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Constructed Logographic Writing System

I’m quite passionate about Japanese, particularly because I find the writing systems so beautiful (and delightfully complicated, although often equally frustrating to memorize). While studying Japanese and working on various constructed languages – each suffering from various stages of incompletion – I developed an interest in Logographic writing systems. To be entirely accurate, I suppose I should also include Pictographic and Semanto-phonetic writing systems, since I’ve been looking at Mayan glyphs, the various script styles of Chinese from Running/Grass to Clerical to Oracle Bone scripts, as well as Naxi, Tangut, Khitan, and the Egyptian scripts Hieroglyphs, Hieratic, and Demotic. This interest has led to an attempt at creating my own logographic writing system. So far, I don’t actually have a language to use it with; either one will develop to match the writing system, or I’ll adapt one I’ve already started. Perhaps I’ll simply say that this writing system is supposed to be based on an entirely pictographic writing system that was never tied to a particular language (perhaps some kind of “lingua-franca” writing system), and various languages are now making use of their own versions of stylized/simplified characters. That would allow me to create several related languages, each with their own distinct writing system, but all writing systems based on the “original” pictographic/logographic writing system.

Starting the Script

To begin with, I created a list of “key words”, things that are fairly basic but can be combined to form more complex words/meanings. After listing quite a few words on my own without reference, I took a look at a list of the 214 Chinese “radicals” and added quite a few from that list to my own. I avoided radicals with meanings that I felt were a little to “complex” – meanings that could be derived from combining more “basic” meaning elements.

For example, “forest” is “many trees” (or even more basic: “tree tree (tree)”). This essentially occurs in the Chinese & Japanese character for “forest” – 木 (tree) + 木 + 木 = 森 (forest). 木 + 木 = 林 (woods, forest, copse).

My list does include quite a few meanings that could be considered “complex” – “mountain” could certainly be “stone + stone (+ stone)”, and “body” could be “head + arms + legs (+ torso)”. Both “mountain” and “body”, however, are most often considered “whole things” in their own right; and besides, once you start breaking down “mountain” into “stone + stone”, you could break down “bird” into “beak + wings + feathers + …”. You get the idea. Below is my final list of words; ignore the bolded words for now – I’m just trying to determine what the absolute most basic pictograms will be. You can also ignore the numbers; I just wanted to see how many I had.

NUMBER

MEANING

        1              Fire
        2              Metal
        3              Torch
        4              East
        5              Act, Action, Movement
        6              Strength
        7              Power, force
        8              Water
        9              Fish
    10              Hook
    11              Net
    12              Ice
    13              River, Stream
    14              Bend, supple
    15              West
    16              Wave, splash
    17              Earth
    18              Mountain
    19              Stone, rock
    20              Field
    21              Harvest
    22              Valley
    23              Wealth, gold
    24              Jewel
    25              Stand fast, sturdy
    26              North
    27              Wind
    28              Sky, heaven
    29              Zero, none
    30              Feather, wing
    31              South
    32              Fly
    33              Speak, speech
    34              Knowledge, knowing
    35              Self, person
    36              Mouth
    37              Eye
    38              Hand
    39              Ear, hear
    40              Eat, food
    41              Legs, go
    42              Stop, halt
    43              Stand, erect
    44              Do, perform
    45              Fight, anger
    46              Face
    47              Head
    48              Body
    49              Work, worker
    50              See, sight
    51              Jar, bottle
    52              Cart, vehicle
    53              Half
    54              Piece, part
    55              Roof
    56              Container
    57              Seat, stool
    58              Alcohol
    59              Town
    60              Boat, ship
    61              Gate
    62              Enter, entrance
    63              Exit, outside
    64              Country
    65              King, ruler
    66              Leader, magistrate
    67              Spear, lance
    68              Drum, beat
    69              Song, instrument
    70              Sign, signal
    71              Door, house
    72              Slave
    73              Weapon
    74              Embroidery, needlework
    75              Cloth, fabric
    76              Parchment, scroll
    77              Animal
    78              Insect
    79              Bird
    80              Horse
    81              Deer
    82              Bone
    83              Shell
    84              Blood
    85              Grass
    86              Meat
    87              Leaf
    88              Plant, sprout, growth
    89              Tree, branch
    90              Pig, greed
    91              Rat, mouse
    92              Horn, antler
    93              White
    94              Black
    95              Three
    96              Sound
    97              Light
    98              Dark, profound
    99              Sun
100              Moon
101              Evening
102              Morning
103              Color, pretty
104              Rain
105              Night
106              Right, correct
107              Wrong, incorrect
108              Heart, spirit
109              Bitter, unhappy
110              Sweet, good-tasting
111              Sentence, writing
112              Book, literature
113              Origin, original
114              One
115              Two
116              Life, living
117              Time, day (from dawn of one day to dawn of the next)
118              Mound, grave
119              Ghost, demon
120              Dragon
121              Herbs, spice
122              Cauldron
123              Salt
124              Wheat, grain
125              Death, decay
126              Corpse, flesh
127              Sickness
128              Compare, compete
129              Divide, distinguish
130              Mix, mixture
131              Long, deep
132              Short, insignificant
133              Run, go quickly
134              Round, around
135              Tall, high
136              Big, large
137              Small, little, short
138              Strong, strength
139              Weak, feeble
140              Man, male
141              Woman, female
142              Child, seed
143              Even, uniformly
144              Opposite
145              Sixteen

Initial Ideas

Initially, I drew fairly simple pictures for most of the words (some of them I couldn’t think of a good way to represent the word as a picture, such as “bitter”). From there, I created a sort of “first pass” of simplified forms, some of which are more simplified than others. This “first pass” would be one direction that a particular people could have gone in when adapting the language-less pictographs for their own language.

In the interest of being thorough, I think the next step will be to actually go back and refine the basic pictograms, before I start simplifying – in any direction. I do already know, however, that I’d like to create a rounded, almost cursive simplified form and a blocky, all-straight-lines simplified form of each pictogram. For the rounded forms I’ll be referencing Hieratic, as well as several non-logographic writing systems with curves and some degree of complexity in their letter forms (such as Mongolian, Arabic, Kaithi, Khojki, Lao, Georgian (Mkhedruli, and possibly Asomtavruli), and the various styles of Thai). For the blockier forms I’ll be referencing the Phags-pa script, as well as Tibetan, Runic, Georgian (Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri in particular), and Hebrew. I’ll also look at Chinese, Japanese (Katakana as well as Kanji), Khitan, and Tangut, as well as possibly Chu Nom.

 

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