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?