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Tree writing [Was: Non-linear / full-2d writing systems?]

From:Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>
Date:Saturday, May 7, 2005, 4:40
Several years ago I had been thinking along very similar lines as Teoh has 
been -- a radial, mostly-decorative representation of stories, prayers, 
warnings, what-have-you, with a variable order of interpretation. Basically, 
it was a tree-structure layed out radially, with the root in the center. The 
design motif was itself tree-like, akin to a Celtic "Tree of Life", and each 
glyph was an interwoven pattern.

Revisiting these thoughts, I've come across a benefit of non-linear writing 
I don't think we've considered. At least, I didn't see it in the thread so 
far, although it might have been hidden in the "what language really is" 
parts that I skimmed.

Firstly, though, think for a moment about the biggest benefit of a 
Chinese-style writing system. Your answer may be different than mine, but I 
consider the best part of the system its ability to simultaneously handle 
similar but mutually-unintelligeable spoken languages. If I speak Mandarin 
and you Cantonese, we may not be able to understand each other verbally, but 
we can still communicate via writing. We don't pronounce the glyphs the 
same, but we assign the same meanings to them.

The only barrier to a language's "participation" in such a system is that it 
must be (basically) analytic and have (basically) the same word order. I 
figure two languages with a slightly different noun-number-classifier order 
wouldn't put up too many barriers, but SOV and VSO languages would have a 
tough time "collaborating" in such a way.

But a *tree* (or a more general directed acyclic graph) is independent of 
the order in which one traverses it. Speakers of VSO participants would thus 
tends towards preorder traversals of nodes, speakers of SVO, inorder, and 
SOV speakers, postorder. VOS, reverse preorder, OVS, reverse inorder, OSV, 
reverse postorder. (The devil's in the details, of course, but you see the 
idea.) So long as the participant languages remain reasonably analytic, the 
system is at least possible. Not for several randomly chosen analytic-ish 
real languages, probably, but certainly for several languages of one's own 

Two barriers to more general participation remain: first, the language ought 
to be basically analytic on some level of analysis. (Or the participants 
must inflect things in a very similar manner. Or their speakers have to be 
awfully clever.) Secondly, the same or similar categories of information 
ought to be represented in each language. If my language has singular, dual, 
paucal, and plural but no gender, and your language has gender but no 
number, and his language makes an alienable-inalienable distinction in 
possessives and grammaticalizes respect... well, then we each oughta go find 
other co-participants.

It could be a fun experiment between us, though. Several of us construct 
simple analyticky languages with similar grammatical categories but with 
vastly different word order parameters, and see if a reasonable 
"cross-cultural" writing system could be developed.

Patrick Littell
PHIL205: MWF 2:00-3:00, M 6:00-9:00
Voice Mail: ext 744
Spring 05 Office Hours: M 3:00-6:00


Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>
Simon Clarkstone <simon.clarkstone@...>