August 23, 2019 27

Writing Systems, Graphemes and Scripts – Decipherment Club #3

Writing Systems, Graphemes and Scripts – Decipherment Club #3

We’ve been digging into the decipherment
of ancient scripts, but what is a script? I’m convinced we’ll miss a lot along our
journey into decipherment if we don’t pack an understanding of writing systems to take along with us. So, at this point, I planned to spend a few minutes racing over the basics of writing with you.
But, however hard I tried to condense it and pack it in, it scratched for more. Scratched… the old Greek root for writing
– “graph” – meant “scratch”, like scratching symbols into rock or clay. Graphemes are written units, like the letter
V, a semicolon, the Han character for fire. The actual marks that get written down are
glyphs. Here are some glyphs for the grapheme V. And here are some glyphs for “fire”. Little marks called diacritics can modify
those glyphs. Here’s an “o” with a nasal mark, telling you to pronounce it through
the nose: õ. Here’s that same diacritic above the letter “a”. Diacritics are often
simplified or miniature versions of other glyphs. So that little nasal mark comes from the letter “n” put atop another character. Notice that a single grapheme can be written with various glyphs. These glyphs are all allographs – “other scratches” – of the grapheme “V”. These glyphs are
all allographs of “fire”. Very roughly, a set of graphemes that get used together in writing make up a script. A script, together with the way it encodes
or represents language, is a writing system. Graphemics wonders about writing system things,
like the use of certain symbols for certain sounds or certain meanings or the differences between different writing systems. Then there’s graphetics, which wants to
know about things like the shape and composition of letters or the mechanics of human handwriting. The word “writing” can mean any of these.
I really want to put some art and thought into this separate voyage through writing
so that we can make the most of decipherment. Tune in for both and subscribe for language!

27 Replies to “Writing Systems, Graphemes and Scripts – Decipherment Club #3”

  • インフィニチキウィ says:

    So, a grapheme is the theoretical form from which representations of a character are derived? Like, in handwriting, you probably wont find two glyphs that are exactly the same, but you can always point to one representing 'v' as the grapheme 'v', however the writer happened to render the glyph?
    A 'grapheme' is the vague, general idea of the form, that probably doesnt have an actual (100%)specific standard, and a specific representation of that is a glyph?

  • Erik Karlsson says:

    You've begun to sound like Hank Green, the way he stutters out words and puts much force on the consonants. Don't know if it's good or bad, but I personally don't like how it sounds. Decent video overall, excellent graphics and animations, however the amount of sound effects were over the top, preferably they should be cut down. Otherwise good going!

  • Erik Karlsson says:

    Edit: Rewatched the vid and the voice stutter isn't bad at all, I guess the sound effects made me remember you voice as annoying… xD

  • Christian Jiang says:

    Thank you for uploading! That was very interesting!!

  • Angel33Demon666 says:

    But the thing is, in chinese writing, you have these things called a downward dot (點), upward dot (撇), a horizontal bar (劃), and many other elements that make up a character, wouldn't those be your 'glyphs' and those compose a character? When I learnt the language, I learnt it as the 'characters' being on the same 'level' as 'words' in English, because frankly, in Chinese the same word (字) is used for both. 

  • Critical Lit says:

    Loved this!

  • Toby Kral says:

    we share a common  interest for discovering languages. please make more of these 

  • The Cypress Station says:

    I am so glad I found this channel! Subscribed

  • AlexIncarnate911 says:

    What's the difference between a Phoneme and a letter?

  • ModCrafterBot says:

    I see that possibly you will talk about Rongo Rongo?? I'm so excited for that!
    Keep up the great videos! (I loved thoths pill btw)

  • Totally Not gutter gangly says:

    i thought the title said graphmemes

  • Chris Smith says:

    I find it amazing that evry weighting system had a distinct shape, Hanzi is so complex and straight, Greek is so curved and elegant.

  • George Papadimitriou says:

    You deserve 1.000.000 views!!!!!

  • David Ferguson says:

    very enjoyable!

  • Pinkstarclan says:

    finally, i get to learn about language from the kid from limbo

  • Metu Mortis says:

    I really do love your content but it feels like this whole series could have been one episode.

  • Tara Stahler says:

    Would kanji radicals be considered graphemes, since they're often not characters in their own right (at least in the context of Japanese)?

  • Will Scathlocke says:

    Although it is distinctly counter-intuitive, the simple principle by which all decipherment of an unidentified language in an unidentified script proceeds is this: First, you have to know what the text says. Then you can decipher it.

    Yes, I know: It just seems wrong to say it this way; obviously, in order to know what a text says, you must first decipher it, but, as it turns out, if you don't know what a text says, you cannot possibly decipher it; and even if by dumb luck you should hit upon the correct phonetic values for the signs and the correct meanings for the words, you will be unable to prove that you have done so.

    Take the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It proceeded from a trilingual text, the Rosetta Stone, which presented the same text in three languages, one of which, Greek, was perfectly well known. Since the hieroglyphic text said the same thing in Egyptian which the Greek text said in Greek, everybody knew exactly what the hieroglyphic text said. It was a conceptually simple (albeit practically highly difficult) matter of assigning meanings to groups of hieroglyphs and phonetic values to individual hieroglyphs so that all together they would match the meaning of the Greek text.

    Take the decipherment of Babylonian (Akkadian, if you prefer). It proceeded from the trilingual inscription at Behistun, a text of Darius I's in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Once the Old Persian Text could be read, everybody knew what the Babylonian text said, and away people went. As for the initial decipherment of the Old Persian text, well, here it gets slightly more complicated. Otto Grotefend, a German schoolmaster, posited that the Behistun inscription (as well as other Old Persian inscriptions) began with the titles of the Old Persian kings and that the titles of the Old Persians were identical with those used by the much later Parthian kings in Greek inscriptions. Grotefend was right, and since he then "knew" what the opening lines of the inscriptions said, he was able to assign phonetic values to the signs and meanings to the words. Conceptually easy, of course; but fiendlishly difficult in practice.

    Once Babylonian was deciphered, Sumerian could be deciphered — why? Because the Babylonians had compiled Babylonian-Sumerian dictionaries. One column was Babylonian, the next was Sumerian — and, once again, everybody knew what a given entry in the Sumerian column said, because it was identical to what stood in the Babylonian column opposite. (There were also other full bilinguals and effective bilinguals.) Again, in practice it was a work of enormous complexity.

    Ah, but Linear B was deciphered w/out a bilingual inscription of any sort, right? Well, not exactly. Linear B texts consist largely of lists of commodities and people — with the thing written in words on the left and often enough a plainly recognisable ideogramme (e.g. a jar or an animal head or a wheel or a little stick man) on the right. The lists were quasi bilinguals in and of themselves! Another little quirk of the Linear B texts: many came from Crete and those contained a few words that never occurred in the texts from the mainland. Ventris and Chadwick correctly guessed that the words in question were Cretan toponyms — i.e. "knew" what these sign-groups said. As with Old Persian, small bilingual handholds could be found.

    Now, let me back up one more assertion: that if you do not know what a text says, you cannot prove that you have deciphered it. Take the Phaistos Disk. We haven't a clue as to what it says. You can assign phonetic values to the signs and meanings to the words, and with much effort you will eventually be able to get it all to come out to a sensible text (whether in a known language or not). But consider what test you could use to prove that your decipherment is correct?

    (I have here confined myself to the decipherment of unidentified languages written in unidentified scripts. It is a conceptually very different matter to work with what amounts to a known language written in what is a known script — say with Old Bactrian [an Iranian language] written with Greek letters or the like. This is not to say that making sense of Old Bactrian inscriptions was easy. Likewise Hittite — when these texts were found, the cuneiform signs could be read; the Sumerian logogrammes together with the Akkadogrammes made the gist of many sentences clear; and it was an Indo-European language after all. Little known fact: the first person to read a Hittite text correctly was not Bedrich Hrozny, but J.A. Knudtzon in his first edition of the Amarna Letters.)

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    V and N are obviously very different as graphemes.

    But they are somewhat similar as glyphs.

    Take NODENS. Scratch off the first line. You are basically left with VODENS.

    Druidic theory of identity of Odin, of course, not Hebrew one, though also not excluding it.

    Nodens is a Gaulish and Brithonic deity, which could have been the Teutates of some Gaulish tribe in the time of Caesar.

    Vodens is one possibility for 1:st C pronunciation of Wotan, Woden, Odhinn etc.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl says:

    Glyph and grapheme.

    Tengwar would have just the right number of diacritics to be an abjad. Even more : glyphs of tengwar are, most of them, very correlated with phonetic traits of phonemes.

    Would a decipherment of tengwar have been theoretically possible, especially with two languages available, like Adunaic and an Elvish one, with diverse use of certain glyphs or even series of them?

    If so, perhaps we do rely on tradition (from publisher, newspapers, biographers etc) that Tolkien was inventing the stories.

  • Dracopol says:

    1:17 The tilde (used as a nasal mark in this case) is not written the right way over the A. You wrote it with a downward wave first then going up again.

  • A fairly inaccurate dinosaur picture says:

    I'm studying polynesian culture, and I feel sad that we will never read rongorongo scripts.

  • Totzalee Bonnie says:

    When your trying to decipher English language that’s written very badly

  • R Z says:

    First! Dont believe me? If there are other comments just select "newest first" rather than "most popular" in the "sort by" menu. Also is there another part?

  • ben cruz says:

    stip making one episode into many. Your content is good but you are losing me anyway.

  • Johannes - Eu Quero Falar Alemão says:


  • Philippine Eevee says:

    glyphs + diacritics


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