This week’s Thursday post has been delayed several times due to an annoyingly high volume of personal misfortune. I don’t know if anyone else is just done with 2014, but I am. Bring on the new year.
Codon is a language I am currently inventing based (loosely) off the rules governing RNA. It consists of a 64-word vocabulary. This is the final post: we sketch out an idea for a writing system.
The full vocabulary of Codon is available for free: Codon Vocab. (Note: “uccuag” should be “either”, not “in”. I haven’t gone in and changed it yet.)
What do you mean, “writing system”? We’ve been writing Codon out for five posts.
A writing system is pretty self-explanatory: they’re how you use certain symbols to represent the sounds of your language on paper. Or clay. Or stone. Writing systems are actually my favorite parts of language: I’m a fluent reader in several, despite not knowing the languages they represent. I don’t know what it is about letters, but they hold a certain magic for me. They’re completely arbitrary but also insanely powerful. Letters make up everything from text messages to manifestos, and that’s beautiful.
Just because something can be transcribed into our writing system doesn’t mean it can’t have its own.
Another word for “writing system” is orthography: the methodology of writing a language. Orthographies are incredibly varied: they can be anything from an alphabet (such as the Roman alphabet I’m currently using) to a syllabary (where a symbol represents a whole syllable rather than a single sound) to a logographic system (where every word has its own picture, like a hieroglyph).
This gets more complicated the more you know about it. For example, most logographic systems aren’t purely logographic: many use glyphs that have a word-meaning and also stand for a syllable, or combine single-letter characters together to form a syllable inside a syllabary. Some, such as the form of Ancient Greek that’s used on monuments and engravings, have absolutely no punctuation. Words can be read left to right, right to left, top to bottom– or even boustrophedon style, which is where you read one line left-right and the following right-left, the way you’d plow a field.
Our system won’t be quite so difficult.
Let’s make an alphabet.
Codon only needs four letters. Back when I put an earlier Codon post up on Reddit, the user Digigon suggested the following “letters” (sources can be found in the original linked post):
ᒥ = AG
ᒣ = UC
ᒧ = GA
ᒪ = CU
I love this system. As the user pointed out, it’s very minimalistic, which fits the language well.
Note that these letters aren’t actually letters. This is a syllabary. Because we aren’t using the letters individually, and rather keeping them always paired together, it doesn’t make sense to split them up. So despite the heading here, this isn’t really an alphabet.
We already covered punctuation a couple times, but we’ll cover it with the new syllabary here. We have our starting and ending words, and our compound-word marks. These are seen in the sentence “I live on Earth”:
ucucga cugacu aguccu’gacucu’agcuuc gaucag cuagag ucagga aggaga’uccucu’agcuga aggauc’agcuag’aggacu”aggauc’aggauc’aggaga”gacuga’agucag’gagaag ucucuc
start I “be-in-good”(live) at the “place-not-multitude” (lonely) “three(binary)-set:one-place-world-:of-spectrum-expending energy” (Planet Earth). end-in-present
If a word is a single compound word, it’s connected with an apostrophe. If it’s a doubly-compounded word (linking together three compound words), the linked words are connected with two apostrophes. Triply-compounded get three, etc. So in our new orthography, it would look like this…
ᒣᒣᒧ ᒪᒧᒪ ᒥᒣᒪ’ᒣᒪᒪ’ᒥᒪᒣ ᒧᒪᒥ ᒪᒥᒥ ᒣᒥᒧ ᒥᒧᒧ’ᒣᒪᒪ’ᒥᒪᒧ ᒥᒧᒣ’ᒥᒪᒥ’ᒥᒧᒪ”ᒥᒧᒣ’ᒥᒧᒣ’ᒥᒧᒧ”ᒧᒪᒧ’ᒥᒪᒥ’ᒧᒥᒥ ᒣᒣᒣ
Looks slightly Hebrew but also pretty alien. You can imagine seeing that text up in neon lights on some extra-terrestrial bar somewhere, right? But it begs a problem: spaces don’t really present themselves well in this text. Given the nature of the language, readability doesn’t seem like it should be our primary concern, but it bugs me. So, inspired by my translation methods, here’s a decent alternative to spaces:
This I like better. I’m tempted to put a double-colon between sentences, as so…
…But that sort of gets rid of the purpose of the start/stop words, so I’ll say no to that idea.
I mentioned above that there are different ways of reading. Most people are familiar with left-to-right, right-to-left, and top-to-bottom vertical reading, but there are all sorts of ways to read… And all sorts of ways to construct words.
A fair number of syllabaries involve squishing together symbols for sounds in creative ways. The Mayan writing system was half-logographic, in that the glyphs (or parts of the glyphs) often represented sounds– sometimes given prefixes and suffixes by additions to the illustrations on the sides or tops of the glyphs. Even numbers, for example, could be tacked on to the sides of the noun they counted.
So why does Codon have to be read left-to-right? For that matter, why are we writing letters side-by-side? If we wanted to, we could put them together in nesting semi-squares, read outside to inside.
I’m not going to make it any more complicated– it doesn’t need to be. But I want to leave you with the idea that language and writing is completely malleable. Even real, non-constructed languages.
So have fun with them.