Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Aidan Meehan and Celtic Art

If you're looking ofr books on creating Celtic  style art and Calligraphy you should definitley be looking at boks by Aidan Meehan in your library bookshop or elsewhere!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

My Xmas and New Year Card to followers and Visitors

I sadly suspect most of my visitors so far have been AI and searchbots rather than actual humans but whoevr you are enjoy this e-card and yes you can download it to share!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

More Book of Kells images

Here's another Book of Kells image showing that , yes, it was readable!
The clerks and monks and scholaras and lay persons who viewed this were used to seeing and reading what moderern paleographers ( scholars of ancient scripts) call Insular Minuscule.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Celtic Uncial

Before we look at the Book of Kells and Celtic Uncials in further details here's teh Celtic Uncial version of the Roman ABC. There's no k as the Celts used the Roman C and hence no K and also no J or Q as Irish Gaelic had no need for those letters.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Book of Kells 2

Hard as it may be to believe the Book of Kells was meant to be read and used!

This page is a table of "Canon" Books Books that are officialy part of the set of Christians Scriptures known as the Bible today. The use of ornament within a strong framework doesnt emphasize the list of texts!

It's hard to show you a full size version in a blog. If you have only ever seen closeups of detail find out if your library has a reproduction and if you ever get to go to Dublin do go and see the original!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Book of Kells

There are many people who think the Book of Kells is about as legible as say a very abstract piece of Asian "crazy grass" script calligraphy? I'm going to start a sequence of blogs that show not just cover art like the image above but also some interior pages. The're's also be posts on the Uncial fonts used to write Latin in the Book of Kells and similar works.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Annoying nasals


ñ ň

m ɱ n ñ ň ŋ ɲ ɳ ɴ

Unfortunately for linguists typographers writers teachers and others the Sinai alphabet had only two symbols for nasals. M and N. Many Indo-european and other languages have palatal and other nasals.

Nowadays I can imbed Unicode in a html file which I cut and pasted into this blogpost interface to show you the IPA symbols but what do people who don't have access to IPA fonts do?

There are many writing systems that have special extra signs added for "ng" and "ny" signs.

These are the three main methods that have been used over the centuries for languages written with a Roman abc system.

A Tilde  ~ over a vowel or consonant. Spanish Portugese Languages with nasalized vowels.

A h or y or g added to an N. Provencal Catalan Vietnamese

GN for the palatal nasal in Italian and French

NG is Velar the sixth symbol in the line. I have also shown the Retroflex and Palatal Nasal symbol.
The N that looks like an Upper capital N reduced in size is an UVULAR NASAL.

Wikipedia has a very useful article on IPA signs and you cna click on each symbol for more information.

To insert IPA symbols into ordinary text check your computer uses the full Western European encoding not just ANSI and use Insert Special Characters.
Do check you have used a font that has the IPA Extensions set as well as Latin Extended!

Try Lucida Sans Unicode or Palatino Linotype?

Maybe some day in the future most fonts will include a full IPA set of symbols?

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Tale of Tilde

~ this simple symbol is tilde ~

Tilde comes from Latin Titulus.

While it's used sometimes to indicate tones and accents it was first developed to mark palatal nasals.

Like the Cedilla it begun life as a scribal shorthand in the European Middle Ages.

Ancient Latin doesnt seem to have had an "NG" sound and  Greek writes ng as gg.

However later Romance and other European languages developed a full range of palatals and nasals we do not have in English.

Spanish scribes used a tilde over n to show the "ny" sound.

From Spanish it was borrowed to show in some languages that there was NO nasalization of a vowel or that a nasalized vowel had replaced an earlier nasal sound that had disappeared as in Brazilian and Continental Portugese and Frnech.

Other languaes that mark a palatal nasal with a tilde are apart from Castilian Spanish, Asturian, Basque, Talalog,Galician, Guarani, Tetum and Papaimento.

Tilde a simple squiggle of a sign has now migrated to Asia and the Americas and even has special functions in IPA.

More about diacritics and nasals soon.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Z and Cedilla

The Curious tale of Z and Cedilla.

 Ever wondered why some letters have a cedilla symbol?

Our modern cedilla symbol begun life as a "scribal ligature" which in plainer words means two characters combined into one by scribes as a kind of shorthand. The sounds cedilla represents in Roamnce language in one stage were written cz and had a Spanish nickname of cedilla or zedilla - the litte zeta. Originally the sound was probably "ts" and later became a "sh" sibilant sound partly due to the large number of Arabic and Hebrew speakers in Spain during the Islamic era.

It has been or is used in Spanish, Portugese, Catalan, Friuli and Occitan.

Beyond Europe it was adopted by several  languages of the Turkkic family when they switched from Arabic and Cyrillic to Roman alphabets, Osmanli also known as Ottoman, Azeri, Tatar, Turkmen, and others.

While usuallu representing a sibilant one European Langaue Latvian uses it to mark Palatals to distinguish them from Velars and Nasals so it appears under g, K, L, and N.

Its use was much more common before IPA fonts were available.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Tale of Palm and Paper and Printing

This is an image of a lontar, a traditional book format in SE Asia made from palm leaves.
The script is Balinese.

In the modern world we tend to take the use of paper for granted but there was a time when paper was scarce and unusual and writing was done in parchment (treated and scraped leather hides) clay tablets, wax tablets or lead or papyrus and on silk or cloth.

Paper is a relatively new innovation and it's no consequnce that printing appeared soon after paper became more common. Printing probalby increased the demand for paper.

Imagine trying to print with wooden blocks or silk screens or movable type IN MASS PRODUCTION on silk or palm leaves or wood?

The pairing of paper and print is why China and Japan had a surprisingly high literacy rate when you consider the difficulties of learning to read and write at least a thousand characters for basic literacy.

Okay the Japanese and Koreans ended up developing kana and hangul but you see my point?

Movable type wouldnt have worked on papyrus or clay tablets not in multiple copies.

In Indonesia the Old KAWI script and related forms competes with Arabic and the Roman ABC.

It was the Dutch who introduced printing. That's probably why Bahasa books and magazines are usually printed in the Roman alphabet though there is a modified form of Arabic that has extra letters to cover sounds that do not exist in Arabic like ng and ny.

There  is yet another type of script used in the Celebes and Sulawesi but that's a topic for another post.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Another Beautiful thing from Bali!

Ever wondered about that curly writing you see at the gates of Balinese temples or on some street and public signs along with Bahasa and English?  This is the abc used for it. Like the Javanese KAWI script to which it is closely related its ancestor is the Brahmi script brought to SE Asia by Hindu / Buddhist traders priests sages and teachers before Islam. It's called hanaxaraka and also dentawiyanjana and tulisan.

It also has vowel signs not shown here and extra letters only used for transcribing Sanskrit words in religious manuscripts.

Quietly yet powerfully elegant like Bali itself!

Except perhaps for certain parts of Denpasar and Kuta that are not a suitable topic for this blog?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Books and Bark


Most of the words for books in various languages either refer to the material its made from or the idea of a book as a written thing.

Arabic KiTaB and Chinese SHU are examples of this.

However many more words refer to the materials books were made of before paper and parchment were common.

Latin LIBER originally meant the inner bark of a tree. Yes bark not the other Liber though that word is probalbly connected since LIBER may have been seen as a tree / plant god before that Italian diety was linked to the Greek Dionysios.

Codex derives from Caudex meaing something wooden or a block of wood.
Before paper and parchment codices were once tablets of wood bound down one side.

The Chinese word Pian  used to refer to sheets once referred to thin slices of wood and the word CE?
Well the oldest ideogram shows bound tablets long strips of wood or bamboo .

Before parchment or paper or papyrus in northern europe and other places bark was used.

Birch bark writings have been discovered in India Russian Norway and throughout Northern Eurasia

Particularly bark or thin slices of wood from trees of the birch family that have a fiber arrangement that makes preparing slices and bark easier.

Papyri plants are unique to Africa and nealry becmae extinct in Egypt due to over harvesting.

Parchment from leather was developed because of the high cost of papyrus and its processing.

It is a fortunate thing that the Chinese discovered how to turn a pulp of plant fibers into paper.

I do wonder sometimes if some Chinese merchant somehow visited an island in the Pacific where tapa cloth was made from plant fibers and described the process to some one back in China who wanted an cheaper alternative to silk ?

Our word book in its oldest form is related to beech so perhaps beech was used also?

Book was booc in Old English. Beech was Booec Birch was Bierc.

In Modern German Beech is Buche Birch Birke and Book is BUCH.

Although our word PAPER derives from papyrus  our ancestors often wrote on bark or wood.

Perhaps in Australia we might be writing in paperbark if paper in its modern form had never been developed?

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Curious Case of Z

The Curious Case of Z

and how it came to be the last letter in our Alphabet though not others.

Z is not just for Zebra!

This image to the right is an early form of the letter Z ... not I ... yes Z!

 Zed Zeta Zee Zayin Zee Zay was originally about the sixth and seventh letter of the ABC back when only the Phonenicians and Greeks had alphabets. So how did it move from that place to the final place in our modern ABC?

Well you can blame the Romans! Old Latin lost its z sound which changed to a g and although they had a Z sign borrowed from the Greeks in 310 BCE the Censor Appius Claudius Caecus removed it from the ABC.

By the first century BCE however many Latin writers were citing loan words from Greek in Latin writings and so Zeta was inserted back in but at the end of the ABC. Hence nearly every script derived from the Roman ABC has Z as a final letter.

In the Cyrillic and other scripts though Z is NOT final. It retains a position close to that it had in the earliest writing systems. Many languages even add an extra z sign with a diacritic to show a palatal z.

The letter z has been used to indicate more than one sound : /z/  /dz/  /ts/ .

In Basque Z is actually a laminal S, in Finnish and German its ts and Estonian s and due to a sound change the Vietnamese use a D since a d sound has changed to a z .

Every letter has a history. Some odder than others.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mongolians' Many Scripts

Mongolian's Many Scripts.

Currently the Roman ABC is probably the script used for most  world languages closely followed by forms of Arabic however one language has the strange distinction of having had the most number of scripts used to write it.

I hope you will forgive me inflicting my handwriting on you but I suspect few of us have computers and browsers set to read Mongolian scripts of any kind.

Most modern alphabetic scripts ultimately derive from the Sinai script. From the Sinai script came the Aramaic Nestorian variant of Syraic forms of which reached Central Asia and were used to write the Indo-Iranian SOGDIAN language. This was adapted by the Uighurs though the Uighur language is now mainly written using Cyrillic or Arabic letters nowadays.

A scribe called Tatar Tenga in 1208 is said to have made the first adaption of the Uighur ABC to the Mongol language called Mongol Bichig by the Mongols. It's written vertically up and down with variant letter forms if the letter is initial medial or final in a word.  With some changes it is still used to this day. Its also the origin for the script used to write Manchu.

However in 1269 Kubla Khan decreed ... no not a stately pleasure dome (see Coleridge's poems if you don't know what that means) ... that a script be developed that could be used to wirte the various languages of his empire, Chinese, Mongolian, Uighur, Tibetan and more. This was the 'Phagspa script which the MOngols call SQUARE script dorbeljin usug. This was used throughout the YUAN dynasty but mainly for isncriptions, seals, official tablets, and some printed texts. It is still used in Mongolia and Tibet  but very rarely for signs, inscriptions, seals, and printing some Buddhist texts. The model for this script was Tibetan dhu can.

The Mongolian vertical script contiuned in use in Mongolia and areas where Mongolian was and Mongolian texts were also written using Arabic and Chinese.

Then came the twentieth century and the revolutions. Outer Mongolai became a Republic and had the use of Cyrillic imposed on its people. Inner Mongolia retained the Vertical script .

So Uighur Vertical sPhagpa Arabic Chinese Cyrillic that's six scripts in eight centuries.

What next for Mongolian? A new script combining features of the others? Our Western ABC adapted to Mongolian or something new?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CALAMOS the Reed and Writing

Consider these Egyptian Scribes and what they are holding!

Those pens were cut reeds. I'm not sure actually which species having seen claims for two or three different types of reeds.  Before metal styluses were used the humble reed was cut and trimmed to dip into inkpots.

Possibly trimmed but not split.  Some palaeographers have speculated that the ancient scribes of Egypt retained the pith inside the reeds and used  that absorbent pith as a "reservoir" to hold ink and apply it somewhat in the same way a modern felt tip pen does.

Jewish scribes doing hand written copies of the Torah refer to the pen as a Qulmus even when using metal and Q-L-M Qalam is the Arabic equivalent.  Kalamos is Greek. The Archaic term Haulm used for reedstalks in English is related too.

By the way you may see some bamboo pens called bamboo reed pens. Bamboo does make a great pen but it is NOT a reed. Bamboo is a giant grass! The Egyptians did not have bamboo. They probably didnt use pappyrus stalks for the reed pens since the papyrus were far more useful allowed to grow tall and thick for paper and other materials.

A final moment of Pen trivia. I've studied ancient art and I think the Egyptians were the first to depict scribes in sculpture and painting before the Greeks or Chinese.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cities and Writing

No picture today just something to think about.


Urban settlement and writing are linked!

Egypt Proto Hieroglyphs appear along with first settlements along the Nile.

Mesopotamia Cuneiform appears in the cities of the South.

Crete. Linear A and B develop in Crete always extensively settled in the lowlands from the Neolithic onwards. Linear B even when abandoned in Crete was still used in Cyprus for a few more centuries.

Greece. Yes the ABC was introduced from Asia Minor by traders but where did the standard form of the Greek ABC we use today start! Athens and Ionia's cities.

Rome. The alphabet spread north from the Greek settlements reinforced by the Etruscans having a script.

Nordic and Germanic Runes. Despite theories about these being a "sacred script"  runes begun appearing more frequently when trading connections with the Romans begun.

Celtic Ogham. The idea of an ABC may have come from the Mediterranean via the TIN trading routes but the signs used ... well the most interesting idea I've seen is that the strokes across a line represented some kind of sign language used by Druids?

Indian Devanagari. Can be traced back to imported Aramaic scripts used by traders.

Chinese Oracle Bone Script. A huge deposit of inscribed bones was found in which was basically a city garbage dump back in the Neolithic Shang / Zhou era.

Mayan Glyphs. Oops that's not a hill. That's another abandoned Mayan settlement!  Any year now some one will find artifacts that show early stages of the glyph system!

Cities and writing. Can you name one culture that had writing and its not traceable back to another earlier urban society? Okay maybe the Easter Island script? Maybe?

Is someone thinking the Inca quiqu system? Chances are we'll find that's a representation in knots of some kind of previously used system. The Inca had a charming habit of creating cultural unity in the empire by doing their best to obliterate earlier oral traditions. No writing in South America? Maybe not?

The link to Amazon isnt working today so I cant show you a cover picture of one of my favorite books on scripts. Google or Amazon search the name Nakanishi!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Purple Shadow

So what's the point of this ? Well people apply Hard edged Drop Shadow to Letters and Objects but there is a blur option combined with adjusting the xy co-ordinates and opacity percentages that can create a halo effect. A fuzzy outline without using airbrush tools!
There's actually several  layers of shadow here merged! Okay so it's an experiment but think about how you can use plugins and filters in unusual different ways? Also I like Purple! and using GIMP!

Whether you use GIMP or Photoshop don't forget to just play with it sometimes.

Experiment and have fun!

Friday, 2 September 2011

More Vinca Script Images

     These are the Vinca signs that appear most frequently for your consideration.

      Bear in mind that any resemblances to other scripts may simply be a factor of basic geometry. There's only so many ways you can engrave a sign.

The Vinca "SCRIPT" Is it or isn't it?

There are a lot of theories aobut the Vinca script ranging from claims its the ancestor of Linear A and B through to one theory that compares it with the Old Hungarian "RUNES". The one thing all the experts seem ot agree on is that there's about 27 basic signs that appear again and again and the that they have appeared so far to have only been used on objects made of clay.

My own inclination as a scholar who studies ceramics is that it's possible they were potter's marks, a way of saying who made the object and when and why? Perhaps in the Vinca culture potters were also priests?
Perhaps they are a mixture of numbers and symbols?

It is also noteworthy that like other early scripts it appeared in an area with intensive Neolithic settlement and trade links to other areas. The Vinca culture thrived along the Danube and linked tributaries with trade links down into the Balkans and Northern Greece. Perhaps its ancestral to the later Bronze and Iron Age Thracian and Dacian cultures?

If the dates are correct than the Vinca script predates the earliest known proto-Hieroglyphs, Sumerian protoCuneiform,  and early Chinese Oracle Script.

There's a lot of speculation about this and you can read Gimbutas and a variety of blogs.

Me personally as someone who's studied ancient scripts and ceramics : Potter's marks is my best bet.

But perhaps its too simple an explanation?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

When Writing was Carving

When Writing was Carving

or why this blog is called Glyphika!

I study calligraphy and typography but I also have an interest in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, and Palaeography, the study of ancient scripts and writings. Hopefully I'll find something interesting to share with you on all of those topics?

So why Glyphika? Rather than say graphica? Or grammatika?

One thing I've noticed through years of study is that all the oldest scripts were engraved or inscribed into objects. Thinka about it?

Chinese Oracle script > onto bones!

Sumerian and its cuneiform descendants incised into clay tablets.

Minoan Linear A and B the same.

European Runes incised.

Likewise the oldest Egyptian hieroglyphs!

Who discovered reed pith could be used to apply marks on sheets of papyrus I don't know!

Reed pith? Yes it's possible the oldest Egyptian pens made of hollow reeds may have also used the dry pith the way we use felt tip markers?

Using brushes in Eastern Asia probably developed because some one started coloring in incised characters with black or red to make them stay out more. A brush could hold more ink!

Graphoo graphic and graphy as a suffix suggest writing to most of us but writing is Ancient Greece was originally the act of scraping characters on wax or wooden tablets or stone inscriptions.

Gluphoo and glyph are very similar in meaning. The main difference was deeper carving.

The Greeks coined the word heiroglyph to describe the sacred signs they saw carved into temple walls and columns and pylons when they first travelled to Egypt not the hieratic or demotic scripts used for ordianry writing.

Glyphs came out! Signs ideograms hieroglyphs were used long before and after alphabetic systems.

Hence GLYPHIKA a blog about signs whether they represent sounds or ideas.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A first post for this blog!

The Letter A is the first letter in most alphabets  and alphabets are one of the many topics that will feature in this blog. Not just the standard Roman alphabet. I'll also be discussing other scripts, signs, symbols, and glyphs, along with typography and calligraphy, and techniques for editing and creatng them by traditional media or computer. If you take pleasure in letters join me?!

The Big A image is a modified letter from a Cursive Font with blur and drop shadow added several times and blended to create a wider heavier yet soft letter.

Perhaps considering the letter derives from an ancient ox's head symbol I should have given the image more points?

Now the image is uploaded I can see a few spots where I should have perhaps used the Smudge tool before I added the shadow and blur? What would you have done readers?

The initial schedule for this blog will be weekly posts. Join me!