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Re: Non-linear / full-2d writing systems?

From:Remi Villatel <maxilys@...>
Date:Sunday, May 8, 2005, 16:00
Just an idea I got while reading "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang.

For those who haven't read it yet, you discover an alien non-linear writing
system. The linguist who studies it calls its symbols "semagrams" (semantic
graphics). There would be a lot to tell about these semagrams but I'll avoid
the spoilers.

It's the word which stoke my mind. When I read it, I thought it was a really
good neologism to describe a mental image.

So here came my idea. Whenever a non-linear writing system should be
invented, why should it absolutely reproduces all the flaws of the linear
system? Our visual cortex is capable of deciphering more that a word at a time.

A non-linear system could use this ability to present us several words in a
semagram which would induce a mental image. In a linear text, there are a
lot of tiny words that we don't actually need to read in order to
understand, like most of the articles, some redundant pronouns, the
prepositions, and other non-essential bits. These "useless" words shouldn't
be used in a non-linear system, unless really necessary, for example to
connect logically two semagram.

So, a semagram is no more than a few words the one above the other which can
be read at once, almost like a picture, as a whole. Thus, the semagrams are
the symbols and the words are their atomic components. We don't need more.
No line, no arrows, no other symbol, except maybe a frame around the
semagrams to separate them.

Our linear writing system already gives us directions to set the semagrams
the ones relative to the others: from top to bottom, with a secondary axis
from left to right for the supplementary semagrams.

When you write with such a system, you describe the main elements as
semagrams in the first left column. It's the timeline of your story or
the logical line of your text. Details for each semagram are set on its
right. Each detail can become the starting point of another text within the
text if you put other semagrams under it. Each of these semagrams can have
other details on the right which can become new starting points too. And so
on. If you haven't room enough, you just add a third dimension thanks to a
hyper-semagram... well... a hyperlink just like on any HTML page. (We're
living in a computerized world, ain't we?)

When you read, you can start anywhere. If you go to the left, you get closer
from the main elements of the text. If you go to the right, you get details
about the semagram you just read. If you go down, you follow the timeline of
the story or the reasoning of the writer. If you go upward, you do the same
but backward. (Maybe lines should be added to separate the different
branches of semagrams.)

BUT this is no kind of writing system that can you read aloud. You can only
read it for yourself then tell what you read with your own words. Speech has
only one dimension so any non-linear writing system can logically only have
an indirect relation with it.

I wrote a little 2D fairytale to illustrate my purpose. (I hope that the
list allows an attachment. It's only HTML.)

This is just my 2 cents contribution to the thread.

Remi Villatel


Joseph Bridwell <zhosh@...>
Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>