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

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.

Rare Letters

Multiocular O

Today I heard about a very unusual and rare Cyrillic letter – the Multiocular O (Мультиокулярная О in Russian):

According to Wikipedia, this letter is “a rare exotic glyph variant of the Cyrillic letter O. This glyph variant can be found in certain manuscripts in the phrase «серафими многоꙮчитїи» (many-eyed seraphim)”. It appears in a copy of the Psalms from about 1429.

This is an example of what it looks like in a sentence:

Multiocular O in a sentence

Source: ВикипедиЯ

Some other unusual Cyrillic letters include:

  • Monocular O: Ꙩ ꙩ – used in ꙩко (eye)
  • Binocular O: Ꙫ ꙫ – used in ꙫчи ([two] eyes)
  • Double Monocular O: Ꙭ ꙭ – used in ꙭчи ([two] eyes)
  • Hundred thousands: ҈
  • Millions: ҉
  • Thousand millions: ꙲

None are commonly used, but I’m happy to know that they exist.

Who needs emoticons when you have letters like and ?

Do you know of any other unusual letters in Cyrillic or other scripts?

Scripts in use

Have you ever wondered how many alphabets and other writing systems are used regularly?

I show this in the writing system indices on Omniglot, although it isn’t always easy for less well-known writing systems to be sure how much they are used.

Also, how many different writing systems can you recognise?

This video explains how to recognise all the writing systems in regular use:

It covers the following scripts:

Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Armenian Georgian and Mongolian

Arabic and Hebrew

Bengali, Devanagari, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Tibetan, Odia, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Sinhala, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Thai and Thaana

East-Asian scripts
Chinese, Japanese and Korean

Rare scripts
Tifinagh, N’Ko, Samaritan, Syriac, Inuktitut/Cree, Cherokee, Yi, Ol Chiki, Fraser and Tai Le

A Tasty Font

On an episode of Word of Mouth I listened today, they discuss the associations we have with different fonts.

Studies have found that different fonts can effect the way food tastes to you. For example, the same chocolate can taste sweeter, or less sweet, just because it’s labelled with different fonts.

Some examples of chocolate bars with different fonts

Which of the above would you prefer?

And no, I’m not planning to bring out an Omniglot chocolate bar, in case you’re wondering.

If Greek yoghurt, hummus or other Greek foods are labelled with a Greek-looking font, you may believe that they come from Greece and are more authentic than such products labelled with a different style of font.

Some examples of hummus packaging in different fonts

Which of these is most Greek?

Some fonts are seen as more masculine, while others are seen as more feminine.

Some examples of shop signs

Would you say these shop signs are masculine, feminine or neither?

What are your favourite fonts?

Are there fonts your really don’t like and/or don’t use?


Last night I saw the film Black Panther, and quite enjoyed it, especially the linguistic elements.

The film is based in the fictional African country Wakanda. The characters speak mainly in English, but sometimes slip into Xhosa, which is nice to hear.

The titles and credits at the beginning and end of the film first appear in a mysterious script, which also appears on various signs and decorative elements in the film. Today I found a font for this script, which seems to be called Wakandan, and put together a page about it. Here’s an example:

A sample text in the Wakandan alphabet (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The text then changes into a version of the Latin alphabet which looks a bit like the mystery script. It is in fact a typeface known as BEYNO, which was designed by Swiss designer and illustrator Fabian Korn. Here’s an example:

A example of the BEYNO typeface used in the Black Panther film

Creating fonts

I have tried various apps for creating fonts, such as FontStruct and Fonty with mixed results. Some work better than others. FontStruct works well, though I find it tricky to make letters with lots of curves. Fonty works well, though when I tried to use the fonts on my computer, the letters do not display at all.

Yesterday I found Glyphr Studio, a free, web-based font design tool that works well and produces usable fonts. I worked out how to import graphics, which is easier than making all the letters from scratch, though a little convoluted, as you have to save each letter as a separate image, convert the images to SVG files, then import them and tweak them. Strangely they are inverted when they appear in Glyphr.

Anyway, I make a rough font for Laala, which requires more tweaking, but looks okay.

One language is never enough (Zo alu laala nuuna teete) in Laala

If you make fonts, what software, apps or websites do you use?

Writing Systems of the World Comparison Chart

Today we have a guest post by Matt Baker

I remember the day when, as a child, I first discovered a writing system other than English. I was flipping through an encylopedia (this was the 1980’s, pre-Google) and noticed that, at the beginning of the “A” section, there was a little chart that showed the English letter equivalent in both Hebrew and Greek. I was fascinated by this and immediately tried to make my own chart showing all 26 letters in the other two languages. Like many English speakers who have never learned another language, I assumed that all foreign writing systems would have 26 letters that perfectly corresponded to the English ones. Obviously, this was not the case and I quickly discovered this when I tried to make my chart. Frustrated and confused, I gave up.

Well, it has been over 30 years since that day, and now that I have a little more education and life experience under my belt, I decided to complete the task. But this time, I included 45 different writing systems (or alternatives). Of course, the correlations do not match perfectly and I’ve had to divide the systems into different types (abjads, alphabets, abugidas, etc.) but the result is pretty cool. My goal in making this chart was not to provide a technical, comprehensive guide to each individual writing system but rather to demonstrate the beauty and variety of the world’s writing systems (hence, please note that the indicated pronunciations are approximate and that in some cases, certain additional characters may be missing).

The chart is finished (except for some final checks from those who know each system) and I’m currently raising funds on Kickstarter to get it printed. If you’re interested, please take a look at the project page. There you’ll find a full list of the writing systems included.

A preview of the writing system chart

A postcard view

Last night I went to an interesting talk about postcards at the local history society. Various people, including my mum, have collections of postcards of Silverdale and/or sent from Silverdale, and there was a project at Lancaster University to scan, transcribe and study the cards. There is also a book entitled Old Silverdale: The Loveliest Spot on Morecambe Bay which features postcards from Silverdale.

A postcard of Silverdale Shore (1911)

The talk focused on postcards that were sent from Silverdale between about 1900 and the 1930s. Looking at the kind of things people wrote on them, their handwriting, style of writing, punctuation and so on. Apparently some of the cards in the collection were written backwards, upside down or in a spiral to make it more difficult for postmen to read them. Some even used rebuses*.

When the postcards were sent there were a lot more postal deliveries – several every day – so it was possible to send a card in the morning, and to receive a reply the same day. They were used somewhat like text messages and other social media are today, and just like text messages, there was no standard way of writing them, so people wrote however they wanted. Short, incomplete sentences. Minimal punctuation. Abbreviations and accronyms, and some rather exsentrik spellin.

Certain people at the time were apparently concerned that postcards could bring the end of formal written language, and that people would start writing any old how. Similar concerns have been expressed about text messages, online chat and so on. This TED talk explains why such fears are not justified.

The speaker also mentioned that when people write postcards they tend to use more elaborate, flowery and even poetic words than they might normally do. They talk about ‘wooded glades’ and ‘fragrant breezes’, ‘delightful weather’, ‘glorious sunshine’, and such like.

Do you still send postcards? If not, do you remember when you last did?

Do you have a particular way of writing them?

It’s a long time since I sent a postcard – at least 10 years, I think, maybe longer.

* A rebus is a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters.