Glyph Play

As far back as I can remember, languages have always fascinated me, from their grammar to their words and their sounds.  Different languages are inextricably tied up with culture, history, places of origin, and any other number of human factors that can’t simply be discarded.  This is especially true with writing systems, which have held even more of a fascination for me.  So, it’s a good thing sites like Omniglot exist to satisfy my graphological fetishes, and others’ as well.  There’s a whole section on that site for constructed scripts (“conscripts”), made either as replacements or improvements for currently existing scripts and languages or for entirely new languages.  My shorthand, for example, is an example of a conscript, as is Klingon or Tengwar for Tolkein’s elven languages, although it’s also been adapted for human languages, too.

One of the conscripts on the Omniglot site is one called “Reality”, made by Michael Gibson and based on the glyphs in the Blade series of movies.  It’s simple, having only a few letters, and acts more phonological than not; for instance, English “x” is written “ks”, “qu” as “kw”, and “c” as either “s” or “k”.  Doubled letters are ignored.  What’s nifty about it is that the letterforms can be stretched, compressed, or meshed together to form elaborate, intricate, and decorative glyphs.  Part of the niftiness of this script is that it uses a “softener” sign, a bar under a letter, to transform a letter from its “hard” sound to its “soft” sound (so a soft B is a P, a soft S is a Z, and so forth).  Take a look at the Omniglot entry, because it’s really cool and will help explain the rest of this post.

Well, I was considering it and contemplating its use for sigils and the like, and there are a few things that bugged me about it:

  • The “hard” and “soft” letters are generally voiced and unvoiced consonants, respectively, except for “s” and “z”.
  • Notions of “hard” and “soft” are confusing here.
  • There is no “sh” or “th” sound available in the script, which is otherwise phonetic.
  • Although the vowels are limited, they suffice when dipthongized sufficiently.

After playing with it a bit, I came up with the following solutions:

  • Make the “hard” letters unvoiced and the “soft” letters voiced (P/B, for instance, not B/P).
  • Make “Sh” the hard equivalent of “Zh” (old J).
  • Add a letter for “Th” (I’m treating thorn/unvoiced “th” and edh/voiced “th” as the same sound).
  • Add “X” (German or Scottish “ch”) as the hard equivalent of “H”, but this is not commonly used for English.
  • Remember how to phoneticize English words appropriately: “Michael” becomes “mixael”, “polyphanes” becomes “polifanis”, and the like.

So, here’s what the resulting letter chart looks like (my apologies for the poor quality).  The leftmost letters have two values, a “hard” and “soft” value, that can be changed using the softener or an underbar (lower right “*” letter).  For instance, a “P” with an underbar becomes a “B”, and so on.

As a few examples, let’s take my name, “polyphanes”.  In full, it’d be written as “polifanis”, which looks like:

Condensed into a more artistic form, it’d look like:

Also, another few examples.  Let’s try Hermes; in full, it’d be written as “hermis”:

Condensed, Hermes Trismegistus (“hermis trismegistos”) would look like:

The godname of Geburah, “Elohim Gibor”, would look like:

The godname “Tetragrammaton” (not the actual four lettered name of God) would look like:

Like any old or decorative style of writing, there are no hard-and-fast rules to go by.  How the letters are condensed relies primarily on how they “look” or “feel” best together, which is a matter of art instead of technique, and it often takes a few drafts to figure out how to properly condense something in my experience.  I remember having used this or a similar system before, but I forgot my old notes, so I eventually restarted and thought I’d share with you all.  Like my shorthand and how it evolved over a course of years, this script might do so in my own style if I choose to continue using it.  Maybe something nifty in the future might come of it; I was reminded of it earlier when I was reading through my favorite webcomic, Dominic Deegan, and noticed that some of the archmage’s spells used glyphs and magic “rays” that looked really similar to this style of glyphic writing.

3 responses

    • Off and on; it’s something I have an affinity for, but I’ve got other projects going on and don’t have a use for Toki Pona beyond it being cool to learn. I’m actually picking up D’ni (the language used in the Myst games) faster, but that’s a topic for another post.

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