Archive for Writing

Graphic Contexts Determine Characters' Functions

[This is a guest post by J. Marshall Unger.]

I do not believe it is useful, let alone necessary, to classify every character of a writing system as a phonogram, logogram, syllabogram, logosyllabogram, or any other kind of “gram.” Characters function logographically or phonographically depending on the degree to which they reflect the phonological, as opposed to the lexical, structure of the part of an utterance they are used to represent. One and the same character can function phonographically in one context, logographically in another, and in both ways in yet another. This is a consequence of what Martinet called the double articulation of language, i.e. Hockett’s duality of patterning or Hjemslev’s plereme/ceneme distinction. One may say for convenience that a character that functions logographically in a particular context is a logogram, but to the extent that doing so invites the unwary to think that logograms enjoy some sort of context-free existence in a Platonic universe of symbols, it is a bad idea.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Kanji brush writing on an iPad

The article is in Japanese, but you should be able to get an idea of what's going on from the videos and stills.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Script origin and typology, part 2

[This is a guest post by Peter T. Daniels, to follow part 1 (7/1/24)]

That, then, is my account of the origin of writing. It might be supposed that my next topic must be the origin of the alphabet. But it is not; for me, the origin of the alphabet is accidental and practically inevitable, given the constellation of circumstances surrounding the event.

No; what must be celebrated, if not explained, is the origin of the abjad. Previously, writers wrote sounds; subsequently, writers wrote parts of sounds. All the evidence in favor of the syllable as the basic unit of speech is also evidence against the like­­­lihood of discovering the segment. The Egyptians didn’t discover the segment, even though they wrote only consonants and didn’t identify the vowels of the syllables of their language; as explained by Alfred Schmitt, Egyptian hieroglyphic signs never ceased to be word signs, even when used strictly for their phonetic value.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Script origin and typology, part 1

[This is a guest post by Peter T. Daniels]

Author's Note

In 1999, Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania invited me to prepare a talk to close an international symposium on early writing systems. The result is before you — essentially unchanged and unupdated (because the planned publication did not materialize), even though I would treat a couple of points differently now. John Noble Wilford covered the event for the New York Times, but in order to accommodate illustrations, his article was cut (from the bottom, as newspapers do), and since he described each contribution in the order it was given, the last several talks went unmentioned! (And weren't restored when a volume of his reporting was published a few years later.) 

A fuller presentation of my understanding of the nature and history of writing may be found in my Exploration of Writing (Equinox, 2018), and in major articles in the 2023 volumes of the journals WORD and Written Language and Literacy.

A Study of Origins
Peter T. Daniels
New York [now Jersey City, N.J.]

closing talk at The Multiple Origins of Writing: Image, Symbol, Script
international symposium, Center for Ancient Studies,
University of Pennsylvania. University Museum, Philadelphia, March 27, 1999

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)

Exercising the brain: handwriting vs. typing

Elegant writing by hand has always been a trial for me.  The harder I try to make my handwriting presentable, the more it turns out looking like chicken scratches.  I'll never forget how my second grade teacher, Mrs. Kiefer, was in despair over my poor penmanship, almost to the point of crying.  "Vicky," she would say, "you are such a good student in all other respects, why can't you write better?"  It's the same way with my brother Denis.  Watching him write, and seeing the product as it emerges on the page, it is obvious that forming letters on the page is a kind of suffering for him.  And yet, both Denis and I prefer to compose whatever we really care about on paper — be it a poem, an essay, or just random thoughts.

I'm a super fast typist, and I can spew out things on a computer screen almost as fast as I normally talk.  It's easy as abc.  When I do so, however, I'm not thinking, I'm just gurgitating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (32)

Unknown language #17

Shared by Sup Gau in the Facebook group "Language Nerds":

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Two brushes in one hand — virtuoso calligraphy

Comments (2)

Still more Mongolic

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Writing on things

If someone is investigating texts, they can concentrate on the subject / content / style / linguistic nature of the writing.  Increasingly, however, scholars have begun to concentrate on the objects and materials on which the writing takes place.  From this, they tease out all sorts of interesting information about the social, political, and economic aspects of the texts.  A new book on this topic is Thomas Kelly's The Inscription of Things:  Writing and Materiality in Early Modern China (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2023).

Why would an inkstone have a poem inscribed on it? Early modern Chinese writers did not limit themselves to working with brushes and ink, and their texts were not confined to woodblock-printed books or the boundaries of the paper page. Poets carved lines of verse onto cups, ladles, animal horns, seashells, walking sticks, boxes, fans, daggers, teapots, and musical instruments. Calligraphers left messages on the implements ordinarily used for writing on paper. These inscriptions—terse compositions in verse or epigrammatic prose—relate in complex ways to the objects on which they are written.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

China Babel

My basement is full of unpublished manuscripts.  I call it the "Dungeon", because it is dark, dank, and crowded with books and papers — much worse than my office, which has achieved a fabled reputation for its crampedness — and very cold in the winter, though it does have a wonderful bay window on the eastern side where I can look out at the flora, fauna, and foliage to rest my eyes and mind from time to time.

Three of the most significant manuscripts in the Dungeon that remained unpublished for decades are:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

AI writes sinoglyphs

From Jeff DeMarco:

A Chinese friend has been experimenting with AI, the result being guǐzi 鬼子 ("ghost characters"). We’ve seen something similar, but the hànzì 汉字 ("sinoglyph") manipulation is almost artistic. Have you encountered this before?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

Hurting the feelings of the Chinese people in Tokyo?

Sign outside a Tokyo restaurant:


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)