Archive for Alphabets

Logos: The sacred phonology, mathematics, and agriculture of the alphazodiac

[This is a guest post by Brian Pellar]

. . . the consonants are the letters or ciphers which assemble around the vowels to form the words, just as the constellations assemble around the Sun, image of the Divinity, and compose the community of stars over which it presides.                                                                        — Hebreu Primiti

The Consonants of Command

Dear Professor Mair,

In regard to your question, “Is there some sense in which we could think of the 12 aspects/signs/symbols of the alphazodiac as comprising/encompassing the basic sounds of the universe?” I’ve dabbled a bit with some intriguing answers in my papers. For instance, in my very first paper, SPP 196, I placed in the endnotes a very interesting reference from the Gospel of the Egyptians (a Nag Hammadi text) that I feel might bear a relationship to the structure and the underlying “sacred” vowels that comprise the Logos/Word — the breath of God — of the alphazodiac. More specifically,

the “three powers” (the Father, Mother, and Son) give praise to the unnamable Spirit — and the “hidden invisible mystery” that came forth is composed of seven sacred vowels (i.e., the Son “brings forth from the bosom/the seven powers of the great / light of the seven voices, and the word/[is] their completion”), with each of those seven vowels repeated exactly twenty-two times (“iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii[iii]/ ēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēēē /oooooooooooooooooooooo/uu[uuu] uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu/eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee/aaaaaaa[aaaa]aaaaaaaaaaa/ ōōōōōōōōōōōō ōōōōōōōōōō”) (Robinson 1990: 209–210). [SPP 196, pp. 38-39].

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 4

Wherein we embark upon an inquisition into the divine proportions of the dodecahedron and its congeners, take a peek at the history of accounting, explore the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, and examine the humanistic physics of Werner Heisenberg*.

[*Heisenberg's father was a professor of medieval and modern Greek studies at the University of Munich in Germany. Heisenberg had more a “humanistic” education, i.e. more Latin and Greek than in natural sciences.  One morning the young Werner Heisenberg discovered reading Plato's Timaeus a description of the world with regular polyhedra. Heisenberg could not understand why Plato being so rational started to use speculative ideas. But finally he was fascinated by the idea that it could be possible to describe the Universe mathematically. He could not understand why Plato used the Polyhedra as the basic units in his model, but Heisenberg considered that in order to understand the world it is necessary to understand the Physics of the atoms. (source)  He contributed to atomic theory through formulating quantum mechanics in terms of matrices and in discovering the uncertainty principle, which states that a particle's position and momentum cannot both be known exactly. (Britannica | Apr 23, 2024)


We have had an exciting, joyful journey through dodecahedra land, from the archeological discovery of a new specimen in England, to deep, dense discussions about the meaning and purpose of these mysterious objects, to scampering through and clambering over a playground installation of a related form.  In this post, I would like to return to the essential twelveness of the dodecahedra.

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Mixed script writing in Taiwan

[This is a guest post by Kirinputra]

Something happened* a few days ago that some of your readers might find surprising. It reflects a mood change that's set in over the last few years in Formosa.
[*VHM:  The content of the Facebook post linked here may not be available at this time, but you can still get the gist of what it was about from the remainder of this post.]
My apologies — the link has been set to private. But the incident has spawned a new Facebook group that anybody can view.
So this guy posts a message in mixed-script Taioanese (sinographs & romanization, mixed inline) in a pro-motorcyclist Facebook activist group…. The message was aligned with the views of the group, but the first few waves of comments were almost all reactions of disgust at the post not being in Mandarin; some group members blocked the guy right away. Some of the reactions were specifically against the romanized elements, but the reaction to the sinographic elements was pretty disparaging too….

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A crack in the hegemonic edifice of hanzi

Stunning report from Pinyin News:

"Chinese characters no longer required for Taiwan Aborigine names" (5/21/24)

Last week Taiwan’s legislature passed an amendment stating that members of Taiwan’s tribes will no longer be forced to adopt names written in Chinese characters. Instead, their names can be presented solely in romanization if so desired. Thus, at least in this specialized category, Chinese characters have been stripped of their primacy and romanization is officially allowed to stand on its own (not appear only in conjunction with Chinese characters).

Source: Lìyuàn tōngguò: yuánzhùmín shēnfen zhèngjiàn — kě zhǐ xiě pīnyīn zúmíng (立院通過:原住民身分證件 可只寫拼音族名), United Daily News, May 15, 2024

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 2

A little over a year ago, Frank Jacobs published this admirable survey of a mysterious object that has perplexed and preoccupied us for the past week — The Mysterious Dodecahedrons of the Roman Empire, Big Think, Atlas Obscura (5/12/23):

The first of many of these puzzling objects was unearthed almost three centuries ago, and we still don’t know what they were for.

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England

"They are known as one of archaeology’s great enigmas – hollow 12-sided objects from the Roman era with no known purpose or use."

So begins this article by Jessica Murray in The Guardian (4/29/24):

Mysterious Roman dodecahedron to go on display in Lincoln

There are no known descriptions or drawings of object in Roman literature, making its purpose unclear

Roman bronze dodecahedron found in Tongeren, Gallo-Roman Museum, Tongeren

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Sound over symbol (and meaning)

Zach Hershey called to my attention a phenomenon about the relationship between speech and writing (and meaning) that I long suspected might well be true, and I even collected plentiful evidence in support of it, but I was never absolutely certain that it was true, namely, that in many cases speakers of Sinitic languages have in mind sounds over characters.  Now, with information provided by Zach, we have proof that Sinitic speakers in some cases are indeed thinking of sounds separately (apart from) hanzi.

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Wheat and word: astronomy and the origins of the alphabet

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-forty-first issue:

"On the Origins of the Alphabet: Orion/Osiris in Need of a Head/Seed, the Roots of Writing, the Neolithic Europe Word as Sun/Seed System (NEWS), and a Solution to the Tartaria and Gradeshnista Tablets," by Brian R. Pellar.

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Pinyin resurgent


Some exciting news.

A member of the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (the yearly meeting of which is taking place in Beijing right now) is urging schools to increase the time spent teaching Pinyin (currently 4-6 weeks) to a semester or even longer to help ensure more students have a solid foundation in this skill. Intriguingly, there's also a mention of using more "texts."

Here's an account of what's happening:

"Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician", Pinyin News (3/7/24)

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

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Major romanization change coming in Japan

From Pinyin News (3/4/24):  

"Japan to switch official romanization from Kunrei-shiki to Hepburn"

Japanese newspapers are reporting that Japan will officially switch from Kunrei-shiki romanization to Hepburn romanization.

In a front-page column last week, the Asahi Shimbun said, “A draft report recently published by the Council of Cultural Affairs pointed out that the Hepburn system is more widely used than the Kunrei system, and it is expected that the notation will be adjusted to reflect this. It is surprising because the writing system has not changed for about 70 years, but if confusion can be avoided, the change is to be welcomed.”

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Pinyin nomenclature as an instrument of diplomacy

Ever since China began aggressively to assert territorial claims over the seas south of its southernmost border all the way to Indonesia, disregarding the arbitral ruling of the international tribunal in favor of the Philippines on July 12, 2016, it has increasingly resorted to Pinyin naming practices to stake its claims to specific geographical features.

Alyssa Chen, "South China Sea: how Beijing uses pinyin translations to double down on territorial claims", SCMP (2/4/24):

  • Chinese foreign ministry and state media articles have increased their use of pinyin for place names in the contested area
  • It follows a growing number of flare-ups between Beijing and Manila, including one run-in just a week ago

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Hangeul for Cia-Cia, part IV

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The Miracle of Western Writing

The following essay is from the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci's (1552-1610)  Xī zì qíjì 西字奇蹟 (The Miracle of Western Letters) published in Beijing in 1605. This was the first book to use the Roman alphabet to write a Sinitic language. Twenty years later, another Jesuit in China, Nicolas Trigault (1577-1628), issued his Xī rú ěrmù zī (Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati) 西儒耳目資 at Hangzhou. Neither book had much immediate impact on the way in which Chinese thought about their writing system, and the romanizations they described were intended more for Westerners than for the Chinese, but their eventual impact on China was enormous, and it is still unfolding.

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