Above: Part of a painting by Francesco Majotto showing Mesrop Mashtots inventing the Armenian alphabet.
I recently noticed a weird similarity between a cipher I used in my diary when I was a high school kid and the Armenian alphabet. I never noticed this resemblance in previous years because the Unicode charts show the Armenian script in a squared-off and slightly diagonal form. My diary code resembled the rounder and non-slanted form seen here:
I don’t think I had any access to information about the Armenian script back in those days (pre-Internet times). The dictionaries and encyclopedias of that era often included a chart showing the Phoenecian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman alphabets side by side, but the odds of seeing a table of Armenian (or other exotic) glyphs while living in small-town Florida were next to nil.
So, this leaves me wondering if the similiarity is sheer coincidence, if I saw a sample of the Armenian alphabet and forgot seeing it, or if there is some supernatural force at work (ghosts, reincarnation, etc). None of these explanations seem likely.
08 April 2012
at 4:40 PM
31 March 2012
March 31st is World Backup Day, an annual opportunity for humans around the globe to think about the importance of backing up any computer files which would be hard to replace. You can read more about it at worldbackupday.com or enjoy the snarky and technical discussion at Slashdot.
Many Mac users are satisfied with the built-in Time Machine app but I feel it’s important to have some backup copies located somewhere other than home. Personally I have become a fan of online services such as Dropbox and Mozy.
Something I wonder about (but haven’t reached any conclusions about) is how to back up creative stuff that only exists on paper. I guess maybe I should photograph or scan all that stuff and add the images to my online backups.
at 1:32 PM
26 March 2012
(cross-posted from the Conlang mailing list, with a few additions)
Barbara Newhall Follett was a brilliant young woman who had a couple of novels published at a very young age early in the 20th century. In 1939, at the age of 25, she vanished.
There is a wonderful, haunting article about her life by Paul Collins: Vanishing Act in Lapham’s Quarterly. NPR did a five-minute story about her which you can listen to here: www.npr.org/2010/12/18/
Miss Follett created a conworld called Farksolia which had its own language. Some fragments of the writing, including a page of glossary, can be found here: www.farksolia.org/category/farksolia
The webmaster over there has posted more information about the language.
The text is heartbreakingly short, but here are a couple of excerpts:
light, jir; dark, fune; these words represent day and night, happiness and
[sadness], clearness and vagueness-- however, fune stands neither for sadness or vagueness in a sad sense-- rather seriousness and quiet dimness.
there is a tense of wishing a thing might be, a sort of subjunctive, but untranslatable in English-- an elusive, ideal consummation, a dream, highly improbabl[e] or even impossible of realization. That tense is formed by the suffix -ril to a verb. "The dream of my life would be to go there"-- na oparil.
at 11:15 AM
14 March 2012
The release of Michael Erard’s book Babel No More has resulted in several news articles about “hyperpolyglots,” people who enjoy learning many languages. Here are links to two of the articles:
The Cult of the Hyperpolyglot (BBC).
Are You a Hyperpolyglot? The Secrets of Language Superlearners (Time).
Some of you will recall surveys taken in the Conlang mailing list in years past revealing that many inventors of new languages are left-handed, gay and have beards. Mr Erard says hyperpolyglots are more likely to be introverted, gay or left-handed.
An audio recording of an interview with the author is available here.
at 2:00 AM
12 March 2012
Google Translate has added Esperanto to its list of supported languages. It will be interesting to watch this and see if the quality of the translations improves as time goes by. (The software supposedly trains itself to get better and better.) As you can see in my simple test above, two of the three short sentences were translated correctly; the final one was botched.
If you're not terribly busy, check out the article How Google Translate Works by David Bellos.
at 9:53 PM
05 March 2012
I just stumbled across a blog that mentions some newly invented writing systems that have been proposed for minority and endangered natural languages. The blog is called Anshuman Pandey (apparently named after its author). If you enjoy encounters with new writing systems or you are browsing for special glyphs to inspire your own work, this is a blog worth watching.
Interesting articles include a script for the Tani languages of Arunachal Pradesh and a script for the Dhimal language of Nepal.
at 4:30 AM
03 March 2012
Version 6.1 of Unicode, the ultimate system for computerized encoding of all the world’s writing systems, has been released. A summary of the changes made from version 6.0 to 6.1 is available.
Here are some of my personal favorites among the new glyphs (aren’t they cute?):
Yes, there are a lot of glyphs similar to 11137 scattered throughout Unicode, including 10463 from the Shavian alphabet, but I like the proportions in the published sample of 11137 much better. (Different strokes for different folks.)
at 10:52 PM
12 February 2012
The book Learning ROILA was published a couple of months ago. “The RObot Interaction Language (ROILA) is a new spoken language that is optimized for the communication between machines and humans. It is extremely easy to learn for humans and it is simple for machines to recognize.” Available from Amazon.
A brief article about the language with a few specimen sentences is online at ComputerWorld.co.NZ
at 7:38 PM
05 February 2012
In August 1971, an experimental theatre group performed a spectacle at the ruins of the palace of Darius in Persepolis. Parts of the event were performed in Latin, Greek and Avestan, and part was done in a language called Orghast which was created by poet Ted Hughes. Here is a specimen:
I was in darkness
brought into light
I was broken in pieces
light healed me
Bits of information about the language and its development are scattered throughout the book Orghast at Persepolis by A.C.H. Smith (Methuen Publishing, 1972 and Viking Press, 1973). Used copies of this book are readily available from abebooks.com
It’s quite interesting to read about how the language evolved, how words that Hughes pulled out of thin air* turned out to have similarities to words in ancient languages, and how Orghast served as a lingua franca for the multinational theatre company on a few occasions – there was one situation in which a member of the group sent them a telegram written in Orghast.
If you are interested in artlangs, I recommend the book. There are lots of thought-inspiring quotations from Hughes about the relationships between the human body, poetry, and human languages.
*Perhaps “pulled out of thin air” is a poor choice of words. Hughes said he created each word through a long meditative process.
at 12:39 PM
02 February 2012
Sometimes when I am at work I will think of something I want to do at home… sometimes a conlang-related thing, and sometimes a gardening or housework thing…
For years I had trouble remembering these ideas after leaving work. I often wrote a note to myself on a piece of scrap paper and stuck it in my pocket or my briefcase, but those notes piled up and failed to get my attention.
Lately I have been sending e-mails from my work e-mail account to my personal account and this seems to succeed most of the time. Likewise, if I am at home and I recall something that needs to be done at work, I can send an e-mail from “at-home me” to “at-work me.” I know some employers don't permit this but fortunately my company doesn't prohibit sending an occasional personal e-mail.
So communication between at-home me and at-work me has improved quite a bit. Now I have to figure out how to improve the flow of ideas between “driving-around me” and “at-home me” and “at-work me.”
Sometimes “driving-around me” will call the landline phone at home and leave a message on the answering machine. That works well. But it is difficult for “at-work me” and “at-home me” to get a message to “driving-around me.”
I have gone back to updating my diary/journal more frequently. This is a great way for “past me” to send ideas and information to “future me.” What’s lacking (and is very much needed) is some way for “future me” to send messages to “present-day me.”
You know what annoys me? People who won't admit that they are laminated, made of distinct layers bonded together. You're not the same person now that you were 15 years ago. You're not the same person at work that you are at home. Stop trying to deceive your multi-self. You are a composite.
at 4:05 AM
01 February 2012
27 January 2012
I often come across articles deploring the death of spoken languages or celebrating efforts to revive them, but the less common sign languages are also endangered and rarely mentioned. As with spoken languages, each sign language has unique qualities and is part of a culture.
Here is an article about the Village Sign project.
Here is a newspaper article about Plains Indian sign language.
And here's a link to the first page of a related academic article.
at 4:04 AM