Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)

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Conference-branded fan – a very useful freebie in a Japanese summer!

I’ve just gotten back to Cambridge from a trip to Nagoya, Japan, to attend a conference hosted by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – a group of researchers interested in studying writing in a huge range of different languages and scripts. The conference’s theme – ‘Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)’ – was what initially attracted me: as a classicist working on three-thousand-year-old writing system, I figured I could fit in with the ‘past’ part of the theme, and it would be an interesting opportunity to hear from researchers studying different (and more modern!) writing systems. (Not to mention an opportunity to visit Japan for the first time!)

As it turned out, the range of topics in the presentations was even wider than I’d expected – not only did languages and writing systems under discussion range from the origins of writing in ancient Mesopotamia to the contemporary Japanese use of emoji (by way of Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, early modern English, Catalan, minority languages in West Africa and Malaysia, and plenty more), but as well as linguists many of the presenters were psychologists working on the cognitive processes involved in reading and writing, which gave me a really fascinating new perspective – for obvious reasons experimental pscyhology doesn’t really come into classical linguistics much!

The ‘past’ part of the conference theme ended up being represented pretty strongly by Cambridge – I was talking about historical developments in the Linear B writing system and how these can be better understood by looking at contemporary variations in spelling, and my colleagues Rob and Natalia from the CREWS Project were talking about how the ancient Semitic language Punic represented vowels in writing and typologies of different types of writing system around the ancient Mediterranean, respectively (they’ll probably be writing their own blog post about the conference sometime soon!) It was the first time any of us had attended an AWLL conference but I think I can say for all of us that we’re already very much looking forward to the next one!

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Downtown Nagoya

If you’re interested in the work of the AWLL, there’s information about joining the association and/or signing up for their newsletter on the website, or you can follow them on Facebook.

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Book review, Variation within and among writing systems

I’m away at the moment to attend a conference (more on that soon…) so this is just a quick post to say that a book review of mine has just appeared on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. It’s of a volume entitled “Variation within and among Writing Systems: Concepts and Methods in the Analysis of Ancient Written Documents”, edited by Paola Cotticelli-Kurras and Alfredo Rizza – check it out here!

Some start-of-term news

Just a quick post with a few things I wanted to share for the start of term! Firstly, a couple of posts over on the Cambridge Classics graduate blog, Res Gerendae: some handy tips for new PhD students (mostly just as relevant to students in other universities!), and an exciting exhibition that’s currently on in the Faculty’s Cast Gallery (but finishing on October 15th). By the way, I encourage any readers who haven’t checked out Res Gerendae yet to do so – it has a lot of great posts on a huge range of topics, and I’m sure there are many more interesting posts to come this term! (Any new Cambridge classics grads reading this – I also encourage you to sign up to write for RG – see my previous post on why this is a useful and fun thing to do!) Continue reading “Some start-of-term news”

Linguistics baking: Greek alphabet cupcakes

The latest offering in the linguistics cakes series was created for “Geoff-fest” – a celebration on the occasion of the retirement of Geoff Horrocks, Professor of Comparative Philology here in Cambridge. The Greek alphabet seemed an appropriate choice of cake decoration for Geoff, since he’s an expert on the whole history of the Greek language, ancient and modern – also, handily, it has 24 letters, which correspond exactly to two batches of cupcakes.

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As well as the all-important tea and cake, we had an enjoyable series of papers from members of the department, from New Testament textual criticism to Wikipedia debates about Italic languages (more on which here) by way of possible references to writing in Homer and some impressive diagrammatic representations of Greek prepositions. All in all, a very fitting way to wish Geoff a happy retirement!

Greek, ancient and modern

I’ve recently started taking some classes in modern Greek – something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, since it would be nice to be able to speak it when I travel to Greece (my repertoire up until now has consisted of a relatively fluent ability to order kebabs, but little else). The first thing people normally ask when I mention that I’m learning modern Greek is “how different is it really from ancient Greek?” To which the answer is, well, a) I can’t really speak ancient Greek, as opposed to reading it (the average Classics course is generally more concerned with teaching the vocabulary you need to read about the Persian War than useful phrases like “excuse me, I’m lost, which way is the marketplace please?”), and b) even if I could, I’d still have a lot of trouble making myself understood if I went around speaking it in modern-day Athens, because the language has changed so much. Continue reading “Greek, ancient and modern”

Linguistics baking: Venetic

It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years for me to make linguistics-themed cakes, decorated with copies of inscriptions in various ancient languages and scripts (previous cakes can be found here). This term it was the turn of a language from ancient Italy known as Venetic, because inscriptions in this language have mostly been found in the area around Venice (dating between around 550-100 B.C.E.). As is often the case with ancient languages, many of the inscriptions which survive are on gravestones: this is a woman’s epitaph from the town of Este (near Padua).

2016-05-11 14.25.09copy Continue reading “Linguistics baking: Venetic”

Linguistics Baking Part VIII: Cypro-Minoan 0

As promised in my last post, I hereby present the official cake of the ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts‘ conference (or, as it’s familiarly known, URBS) that just took place in the Faculty this weekend:'Cypro-Minoan 0' Continue reading “Linguistics Baking Part VIII: Cypro-Minoan 0”