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Language Log

Thursday, Jul. 19, 2012 - 6:54 a.m.

Decided that I will calligraph and embooken Syllabary A. That should keep me busy for a while. I almost certainly will not finish it, but it'll keep me happy until I stop.

Syllabary A is the list of Akkadian cuneiform signs. There are over 250 of them.

You think English orthography is messed up? Try Akkadian (or Sumerian, for that matter). Sheesh. I've read the description of how the system works at least 3 times, and I still don't entirely get whether the word they list with a sign is the actual pronounced morpheme or just the name of the sign, which may be pronounced some other way depending on the word. Or some other option. (The answer is probably "yes".)

I may have to do an appendix of the determinatives, just because I love the idea of non-pronounced determinatives (little roadsigns that signify out of which ridiculous number of possibile meanings the sign could mean, which semantic field is the intended one).

At least the Akkadians put spaces in between their words. The Sumerians didn't bother.

Am trying to decide whether I should do them all in the same calligraphic style (I'm imagining this as if Akkadian calligraphy had gone on to evolve as an art, what could scribes have down with it?) or just wander a bit, stylistically. I'm inclined toward the latter. In no small part because doing 250 signs in the same style will get boring somewhere around #...4. And that would be that.

My heart is breaking over the sacking of Timbuktu, btw. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Sufi Islam-- many people haven't heard of it, and it's the antidote to a lot of the stupid generalizations that get made about Islam these days. So many beautiful traditions. And I remember seeing an article all about the antiquarian booksellers of Timbuktu, keeping these ancient, leatherbound texts in trunks in their tents. Books written on fish skin. Amazing things. Histories untranslated, unstudied. Probably being burned now. And the booksellers themselves? Probably not faring much better.

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