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In today’s bonus-size episode we have Carsten Becker on to join in a great discussion on the technologies of writing:  implements, media, formats, and even literacy itself.  Then we have an invigorating discussion with Larry Sulky about his “artlangy-engelang” Qakwan, among other things.

Top of Show Greeting: Treyll

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: Qakwan

28 Responses to “Conlangery #50: The Technology of Literacy”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    Very enjoyable.
    Curses and blessings can also be written inside of bowls, though, right? (half-remembering from Ancient Egypt classes). it would make storage easy – just stack them…though getting to one particular bowl for its contents, would be tricky. 🙂

    The section on palm leaves, reminded me of something from the book “The world’s writing systems” (i think it was)…about what I think it called the Hanayoo script…(which I found interesting, juxtaposed with what you were saying about how long clay,paper,wax last; the book mentioned the example of a girl learning Hanayoo(sp) for poetry, and by the time the leaves began to fall apart, she was fluent enough to write in it)…wiki has it as this: &

    Keep up the great work, guys. Excellent work.

  2. AlucardNoir

    Great show, and maybe a bit too long, but I think you missed a point, namely script evolution, you talked a little about it, but to actually convince a historically illiterate person to make use of something else then quill and paper you really needed to give an example, something like the Latin of Chinese scripts and there evolution from Phoenicia via Greek or from proto Chinese to their modern form. Just look at cursive now and 100 years ago, scripts like languages continue to change, and the medium in which they are written causes massive changes as well.(how many listener know that most of today’s Latin scrips have more to thank Charles the Great of France they they do Latin cursive -which as William said would be almost illegible to us)

    • admin

      We did mention it, but the historical evolution of a script is another topic entirely. This episode was about the technology itself, and as you heard, there was a lot to talk about there. Perhaps in the future we will talk a bit about historical development.

      • AlucardNoir

        Firstly, sorry for “speaking” in paragraphs; secondly: I know you did, it’s just that a little more history would do a lot more in the development of script William won’t consider impossible. Though using a means of writing in the development of your script is good advice.

  3. Koppa Dasao

    I like wax tablet! That sounds like something the Illomi would had to use in the time between their landing on Illte and the Zjaunjo reintroduced paper to them. Though wax tablets would still be used by most people as Zjaunjo paper would have been rather expensive.

    ьіро (qixo) /qixu:/ – wax
    ьірон (qixon) /qixu:n/ – wax tablet
    сірон (zixon) /zixu:n/ (from сіƒаь, computer, and ьірон, tablet) – tablet computer
    сісер (zizex) /zizex/ (yeah, I know, it sound like scissor) – stylus

    Kindle and its ilk, would be ліберінсірон (libexinzixon) /li:bexinzixu:n/ – book tablet computer

  4. Matthew

    I’m feeling affirmed by the discussion of wax tablets. 🙂 My current conlang is an isolate spoken in Europe, and it was strongly influenced by Latin and the Romance languages. The word for “book” literally means “etched thing” because the language’s speakers were first exposed to portable writing through Roman wax tablets.

  5. Alex

    Do we know if there is any reason certain symbols represent certain sounds, or is it just random?

  6. Panglott

    That was exhaustive! Although I fear that my secret appreciation for wax tablets will get out. Next y’all will blow the lid on doing arithmetic on counting tables of small calculos.

    It seems like there’s a whole category of bast-fiber “papers”, like amate. In some cases, it is used as a “cloth” rather than a “paper”: my favorite example is tapa cloth from Polynesia, which seems to be produced similarly to amate at inleast in that it is the pounded-flat-and-into-shape bast fiber of ficus or mulberry. Rather than for writing, it is painted and used as a cloth. There are some other forms of bark-cloth, but I’m not sure if they’re produced in the same way, such as cedar bark textiles and Ainu bark clothing. Plant fibers could be easier to decorate than leather, and the appeal of them for ceremonial clothing may be apparent in a society that doesn’t have access to linen, cotton, or hemp. Japanese paper, washi, was produced by farmers in the winter as a cash product, and it’s easy to see how paper production could arise in a similar way, as a luxury good for royal consumption, as amate was.

  7. Panglott

    BTW, if you want to see a craftsman writing on a palm leaf manuscript, there’s some video of that in the BBC/PBS documentary “The Story of India” (it’s on instant view on Netflix)…maybe episode 4? The craftsmen has a palm-leaf manuscript bound on a ring, and he replicates a passage of it by scratching the word letters onto the palm leaf and rubbing ink into the scratches. It looks pretty good when it’s fresh, but looks like it wears easily.

    Talk of writing on silk makes me think of a scene in the neat Korean film “Chunhyang”, where a couple secretly marry before the groom is posted to government work in the capital. Since he has to leave quickly, he brushes some calligraphy onto her silk gown as a memento. That’s an example of writing on silk, but it’s certainly not a day-to-day use: it’s personal, like art a use of high-value materials to emphasize the importance of the message.

  8. Lesley

    I heard something about a list of Conlangs that had been mistaken for Natlangs? Is there I link/Google Doc where I can see that? I’m very interested!

  9. Daniel Plate

    Thanks for the podcast. I’m brand new to conlanging and it’s a helpful way in.

  10. Okuno

    You mentioned that scribes who copied texts were often illiterate, that got me thinking:

    An illiterate scribe is incapable of modifying the text during duplication, at least not without total gibberish creeping in.

    It actually sounds like an excellent security measure.

    • admin

      It might. Then again, that assumes that the scribe isn’t lying to you. It’s pretty trivial to fake illiteracy.

  11. MBR

    Just got a look at the script for Tsolyani. I concur with William; it is utterly appalling. Like somebody got their hands on an overly complex, contrived script for a sci-fi language and ran it through crappy Photoshop stretching. Ick

  12. MBR

    William, I think you will be happy to know that I just inserted wax tablets as the primary writing medium into my fantasy novel. And the inkeep just wrote some cuneiform-like shorthand.

  13. Melvar

    I remember having a series of children’s or young-adult novels of a group of kids in ancient Ostia, the main seaport serving Rome if I recall correctly. One of their adventures involves the Vesuvius eruption and Pliny The Younger. Anyway, they do, in fact, use wax tablets for any sort of transient writing. One plot point involves an important message that had been left in a wax tablet, but some heat source, perhaps just the afternoon sun, had erased half of it, which they then recovered to some degree by removing the wax and looking at the scratches in the wooden back, since that particular tablet was pretty new.

  14. Greg Pandatshang

    Perhaps the people who write from bottom to top think of writing as metaphorically like filling a vessel with water, or a basket with grain. Or perhaps they think of it as like child or plant growing – from the ground up, as it were.

  15. Saki

    I’m sure there will now be many jealous school children who are envious that they can’t use the “but teacher, a mouse ate my homework” excuse, since we no longer use papyrus.


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