Ask Language Log: "Strange Writing"

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TJJ from Napa CA writes:

Dr. Dan Jurafsky at Stanford suggested I contact you.  I have a statue I purchased years ago from a Humane Society fundraiser sale.  It is made of some sort of stone and has a rabbit on one side and some strange writing on the bottom.  It looks like it might be Bengali or Gujarati.  I'm curious to know what language it is and what it says but have no idea how to find out.

The answer to all such questions is to ask LLOG readers. Here's a picture:


  1. Bruce Rusk said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 11:53 am

    It looks a lot like the notoriously difficult-to-decipher Chinese script called Bird Script (niaoshu 鳥書). It has been used as a decorative script for over 2,500 years. Here's the Wikipedia page on it: ,

  2. cliff arroyo said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 1:39 am

    I does not anything remotely like any Indian script I've seen (granted I don't know much more than how to distinguish them).

  3. Victor Mair said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 9:02 am

    Bruce Rusk is almost certainly right. Aside from the two birds' eyes and beaks symmetrically facing in opposite directions at the top left and top right, the feathery plumage is another tell-tale sign of the "bird(-worm) script". Even when it was current two and a half millennia ago, the "bird(-worm) script" was highly ornamental. On the base of this rabbit statue, it is more decorative than functional.

    Bruce supplied the mobile version of the Wikipedia article on this subject. For ease of viewing, here is the Wikipedia article in its regular format.

  4. Tom Gewecke said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

    It seems like the Rabbit character should be there in some form

  5. Joyce Melton said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

    It says:

    Eagle misses his duck,
    Hound misses his master's voice,
    Fish and I sleep well.

  6. M Lin said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 4:22 pm

    Tom Geweke, you're right, the character for rabbit is clearly the last (bottom left) character.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 6:34 pm

    Here's the modern, standard, regular form of the "rabbit" character without all the flourishes:

    tù 兔

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