have to pay to see this exhibition, but there are a number of other free exhibitions on at the moment and others coming soon. I explored the Treasures of the British Library exhibition, which was excellent. It includes beautiful and rare books from around the world; musical scores by famous composers, such as Beethoven and Chopin; letters, notebooks and other scribblings by famous authors, including Jane Austin, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë; maps, illustrations and ancient religious texts.

One thing I noticed is that most of the composers, writers and scientists whose writings are on display, had very messy handwriting. The only exceptions I noticed were the Brontë sisters. Could there be a connection between almost illegible scribbles and genius?

Making Your Mark

This afternoon I’m off to London, and tomorrow morning I’m going to the opening of an exhibition about at the British Library entitled “Writing: Making Your Mark“.

Making Your Mark

They describe it as “the extraordinary story behind one of humankind’s greatest achievements: through more than 100 objects spanning 5,000 years and seven continents.”

It includes such things as notebooks from Mozart, Alexander Fleming and James Joyce, as well examples of writing, calligraphy, writing tools and typewriters from around world.

There’s a press view and guided tour of the exhibition tomorrow morning, which I’m going to, and a big opening event on Thursday evening. The exhibtion opens to public on Friday, and runs until the end of August 2019.

I haven’t been to the British Library before, so it’ll be interesting to see it, and the exhibition sounds fascinating, and I’m really looking forward to it.