New Orthography

9 thoughts
last posted Jan. 17, 2014, 10:29 p.m.
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Now that we can actually engage with others' content, I thought I'd start with zdsmith's New Abbreviations, comparing it with similar finds and adding my thoughts.


zd smith says:

"But in my reading I came onto the idea of scribal abbreviations. It was at that point that I started to include those in the system—drawing some from the medieval Latin originals, or creating new ones myself."

Upon seeing his samples, I was immediately reminded of the "Luxeuil Miniscule" family of calligraphy as described in Marc Drogin's book Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (samples below).


Visually, Luxeuil Miniscule is like a real-world historical version of Tolkien's Tengwar elvish writing, which was designed with an intentionally limited visual vocuabulary (stems, which can be short or long, and boughs, which can be single or double, open or closed). This variation in simplicity is what gives it its elegance.

The above is English ("All that is gold does not glitter...") written with Tengwar.


The calligraphic element in zdsmith's Abbreviations reminds me also of Elian Script, which evolved from a simple grid-based alphanumeric code into a highly calligraphic script that resembles Chinese pictograms while remaining essentially phonetic.

Earliest version, Ca. 1980

Calligraphic elements, stacking, with word direction from left to right, Ca. 1994


Like zdsmith, I like these systems mainly because they are "beautiful to use and to contemplate."

I think their aesthetics add a special functional value when used in highly personal writings however -- journals, for example. Marc Drogin writes the following about the evolution of "charter hands" such as Luxeuil Miniscule (pictured above):

"However, when it came to the creation of a script in which to write legal documents a special quality was required. A good charter hand or court hand was so ornate that one viewed it with awe, and so complicated that it not only resisted forgery but could not be understood by those who had no business reading it."

He continues, "Sometimes this succeeded too well..."


Relevant digression:

@joeld Consider the International Phonetic Alphabet as well, perhaps the most sound-motivated alternative orthography out there.
-- Wanderfowl (@wanderfowl) February 10, 2013

While IPA definitely fits under my chosen heading, there are a couple of aspects in which it differs from the kind of othographies I have in mind.

IPA was designed to draw almost complete attention to the individual sounds as building blocks of the words, whereas I'm looking at writing which tends to bury individual letters and even whole words with in the visual texture_ of the page.

This is connected with the calligraphic aspect. Elian script, the Abbreviations, Tengwar and Luxeuil Miniscule are designed for writing by hand, hence ligatures, diacritics and other shortcuts have a functional as well as an aesthetic purpose.

I am interested , however, in seeing if there are any calligraphic variations or adaptations of IPA.


“In handwriting the brain is mediated by the drawing hand, in typewriting by the fingers hitting the keyboard, in dictation by the idea of a vocal style, in word processing by touching the keyboard and by the screen’s feedback. The fact seems to be that each of these methods produces a different syntactic result from the same brain. Maybe the crucial element in handwriting is that the hand is simultaneously drawing. I know I’m very conscious of hidden imagery in handwriting—a subtext of a rudimentary picture language. Perhaps that tends to enforce more cooperation from the other side of the brain. And perhaps that extra load of right brain suggestions prompts a different succession of words and ideas.”

— Ted Hughes, from this highly informative interview in Paris Review