The Lore of Scriptology Lecture 4:


AdamBlatner, M.D.

March, 2011):     Given as a lecture in mid-Februaray as part of Senior University Georgetown's February  2011 program.
   (This is the first part of the first lecture---an introductory overview. See also the second part as the Very Early History of Writing,   which will then segue into the 2nd lecture The Early History of Writing        3. Mid-History of Writing         4. This is lecture 4         5. Invented Writing Systems             6  Codes, Fantasy, and Play---and Summary     

Note also, written several years earlier, an overall introduction to Scriptology elsewhere on my website, along with further comments,
    and also on its own web-page, a rather full bibliography of books related to Scriptology.

As I've emphasized, the invention of writing is part of a web of other technologies, each influencing the other. The invention of printing and moveable type led to refinements in ancillary technologies from paper-making to typography to calligraphy, and so forth. 3. And my point is that history is complex. I mentioned last time that the evolution of paper co-evolved with the evolution of writing and printing. Today we’ll note spin-off technologies.
4. Just as computers co-evolve with more complex and demanding programs, and an increase in the power capacity of the computer opens up doors for more complex programs such as video games, so too back then the evolution of paper and printing allowed for more complex forms of writing.

5. Typography involves the very rich field of the design of letterforms and related graphic figures.

6. It began with folks in the Renaissance making an art of type, making beautiful fonts, as they’re now called.

7. The forms of letters continued to evolve. Remember that the early printing of the Gutenberg Bible and that press was less legible.

8. The key to typography is that there are lots of types.
      We grew up with what typewriters generally offered----courier. Remember that?

9. But new type designs are possible on the computer, hundreds—indeed,, thousands of them. You can buy extra at no great cost.

10. Type design is a complex field. They give classes on it for graphics design majors.

Remember, I’m not teaching you stuff so much as letting you know there are whole worlds within worlds that you can learn about. Your kids and friends—some of them are more into this world, because they have choices that you didn’t even know were possible.

11. Even within a given typeface there are many possibilities.

12. Back in my lecture series on the Renaissance I mentioned this fellow, who set up one of the finer printing presses, in Vienna, about 40 years after Gutenberg invented the movable type process around 1450.

13. He published a relatively legible type, and added illustrations. This was one of the first books of a fantasy.

14. Type had to get adjusted to country. The yogh sign has dropped out of our alphabet, the difference between a hard dth and a soft th as in with... really two consonants.

15. Typography continued to develop, with the emergence of amazing typefaces for marketing by the mid-19th century..

16. More..
17. More

18.  And there were those who wanted to pull away from the rank commercialism of the field an become elegant. William Morris made designs in wallpaper, and books, and along with some others re-started the art of calligraphy, which we’ll talk about soon...

19. About typography.. Do you remember this page from Alice in Wonderland?

20    And new people opened up all sorts of horizons in a field called graphic design, making posters, now computer and movie ads, etc.

21 Let’s turn to calligraphy... which has been going on, moving back the calendar for millennia, from the times of the Greeks and Chinese before the common era...

22, I mentioned how this field has gotten a rejuvenating interest, with many books on it in the crafts store. Will this become a sub-group for the visual arts club?

23. Some examples

24   It was a specialty, almost a profession, a fine craft

25, and the forms evolved over time

26.  But with art nouveau, building on William Morris and many others, it became an art form. Mixed with printing.

27. Some of the pictures these folks could make “freehand” were astonishingly complex

28 ... and they endeavored to make a living by teaching fine writing to those who could afford to pay for it, as people pay for other lessons today...

29   another example. Printers also began to figure out how to make letters.

30. And in school, different teachers also were teaching different styles of penmanship.

    . . . nowadays computers are a disruptive technology. Just as complex in different ways, but people are bemoaning the loss of the handwritten letter, the hand-illustrated letter. Our fabric and fibre club has a printing sub-group with nice paper crafts. Perhaps the calligraphy will happen there. I said writing is inter-disciplinary.

31. Only a handful of scripts out of hundreds devised have endeavored to create variations and beauty—the Roman, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese and Japanese, perhaps Tibetan, and now that computers and Western culture and the idea of calligraphy is spreading, other writing systems have also picked it up.

32. Arabic has traditionally practiced Calligraphy. There are schools for Arabic calligraphy now in Japan, along with schools for Japanese Calligraphy. A variety of styles, and implements.

33. More styles. I repeated one.

34. More styles...

35. Arabic calligraphy was often woven into the architecture of the most lovely buildings. Along with geometry, it became a fine art form.

36. Hebrew calligraphy was also considered an art form. For most of its history, there were more hand-scribes than printers. The Torah, the first five books of Moses, was especially sacred and had to be re-created , copied, by specially trained scribes. Very demanding.

37.  Various documents like the marriage contract were also opportunities for illustration...

38 and other types of micro-calligraphy could be made into various animal figures. One can find this in other scripts, too, from the Sanskrit in India and of course Arabic...

39 Turning to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy—these are huge subjects, easily could fill many classes—but as an art, it’s best taught by doing, in what would be a kind of lab or through experiential learning.  

40. There are many variations and tricks..

41 A key theme here is that of play.

42 Tibetan also had various styles, just as the monks in Europe had, different ways of writing the same thing. The key here is to make each style alphabet sort of the same, so there’s a noticeable consistency. If we chose a letter from style 1 and one from style 3 and then 4, it would not be aesthetically pleasing.

43. Back to the Roman, with a message about writing itself, and about communications itself.

44.  Note that during all this, another part involved the design of the writing implement, creating the kind of ink that works well with that writing implement, the kind of surface that takes the implement and ink... co-evolution.
     My goal here is to communicate just the surface of the lovely complexity that is true for almost any facet of life or history, whether it be agriculture or cooking, the manufacture of toys or sewing.

45. A little change of pace. When folks couldn’t read, then experts did the reading and they were familiar with the game enough to get by with fewer gimmicks to make things explicit. In the really olden days they could read from context without vowels. But as more people learned to read, and to read not out loud but silently, all sorts of techniques had to be added to the mix:

46. When to start a sentence? When to end? If a specialist knows the material, it’s like, what? Reading complex computer code; but to be user-friendly, you had to have simpler cues. Icons, we call them nowadays. But in the slightly olden days before icons on our computer, you had to be a serious hobbyist if not a specialist to make your way through the code. So punctuation was the olden equivalent of user-friendly icons on your computer.

47 separate paragraphs, parentheses, periods, colongs, dashes..

48   Each had a story and continues to evolve.  The @   sign used to be used for at what price.  4 lb potatoes @ 3 cents per lb.
    Then it came back into use in a whole new way on computers...

49.  Different stories for these, and how they’ve also become used in new ways in computerese...

50   Shall we have new punctuation marks, sighs, interrobang? What?! 

51 Back to signs, dots... in Hebrew, when you know the language, it’s sort of without the dots. They are used to help beginners or non-native speakers. So this isn’t actually punctuation, though it looks like it. They’re called matres lectiones, mothers of reading, reading helpers..
    Japanese, Chinese, and others make these little allowances, too with different signs, more elementary...

52. Shorthand

53 Goes way back to before the common era, developed by the Romans, even some evidence of use by the Greeks, but a slave of Cicero developed the code and it got bbult on.
54 In the 16th through the 18th century a score of different systems came up. Isaac Pitman’s shorthand was popular throughout the 19th and early 20th century, especially in England. The name for someone who takes dictation is amanuensis. Secretaries often did that work, too, but they did all sorts of other duties in the 19th century. All the correspondence, arrangements, etc. Dictation only came in mainly in the 20th century.

55. In the USA in the early 20th century, Gregg shorthand became more popular. Perhaps someone can explain advantages and disadvantages...

56.  Numbers – I said we’d have to look at parallel developments, because numbers go back to the very beginning of writing..

57, every script had them...

58, heck, every language has them, even without writing.. But there are lots of ways of representing number..

59   The mayan was elaborate... but as I’ve said, their writing was also art...

60. Most of us learned some roman numerals, but they don’t have a zero place setting, which is a significant development in the history of mathematics and consciousness...

   And many cultures used the alphabet also to represent the numbers— Hebrew,

61   Armenia---- this is also a chance to show you the alphabet.  I find these different alphabets charming, different designs.

62, Gothic, also from the Greece, and it shows how the alphabet spread..

63 But from India through Persia and the Middle East and then through there with the Crusades into Europe, the Zero transformed civilization. It didn’t all come from Europe, folks, as I said about China.

64. So there were different systems for writing numbers, such as for the number 6, 657

65, Let’s turn to other notational systems. These aren’t writing per se, by some linguists’ definition. They don’t carry language. But they do communicate on paper and often carry complex information:

66 Ancient Greece, musical notations for how to sing the song!

67   This is propaganda: We’re singing this song for the great Sun City spring concert. Y’all get tickets!
    But also just to remind you, there’s a lot of complexity in the ol’ familiar song score.

68 and the art of writing a complex score has evolved with hundreds of refinements...

69   Modern composers have broken free and invite the performers to improvise even as they play certain notes.  Don’t ask me to explain further...

70 Here’s an even more ambiguous design...

71 and notes just for a given instrument, the lute in the 16th century, the guitar today...

72 And move this mixture of music and dance, directions for how to dance..  But you sort of need to know the meaning of the figures, it’s not spelled out. Indeed, that’s the point. Spelling it out, putting a whole gesture into language, would take pages for one move..

73. So how to work out the greatest cue-ing with the greatest economy... it’s always that way.
  Note again that writing doesn’t carry much in the way of nonverbal communications, eye winks, gestures, smiles, frowns, how close or loud, etc.  Writing is a partial not a full communication!

74 Dancing notation. Can a coreographer tell someone not there what he did? If he can agree to the code!

75 The Chinese had musical notations, too.

76   and the dance notation was even used to help with sign language..

77 Let’s turn to other notational systems. Any of you follow astrology?  These are whole complexes of codes as you get into it.

78   or Alchemy... well , in my time it was the curious abbreviations of elements associated with a chemistry set... some obvious, S for sulfur, but why Hg for mercury, or Ag for silver? Ah, you had to know the Latin!

79 Esoteric symbols, kind of beautiful,   but the point is that once you get the idea of making symbols, diagrams, maps, you find innumerable ways to use that idea, which I’ll talk about more in the summary... what does all this mean/

80 all sorts of these for all sorts of purposes, marks.

81 Now they’re trying to not only make models in their minds, but depict those models in three-D but in 2-dimensional space. Hint: It can’t be done fully, but it’s interesting that it can be done a bit.

82. And then making charts, lists, comparing levels, matrices...

83 And inventing new icons for functions that our parents never could imagine...

84   Some of these symbol systems, in math, chemistry, statistics, etc., were strangely beautiful to me even as they bewildered me..

85   Proofreaders still need to do this, though more are using computers to do the work and this whole code system is dying out as unnecessary...

86 proofreading

87. (If we have time)
   This next section will also bleed over to next time— making up alphabets, those who make up writing systems.
    The point is that we all did this a bit! And others have, too, from thousands of years ago. Once more people got literate, you needed to make codes. The history of code making was talked about last summer, and in other classes by Bob Manning and others.

88... See, I’m just a kid and I love this magic world of mysterious symbols that my folks can’t read because they don’t have the Captain Midnight decoder ring. It gives one a sense of power.
    By the way, a cipher is a code that uses weird symbols or even simple letter substitution... but a code is more complicated, generally uses letters or numbers, and it is more complex to decode without a key.

89, anyway, kids can use these codes and have been doing so, but also some are based on grown-ups devising them.

90. Here’s another funny cipher, each letter using 5 as or bs.  It’s sort of a binomial code, as in a computer, with as and bs instead of 1s and 0s.

91 Halfway between language and writing are a varieties of pig latin and other word games
 You can with practice learn to talk this way as well as write.

92   This was one of the first codes I learned as a kid. There are several sub-variations, but it was actually used in the civil war by grown-ups.

93   But those cereal box ones, and captain midnight decoders, they stay warm in my heart.

94 and even Sherlock Holmes had to get involved in the business of deciphering a code!

95   so we’ll talk about that next time...



97   Spelling reform in China?

98   Postal Systems

99   webpages

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