18 August 2007

natlang scripts that seem conlangy, part 1

There are some writing systems used by natural languages which, to my eyes, look very much like they were consciously planned by a single person with good taste. (Some scripts which actually were designed by a single person look like they evolved in a helter-skelter haphazard way, e.g. Cherokee.)

Some of these scripts have such a strong appeal to me that I am tempted, oh so tempted, to create a conlang optimized for using the script, possibly with its original phonetic values, or possibly with a new phonemic inventory altogether. So far I have resisted the temptation to do this because it doesn't seem like the most worthwhile use of time, but on the other hand, borrowing an existing writing system for which fonts are available would certainly be quicker than designing a new script and trying to create fonts for it.

One of the natlang scripts that has a strong aesthetic appeal to me is Lontara a.k.a. Bugis, a syllabary used to write Buginese and other languages spoken on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. This script is not used by many people in modern times but naturally there are some who want to revive it. (This is true of any script or language that is dying out.) The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems says the script has some deficiencies, such as lacking any way to write the glottal stop and geminate consonants which are phonemes in the associated languages.

You can read a description of the Bugis writing system at ancientscripts.com

A freeware TrueType font designed by Andi Malarangeng and Jim Henry is available (with good instructions) at seasite.niu.edu. A font optimized for Mac OS X can be purchased for $19 from XenoType Technologies (whose website is fun to browse, by the way).

12 August 2007

Kalaba-X 50th Anniversary

Praise strongly Kalaba-X speaker.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Kalaba-X's first appearance in print. This delightfully strange and incredibly useful conlang was designed by professional linguist Kenneth L. Pike (1912-2000). In 1957 a lecture that he gave during the prior year was published in Bibliotheca Sacra. People who are having trouble breaking free of their native language and grasping the underlying meanings of what they are trying to say should spend a few hours with Kalaba-X. It is a great emancipator; it helps to rip up the straitjacket of native language habits.

Two versions of the Kalaba-X article are online. The full-length original, minus some of its formatting, is preserved at archive.org here. (After Dr. Pike died, the Summer Institue of Linguistics removed his writings from their website, which strikes me as reprehensible behavior.) If you have good pop-up blockers and spam filters in your web browser, you might prefer the more tidy version of the article which is here.