Archive for Alphabets

The indecipherability of the Voynich manuscript

Less than half a year ago, we were treated to yet another among countless claims for the decipherment of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (henceforth "Vm"):  "Voynich code cracked?" (5/16/19).  I was skeptical then and am even more skeptical now after having read this article:

Peter Bakker, "The Voynich manuscript: the decipherment of ms. 408", Lingoblog (9/10/19)

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Writing: from complex symbols to abstract squiggles

There's a new exhibition on "Writing:  Making Your Mark" at the British Library.  Judging from the homepage and all that I've heard about it, this is an exciting, informative, comprehensive display of more than a hundred objects and forty different systems pertaining to the history of writing during the past five millennia and drawn from around the world.  Since it's open until Tuesday, August 27, 2019, if you're in the vicinity it would be worth your while to stop by and take a look.

There's also an excellent article by Kristina Foster about the exhibition in Hyperallergic (6/7/19):

"A History of Writing, from Hieroglyphs to Squiggles:  An exhibition at the British Library powerfully delves into the personal and political complexities of writing, driving home that it's not only one of humanity's greatest inventions, but born out of the strongest human motivations."

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An Indo-European approach to the alphabet?

[Update by Mark Liberman: Knowledgeable commenters have serious objections to the content of this guest post (e.g. John McWhorter, Sally Thomason), and others cite apparently racist content and publication location in other writings by John Day (e.g. Suzanne Kemmerer, Jamie). It was a serious mistake to have given this work a platform on this blog, which tries to present reputable linguistic perspectives in a public-facing way. I'm not going to delete it, since the comments are worth preserving, but it's important to put this warning up front. We'll try to avoid such mistakes in the future.]

[This is a guest post by John V. Day]

John V. Day, The Alphabet Code: The Origins of Our Alphabet and Numbers (Kindle 2018).

At present, almost every scholar follows Herodotus about the Greek alphabet being created by non-Indo-European Phoenicians (despite an earlier tradition attributing the invention of writing to the legendary hero Palamedes). Whereas my book, The Alphabet Code, argues that Indo-Europeans created the alphabet.

One problem with the orthodox story, as Isaac Taylor pointed out in the 19th century, is that the Greek letters and their alleged Semitic forerunners suffer from a 'nearly absolute dissemblance of form': for example, zēta and Semitic zayin, mu and Semitic mem; san and Semitic tsade; rhō and Semitic resh.

Furthermore, as Barry Powell admits, 'The signs of the West Semitic signaries bear little resemblance to the objects they are said to name.' Α, for example, supposedly depicts the head of an ox, although only after being rotated by 180°; Β, a house; Θ, a hand; Π, a mouth. Yet no one doubts the Phoenician hypothesis.

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No scanner

I'm on the Amtrak train from Philadelphia to New Haven. Although I've ridden on trains hundreds of times all over the US and around the world, something just happened that I've never experienced before. The conductor was going through the entire car (and other cars too — with hundreds of people) asking each person politely and calmly, "Last name on your ticket?"

Whereupon each passenger said his or her name. Since the names were of all kinds of nationalities and variant spellings, in most cases he had to follow up by asking them to spell their name. Every single passenger did so, politely and clearly, and the conductor typed their surnames into his handheld electronic device.

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Sino-English graphic tour de force

Jeff DeMarco saw this on Facebook:

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Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 3

A highly educated Chinese colleague sent me the following note:

More Chinese phrases with Latin alphabet, such as C位, diss, etc. have become quite popular. Even one of my friends who is so intoxicated by the beauty of the Chinese classic language used "diss" in her WeChat post. She could have used any of the Chinese words such as wǔrǔ 侮辱 or dǐhuǐ 诋毁 to express her idea, but she chose "diss" instead. It was quite a surprise. I feel reluctant to use this kind of word, especially in writing.

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Diacriticless Vietnamese, part 2

This comment by Quyet on a recent post ("Dungan-English dictionary" [10/26/18]) is of such significance that I feel it merits separate, special recognition of its own:

The [Vietnamese] government often sends out mass text messages with announcements to every number in the country with no diacritics at all. Furthermore, teenagers have grown up to text toneless and abbreviated with no issues, and now it's common to see things like "Hn 2 vc mun dj choj oh cv thog nhat vs cac p dog nghiep hem?"

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The inevitability (or not) of diacritical marks

Recent talk at the University of Pennsylvania:

"Printers' Devices, or, How French Got Its Accents"
Katie Chenoweth, Princeton University
Monday, 22 October 2018 – 5:15 PM
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania
Sponsored by: Penn Libraries

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Diacriticless Vietnamese on a sign in San Francisco

Charles Belov sent in this photograph of a sign posted on the Pho 2000 restaurant on Larkin Street in San Francisco:

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∆ in Chinese

Karl Smith saw this sign in Taichung, Taiwan:

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Pinyin story

Tweet by Lori Belinsky:

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Unknown language #11

Dan Waugh sent in the following photograph, which he had received from a colleague, who in turn had received it from another colleague who was wondering what is written on the tapestry (what they are referring to it as):

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Pinyin for daily use

Self-explanatory screen shot:

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