OK, we’ve only had one guess and no correct answers yet on my Doorworks puzzle/contest from yesterday, proving that a) paleography is technically challenging and important and b) I’m cruel and heartless. So, a clue (which regular readers might have guessed already): All four of the ‘words’ are actually numerals.
Archive for the ‘Literacy and writing’ Category
Posted by schrisomalis on February 10, 2010
Posted by schrisomalis on February 9, 2010
In case any of you were wondering why the study of handwriting matters, and why the elimination of the chair in paleography at King’s College London is a grave loss: Below is an image containing four discrete pieces of late medieval English writing (compiled together as a comparative collection). Can you decipher any of them?
Anyone who successfully deciphers all four may choose a topic or question on which I will write a future blog post.
Clue #1 (02/10/2010): All four words are in fact numerals.
Clue #2 (02/11/2010): They are Roman numerals, each six characters in length.
Posted by schrisomalis on February 6, 2010
Ms. 1 (APTC 1)
Arthur Chrisomalis, The Lines
Construction paper. ff. 2. Unfoliated. 11×8.5 in. Bound at left with four staples. Dated 2010 (?) in hybrid numerical notation (see below).
This manuscript is a juvenile work probably composed on 02/06/2010. There is textual and ethnographic evidence to suggest that the scribe (age 4.5) was aided by a more competent master. Currently the MS is magnetically affixed to the archivum refrigeratum in the scribe’s home.
fol. 1r: Text in orange ink, 3 lines. (Plate 1)
1v: Vertical lines in pencil, crossed with horizontal and diagonal lines in green, pink, red, grey, black, purple, and orange ink. Apparently nonrepresentational.
2r: Vertical lines in pencil, crossed with horizontal and vertical lines in red ink. Apparently nonrepresentational.
2v: Stylized depiction of a smiling human figure in orange ink. Elongated fingers and toes, highly enlarged ears. May be a scribal self-portrait.
Text (fol. 1r)
1. THE LINES
3. ||0|0 r
l. 1: Written in a bold majuscule hand in orange ink. Dotted pencil marks underlying the ink suggest that this line was prepared by the scribe with the aid of a master, an observation later confirmed ethnographically.
l. 2: Written in a hybrid minuscule/majuscule hand; H dips well below the line. Absence of pencil marks and unusual features of the hand suggest that it was composed unaided (confirmed ethnographically).
l. 3: The final character ‘r’ at the right margin seems to be properly attached to the end of l. 2; it is spaced significantly apart from the unusual characters at left. The reading ’11010′ as an Arabic numeral is improbable given limitations on scribe’s counting abilities. Ethnographic interview with scribe’s assistant/instructor/mother confirms that this is a hybrid notation for the date of composition, 2010. Upon learning of the custom of dating the frontispieces of books from his mother, the author inquired how to do so, and was told, “Put 2-0-1-0″, at which point he wrote the characters ||, then paused and examined the characters. At this point his mother informed him that he could just write the number 2, to which he replied, “That is a 2, in lines.” Thereupon he continued to write the final three characters, noting, however, that the last 0 “is more of an oval.”
One is reminded of the unusual notation developed by Ocreatus in his 1130 Helcep Sarracenicum ‘Saracen Calculation’ which combines the ordinary Roman numerals I, II, III … IX with a circle for O, thus producing a mixed system of the additive Roman numerals and positional Western numerals (Burnett 2006; Chrisomalis 2010: 120). Thus, Ocreatus wrote 1089 as I.O.VIII.IX. Attested in only one MS (Cashel, G.P.A. Bolton Library, Medieval MS 1), this notation represents an effort to incorporate positionality into existing systems of notation, and is related to the debate between the abacists and algorithmists over the proper contexts of use for the newer Western numerals.
Despite the temptation to see in this line a re-invention or re-discovery of Ocreatus’ notation, the ethnographic evidence suggests that this is unlikely. Although the author is familiar with Roman numerals in the context of clocks, the description of the characters || as ‘lines’ rather than ‘numbers’ or ‘Roman numerals’ suggests instead an effort to incorporate tallying principles. It is probable that the Roman numerals derive ultimately from an as-yet unattested Italic practice of tallying used in the 6th century BCE or earlier (Keyser 1988; Chrisomalis 2010: 95-6). Yet tallying is distinct from cumulative-additive numeration like the Roman numerals in that it is produced sequentially as an open-ended count; one cannot simply add signs to the Roman XIII – the equivalent tally might be IIIIVIIIIXIII (Chrisomalis 2010: 15). It is therefore probable that this notation represents the scribe’s attempt to combine the elementary tallying principle of one-to-one correspondence with the familiar Western numerals.
The ethnographic evidence that the scribe paused (as if bemused) upon the production of || might suggest that this form is a scribal error; given, however, that he is conversant with the Western numerals and is capable of producing them unaided, the hypothesis cannot be discounted that the use of || for 2 represents an aesthetically motivated decision. While the title of the work, ‘The Lines’, may refer to the vertical and horizontal lines in fol. 1v and 2r, it may equally be a reference to the lines in the date in fol. 1r.
Burnett, Charles. 2006. The semantics of Indian numerals in Arabic, Greek and Latin. Journal of Indian Philosophy 34:15-30.
Chrisomalis, Stephen. 2010. Numerical Notation: A Comparative History. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Keyser, Paul. 1988. The origin of the Latin numerals 1 to 1000. American Journal of Archaeology 92:529-546.
Posted by schrisomalis on February 3, 2010
Over the last week there has been a groundswell of action in opposition to the decision to eliminate the paleography program at King’s College London, most significantly the position of the Chair of Paleography, Professor David Ganz, which is the only such position in the UK and perhaps in the English-speaking world. Paleography, the science of manuscripts and handwriting, lacks the direct economic and political impact of other fields but has enormous influence on work throughout the historical disciplines. My new book relied significantly on Professor Ganz’s co-edition/translation of Bischoff’s Latin Paleography. More broadly, the notion that any scholar’s research should be narrowly dictated by budgetary considerations – that evaluations of scholarly merit ought to be conducted on the grounds of immediate financial impact – is anathema to the principles of academic freedom.
A Facebook group and an online petition have already been organized to oppose this misguided bureaucratic decision. I encourage any of you who may be concerned about the impact of this decision to become involved through these or other means. A parallel effort has been organized opposing the firing of several KCL philosophers.
Posted by schrisomalis on January 29, 2010
Back in November 2008 I wrote a post, ‘Debunking and de-Basque-ing‘ talking about the general state of Basque paleolinguistics and epigraphy, with specific reference to claims that a set of inscriptions from Iruña-Veleia were not the best evidence we have for the early use of a Basque ancestral language but in fact a ridiculous hoax. I didn’t think about it much since that time, but it seems that the debate rages on. Maju at Leherensuge asserts this week that many of the more extreme claims of hoaxing were grossly exaggerated (thanks to Julien at A Very Remote Period Indeed for pointing this out in the latest edition of Four Stone Hearth). You can also see a large number of the Iruña-Veleia inscriptions on this flickr stream. I’m still pretty dubious about the inscription on the linked post; I can see how it might be read as MISCART[...] but I don’t see it as obviously more correct than DESCART[...]. And, given that it comes after the names Socrates and Virgil, why would the name Miscart (an apparently unattested or new variant of Melkart, a Punic version of the god Mercury) be there at all? But I’m not a Basque epigrapher and wouldn’t claim any particular expertise here. The existence of one (possibly joke?) inscription wouldn’t automatically negate the validity of the rest, some of which (from the flickr site) I see no particular reason to doubt. And I don’t find it preposterous at all that there should be Paleo-Basque inscriptions in the regions where Basque is spoken today. But do remember that this region has a particularly hoax-ridden and pseudoarchaeologically-inclined inscriptional history.
Posted by schrisomalis on January 22, 2010
As some of you may recall, I posted back in August about the ‘Tolkien as Translator’ course offered at Harvard by Dr. Marc Zender, a Mesoamericanist epigrapher / archaeologist with a research interest in writing systems and culture. Dr. Zender emailed me recently to ask whether I might advertise the re-offering of the course through Harvard’s Extension School, and thus available to a much wider audience, including readers of this blog. I am happy to spread the word! He writes:
Starting January 27th, 2010, I will be offering ANTH E-164 “Tolkien as Translator: Language, Culture and Society in Middle-Earth” through Harvard’s Extension School. On-campus lectures will be held on Wednesday evenings, 5:30-7:30pm EST, but the course will also be videotaped, and the lectures can be accessed by enrolled students from pretty much anywhere with a reasonably fast internet connection. (The first two lectures will actually be available online for free.) An online forum will also allow students to regularly engage with the teaching staff and one another. As before, the focus is squarely on the role of Tolkien’s invented languages in communicating the complex cultures of Middle-earth, but this time I’ve also managed to attract a couple of guest lecturers well-known in Tolkien fandom: Dick Plotz and Bob Foster. These grand gents will visit the class on March 31st and share some of their early work on Tolkien’s invented languages and writing systems, particularly Plotz’ correspondence with Tolkien on the declensions of the Quenya noun.
Posted by schrisomalis on November 26, 2009
Today, most of my colleagues are toiling away in an attempt to cook and carve some sort of fowl. Me, well, I’m Canadian, and even though I work over in the Dark Nether Reaches and get to enjoy its three-day week, I live over here in Canada’s Deep South and get to … have a flu shot and catch up on posting some links of interest?
I don’t have much to add about the sad passing of Dell Hymes last week. I didn’t know him but I know many people who did, and no one who purports to be a linguistic anthropologist (or sociolinguist … or anthropological linguist … or …) can possibly be ignorant of his work. The NYT description of him as a “Linguist with a Wide Net” is utterly evocative and has me imagining it literally. He will be missed, but his legacy on the discipline will remain vital for decades.
While Turkey officially switched from the Arabic to the Roman alphabet in the 1920s, at the same time it prohibited the use of letters not used to represent Turkish – which includes the ‘ordinary’ Roman letters Q, W, and X. While sometimes portrayed as a ban on those letters specifically, it is a more general ban on non-Turkish characters, as far as I can tell, which would seem to prohibit all sorts of texts. Ostensibly designed to promote national unity and secular rule, the law has only been applied to Turks of Kurdish descent. As someone who until last year was a resident of a region where texts written in my native language are under severe legal constraints, this has been a matter of some interest and concern to me for a few years now. Mark Liberman tells us more over at Language Log.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are investigating the cultural evolution of language, arguing that language change is patterned by the biological constraints of the human brain – in other words, language changes to accomodate itself to the sorts of brains we possess. They are examining this idea experimentally using an artificial language of simple syllables used to describe alien-looking fruit … which is not as bizarre as I may have made it sound. Edinburgh is doing a lot of exciting work these days in linguistics, what with Jim Hurford, Simon Kirby, and Geoff Pullum (among others) housed there.
Relatedly, Marc Changizi claims (following up on work he has been doing for the past several years) that there are strong cognitive / evolutionary constraints on the graphemes (discrete written units) of writing systems, creating similiarites across writing systems that reflect the cultural evolution of graphemes to accomodate the needs and capacities of the human brain. I have more doubts about this one, which I may talk about in more detail – basically my concern is that the cross-cultural analysis is weak and inadequately accounts for borrowing (Galton’s problem). But it’s interesting work that deserves some attention. Hat tip to The Lousy Linguist for both this item and the previous one).
Lastly, Alun Salt has recently published a very interesting paper, ‘The Astronomical Orientation of Ancient Greek Temples‘ arguing for a more rigorous statistical approach to archaeoastronomy and establishing solar orientations. He’s not the first to use statistical analysis in archaeoastronomy but he does note with some dismay that there is generally insufficient concern with quantitative reasoning among archaeoastronomers to be able to apply statistical tests effectively. Salt highlights some of the complexities in making these determinations – leap second daters, take note! More important than the article itself, though, is its venue, the open-access PLoS ONE. Although ‘cheap’ by open-access standards, the fact that authors must pay ‘only’ $1350 to cover publication costs is, I think, problematic in humanities and social science disciplines where grants are small and getting proportionally smaller.
To my American friends, good luck with your birds, and thanks for reading!
Posted by schrisomalis on October 7, 2009
Turning from ancient epigraphy to contemporary epigraphy: Today, Google Street View went live in many Canadian cities, including Montreal. As I’m currently putting together a book prospectus for Stop: Toutes Directions, this is of great interest to me. Google’s images aren’t high enough quality to evaluate damage, wear, and vandalism, much less actually photograph and read the vandalism. On the other hand, it does allow me to easily identify new (currently un-surveyed) areas where there is a lot of linguistic variability. It took me about two minutes, for instance, to find this intersection at the corner of Churchill and Cornwall in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, a bilingual community at the western tip of the island of Montreal, where there are two ARRETs, one STOP, and one ARRET/STOP at a four-way intersection. We only have a handful of intersections with all three sign types in our database currently. Or alternately, one of our pet theories is that airports and border crossings tend to have greater numbers of bilingual stop signs, and this could be checked out rapidly without needing a road trip. Just as Google Earth allows archaeologists to find new sites online, but requires a lot of ground-truthing, Google Street View is a handy tool but doesn’t let you skip the hard part. For any of my co-authors who may be reading, though, rest easy: I’m not about to freak out and ask you to start collecting new data online, although I did think about sending you a prank email to that effect, before I thought better of it.
Posted by schrisomalis on October 7, 2009
Yesterday I thought of a great new project that could be a nice little article, or, if I had a grad student with a background in classical archaeology, as a nice little thesis, or, if someone else wants to work with me, a co-authored paper. Heck, if you scam my idea, more power to you – I will cite you widely if it’s good, and mock you widely if not! You see, the Epigraphische Datenbank Clauss-Slaby is a searchable full-text database with over 350,000 Latin inscriptions (including over 20,000 images). You can enter a word (e.g, Germaniae) and it returns all the inscriptions that have that word. Nifty, huh? Just in mucking about with EDCS today I discovered two or three things that will be coming out in my book that are in need of revision, which makes me only a little bitter.
Now of course I’m not a classicist (I have three terms of Latin under my belt, but that’s hardly enough to make me an expert), but I do know a thing or three about Roman numerals. The study of Roman numerals is sorely neglected in modern epigraphy, which is a shame because there are some really interesting social questions to be asked relating to regional identity and literacy (the sort of stuff, e.g., that Greg Woolf does). We think that we know Roman numerals: just take I, V, X, L, C, D, and M, string them together in groups of no more than three, use subtractive notation for numbers like 9 and 44, and you’re done. But it isn’t so simple.
The Roman numerals are not a static and unified system; there are various expressions for the same number (e.g. XVIII vs. XIIX for 18, or XXXXX vs. L for 50). Back in the 1950s, Arthur and Joyce Gordon did some interesting statistical analysis, indicating some potential sources of this variability (chronological, regional, and textual), but he didn’t have the sort of massive resources that the EDCS provides. So, for instance, it is often said that IIIII for 5, XXXXX for 50, and CCCCC for 500 (i.e., not using the sub-base signs V, L, and D) are particularly found in African inscriptions. Well, a quick search for ‘CCCCC’ and ‘XXXXX’ suggest to me that this isn’t a full explanation. Are certain types of inscription more likely to contain these variants? Could we be dealing with a chronological difference? Could we be dealing with a variant typical of minimally literate writers, or writers of informal texts? Or could it be that the shorter forms are used when there’s less room on the medium, with longer variants used when space is not at a premium? I have no idea, but the only way to find out would be to build a list of inscriptions that use these variants, map them in time and space, and evaluate them in terms of the texts in which they occur.
Now, there are some methodological complexities: some of the interesting variation is between different forms for the same character, and there is no way to search for that. Some of the Roman numeral forms (the use of a horizontal bar or vinculum over a numeral to indicate multiplication by 1000) aren’t represented consistently, or at all, so one would just need to rely on other published material to find the relevant inscriptions. And quite a lot of the project would require taking the database results and then referring to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. But ultimately it would be taking what seems to be a rather dry subject (variability in Roman numerals) and potentially correlating it with variability in social identities (class, ethnic, professional). Well, I think it’s cool, anyway.
Posted by schrisomalis on September 26, 2009
I’ve been thinking about quotation marks lately (okay, now I’ve lost 99% of my readership already, way to go, Steve!) and the different ways we use them. Because I have a strong interest in literacy and culture and the way in which language gets turned into text, these sorts of things excite me in a way that is probably not entirely healthy, but then again, if I wasn’t, you wouldn’t have a post to read. So without further delay, I give you…
“A” “typology” “of” “quotation” “marks”
Quotative: This is the common case in which quotation marks serve to distinguish matter spoken or written in another context, with the presumption that the quoted matter is being reproduced somewhat faithfully. The material may have been spoken or written originally, but there is a much higher expectation of word-for-word reproduction when quoting written material, for the obvious reason that the writer can copy from a written source. This was the original, and remains the most common sense of quotation marks in printed matter. It helps us to distinguish sentences like
Martha said, “Canada is a fascist dictatorship.”
Martha said that Canada is a fascist dictatorship.
In the first case we are clearly meant to understand that Martha spoke those words, where in the second Martha might well have said, “Our government is heading towards fascism” or any number of other things.
Neologistic: Quotation marks are frequently used when an author coins a neologism, or coins a phrase using already existing words. One is not quoting some earlier source directly; one is seeking instead to indicate the novelty of the term being used. So, for instance, in this post, I write:
The effect of this ‘conspicuous computation’ was to impress the reader with the vastness of the quantity, serving as an indexical sign of Rome’s military might.
I’m not quoting myself here – I’m coining a new phrase and using quotation marks to alert the reader to this fact. We get into trickier ground when we put quotation marks around a single, existing word that we intend to use in a new sense, as in the following passage:
Let me explain first what I understand by “sociolinguistic”. I use the term in its adjectival form and speak of “sociolinguistic” kinds of research rather than “sociolinguistics”. (Hymes 1971: 42)
The context strongly suggests neologism, but another reading is that Dell Hymes (the author, a renowned sociolinguist / linguistic anthropologist) is seeking to dismantle the entire concept of sociolinguistics, or at least to shift its meaning substantially in this context. If so, we’re dealing with another sense entirely.
Distancing: The quotation marks serve to distance the author from the matter in quotes, but where that matter is not a faithful reproduction of other matter. One finds these very often in the titles of British newspaper articles, possibly because British libel laws are very strict and one could find oneself liable for making a statement that is not a direct quotation of another source but which is also not hard fact. They frequently have a quotative smell to them, insofar as they often relate to assertions or claims by another party, but in fact they are not quotative at all, and often appear to be paraphrases at best. I posted about this elsewhere a couple of years ago, and I still find this use jarring. An example:
The BBC is not trying to say that someone wrote or said the words “many killed” in that order or even that the quote is an abbreviation of “many people were killed”. It is reporting on others’ claims, true, but the purpose is not quotative. We can think of the distancing quotes as being quotative minus the condition of (near-)faithfulness.
Ironic: Ironic quotation marks often also distance the author from the words written, but more importantly, distance the meaning of the quoted matter from its standard or accepted one. These are often called “scare quotes” by academics, a term which I find bothersome because they aren’t meant to scare anyone. I am indebted to my colleague Jacalyn Harden who came up with the metaphor of quotation marks as eyelashes – ironic quotes serve as a textual “wink” alerting the reader that some novel sense is intended. Wikipedia uses an example from my late mentor, Bruce Trigger:
Moctezuma II was reported to have had two wives and many concubines, by whom he had a total of 150 children. The king of Texcoco was said to have had more than two thousand “wives” by whom he had had 144 children, 11 born of his chief wife. (Trigger 2003: 178)
So we understand here that two thousand “wives” in the second sentence is not to be understood in the same sense as two wives in the first sentence. In both cases, a ruler is claimed (“reported” vs. “said”) to have some number of wives, so we can tell that the difference is not due to the quotative vs. non-quotative distinction. Because I knew the author of those words and worked on that very book, that I do not think that Trigger meant them deconstructively (see below) or in any other sense. Rather, it is because having two wives is not at all uncommon (even having two wives simultaneously is hardly a historical anomaly), but having two thousand wives strains credulity: the semantic associations we derive from the word wife could never be extended to the relationship between one man and two thousand women.
Deconstructive: There are scare quotes, and then there are “scare quotes”, and these are the latter. Where ironic quotes use the word in a different sense than that intended, deconstructive quotes imply that the object being quote-marked does not in fact exist. So, for instance, when one talks about “race” as opposed to race, one is noting that there is no biological reality to the race concept. Perhaps the most fantastic and potentially incomprehensible example is the following, from the linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein:
The important fact, then, is that “I” am to a certain extent what “I” say about “what” “I” drink as much as what “I” say about “it” reflects what “I” can discern about “what” “it” is. (Silverstein 2006)
In Trigger’s example above, he cannot mean that wives do not exist at all – he explicitly rejects this by his use of the un-quote-marked word in the previous sentence, and the un-quote-marked word wife in the second sentence as well. There are wives, and then there are “wives”. But in Silverstein’s example, he is really saying that “I” and “what” and “it” (the latter two referring to ‘that which I drink’) do not exist as real entities – they are socially constructed, to use one well-understood if less-than-ideal term. In ironic quotation marks, “A” is not A, but B, while in deconstructive ones, “A” is not A and is not anything else either.
Emphatic: The quotation marks serve as visual emphasis alone, and are not meant in an ironic, distancing, or quotative function. Most writers, I suspect, would treat this usage as an error, but it is widespread enough to deserve our attention. It is most frequently found on mercantile and informational signs, especially handmade ones. I refer you to The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, which gives such great examples as:
Please Do Not Use
Alarm Is On
and my personal favourite:
These can clearly be excluded from the five other categories. Instead, the quotation marks serve as a sort of typographic highlighter, a means of emphasizing some words in the text. This is confirmed by the contextual association of emphatic quotes with billboards, signs, placards, and other texts meant for wide public visibility, and by the fact that many of the quote-marked words are also emphasized in some other way: boldface, underlined, capitalized, or in larger letters than the rest of the text. Are they truly “unnecessary”? Yes, in the sense that there are other ways to emphasize text, and because this sense is non-standard, some humor derives from understanding emphatic quotes as meaning something else (usually ironic). For instance, take this discussion at the unnecessary quotations blog over the sign Sellersburg Welcomes “President” George W. Bush. Sly jab at perceived electoral fraud, or over-ebullient semantic extension of well-known punctuation? You decide.
It would be very interesting to expand this analysis to specify more clearly the “etymology” (ironic) of each of the six forms and then to examine the historical and semantic relations among them. For instance, I suspect that the quotative and neologistic usages are earliest but that the broad semantic aspect of distance is what unifies all the senses except the emphatic. I also think one could do some very interesting corpus linguistics using students to code instances of quotation reliably, both in terms of frequency in different texts and in terms of this semantic typology. Finally, I haven’t even discussed the use of single versus double quotes (which could have some interesting correlations with my typology), or talked about “embodied” (neologistic) quotation marks in the form of “air quotes” (quotative?). Well anyway, if I write the paper, it’ll give me something to “talk” (ironic) about.
Hymes, Dell. 1971. The Contribution of Folklore to Sociolinguistic Research. The Journal of American Folklore 84, no. 331 (March): 42-50.
Silverstein, Michael. 2006. Old wine, new ethnographic lexicography. Annual review of anthropology 35: 481-496.
Trigger, Bruce G. 2003. Understanding early civilizations: a comparative study. Cambridge Univ Press.