Visible Language is a peer-reviewed design journal that advocates the potential for the research and practice of visual communication to enhance the human experience. Published by the School of Design at the University of Cincinnati, Visible Language balances artfulness with science, innovation with respect for human patterns of use, evidence-based research with intuitive exploration, and technology with humanity.Visible language is not strictly speaking focused on Antiquity, but it has many articles on ancient writing including (but not limited to) the following (in no particular order):
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Volume 36 | Issue 3 | September 2002S.I. WoolleyT.R. DavisN.J. FlowersJ. Pinilla-DutoitA. LivingstoneT.N. ArvanitisOur paper presents the work of the Cuneiform Digital Forensic Project (CDFP), an interdisciplinary project at The University of Birmingham, concerned with the development of a multimedia database to support scholarly research into cuneiform, wedge-shaped writing imprinted onto clay tablets and indeed the earliest real form of writing. We describe the evolutionary design process and dynamic research and developmental cycles associated with the database. Unlike traditional publications, the electronic publication of resources offers the possibility of almost continuous revisions with the integration and support of new media and interfaces. However, if on-line resources are to win the favor and confidence of their respective communities there must be a clear distinction between published and maintainable resources, and, developmental content. Published material should, ideally, be supported via standard web-browser interfaces with fully integrated tools so that users receive a reliable, homogenous and intuitive flow of information and media relevant to their needs. We discuss the inherent dynamics of the design and publication of our on-line resource, starting with the basic design and maintenance aspects of the electronic database, which includes photographic instances of cuneiform signs, and shows how the continuous review process identifies areas for further research and development, for example, the “sign processor” graphical search tool and three-dimensional content, the results of which then feedback into the maintained resource.
Volume 15 | Issue 4 | October 1981M.W. GreenCuneiform was, from its inception, not merely a collection of individual symbols, but a coherent system of information manipulation for which written characters were the main, but not the only, component. This system did not evolve by itself, but was manufactured, developed, and implemented within the framework of a bureaucratic organization which controlled the distribution not only of goods and services but also of status and information. That institution produced the demand for a control technology for which the cuneiform writing system was the eventual realization. While the user institution imposed specific, characteristic constraints and demands, it also adjusted its own needs and goals to adapt to restrictions and functions of the technology itself. We look at the early development of the cuneiform writing system with special attention to the less well recognized peripheral components and to interactions between the technology and its user.
Volume 15 | Issue 4 | October 1981Carol JustusOn the premise that horizontal Hittite scribal rulings be taken seriously as punctuation, this study investigated their content and found that in fact they punctuate a structure similar to the periodic sentence in older Greek and Latin. As such they are to be compared with the oldest (alphabetic) Greek mark of punctuation, the paragraphos, which begins to be replaced in Alexandrian Greek by marks which segment the language on the basis of prosodic features, as in English. Hittite “visible sentences,” moreover, signal in visual form underlying differences in language structure and cohesive basis which can be correlated with differences in word order type and changes which the genetically related Indo-European (IE) languages have undergone over a period of c. 4000 years of written attestation.
Volume 15 | Issue 4 | October 1981Ronald H. SackThe education and activities of the Eanna temple scribe in sixth-century BC. Uruk varied little from what they had been prior to the Chaldean era. The cuneiform writing system was still in use, and Akkadian economic documents continued to be composed and literary texts preserved in a manner not unlike that of previous periods. These traditions, however, did not preclude the scribe’s attending to his own private business affairs or prevent his engaging in the collection or composition of literary documents that reflect either his own personal interests or the necessity to prepare materials with decidedly political overtones. The result of these endeavors is a body of texts which, in many respects, indicates both the influence of spoken Aramaic or written Akkadian and the everchanging political situation (from both official and private perspectives) in southern Mesopotamia in the Chaldean period.
Volume 15 | Issue 4 | October 1981Marvin A. Powell“Origins” suggests that cuneiform was invented in a short period of time around 3000 BC by a citizen of the Sumerian city of Uruk and that it arises conceptually out of the token system described by D. Schmandt-Besserat. “Direction of script” agrees with S. Picchioni that cuneiform was written and read vertically down through c. 2300 BC, but it emphasizes the use of reed patterns to demonstrate the manner in which the stylus was manipulated and sees this mode of manipulation at the motivating force behind the transition to horizontal script. “Literacy” argues that cuneiform was not as difficult as usually assumed, that the alphabet had no demonstrable effect on the level of functional literacy, and that the superiority of the alphabet over cuneiform has been exaggerated.
Volume 5 | Issue 3 | July 1971Arthur E. GordonContemporary and earlier studies of the Latin language have failed to present and discuss adequately letter names of the Latin alphabet—in contrast, for example, with the Greek alpha, beta, gamma, etc. Several theories, and their derivation, about the letter names are presented. The ancient evidence—from the third/second century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.—is rather scant and not always clear. While the names of the vowels and of all the consonants except the continuants (F, L, M, N, R, S, X) seem certain, the names of these continuants seem to have undergone changes in the course of history and to be clear only toward the end of antiquity (from the fourth century A.D. on).
Volume 5 | Issue 4 | October 1971Michael D. CoeMaya hieroglyphic writing was carved on stone monuments, written in bark-paper codices, and painted upon funerary pottery. The stone inscriptions, formerly thought to record only calendrical information, have been found to contain dynastic histories. The codices treat exclusively of ritual matters, while the texts and pictures on the pottery are concerned with the perilous voyage of the soul to the underworld. The script evolved from a highly pictographic system into one that had a strong phonetic-syllabic component. As calligraphy, Maya writing was a basically painterly art.
Volume 6 | Issue 1 | January 1972Marvin A. Powell, Jr.The origin of the sexagesimal system has been much debated, but all past theories have neglected the linguistic evidence of the ancient cuneiform lexica. The problem or origin is twofold: 1) the origin of counting with sixty as a base and 2) the origin of sexagesimal place notation. The first problem is linguistic and anthropological in nature and must be studied through the ancient lexica. The second can be elucidated by a combined analysis of the Sumerian number words and the symbols used to represent them. Such an analysis indicated that sexagesimal place notation arose from an interaction between the numerational framework of the Sumerian language and the symbols used to write those numbers, but the sudden appearance of place notation about 2050 B.C. indicates that the final step toward the creation of place notation was an act of conscious invention.
Volume 20 | Issue 1 | January 1986Ulrich ErnstA poetological analysis of the genre of pattern poetry is presented which distinguishes among various forms of picture text composition, and attempts to classify the various sorts of carmina figurata typologically while dealing with the question of continuity and discontinuity of figured poems in ancient, medieval, and modern times.
Volume 20 | Issue 1 | January 1986Piotr RypsonThe labyrinth, the mythical structure conceived by Daedalus, has been a persistent motif throughout the history of Mediterranean culture. We find it both in visual art of all kinds as well as in literature, and also in the fascinating noman’s-land between these two. In the area of word-image interaction there exists a whole collection of texts that were given the name “poetical labyrinths.” The origin of labyrinthine poems goes back to the Rome of Augustus Caesar; the visual pattern of these pieces seems to indicate the pattern of a magical dance, perhaps the ancient Greek dance of the Grue. The idea of the poem in medieval times seems also to encompass the idea of the city, of the heavenly Jerusalem. Medieval poetical labyrinths have definite religious connotations, as is also evident in the later works of this genre, influenced by the Jewish Kabbala. This hermeneutic is still valid for the baroque in the case of a number of works, yet more and more labyrinth poems appear in a secularized, ornamental context. This article traces the most significant of these lines of development of this form and its function.
Volume 7 | Issue 1 | January 1973Richard A. OlsonOne of the most unusual coinages in antiquity was the coinage of the Parthian empire, largest of the later Hellenistic empires. The Parthians were a non-Greek people who used Greek as their first official language of state and as the predominant language on their coins. Their most common denomination, the silver drachm, bore Greek legends for almost half a millennium, and the letterforms underwent a significant transformation in the process. Since the coinage constitutes the largest body of primary source material extant concerning ancient Parthia, that transformation is of significant interest to the classification historian.
Volume 7 | Issue 2 | April 1972Ernest PosnerFocusing on archives in Greece, Rome, Egypt and Meopotamia, the article compares archival criteria with the present day practice and finds similarities including: 1) law, 2) administrative action, 3) accounting, 4) land records and ownership, 5) control over people with regard to servitude and taxation and 6) business transactions.
Volume 24 | Issue 1 | January 1990Virginia M. FieldsA brief description of the historical approaches to the decipherment of ancient Maya writing is presented in order to provide the background for a description of our current knowledge of the nature and structure of their system. Maya hieroglyphic writing is recognized as a true writing system in that it represents the sounds and structure of spoken language. The writing system is defined as a mixed logographic system containing both pictographic and phonetic elements. Maya hieroglyphic writing appears in the latter part of the Late Preclassic Period (ca. 150 B.c.-A.D. 100) and is primarily associated with documenting political history and legitimacy. Writing was used to record the events of a ruler’s life, validating his right to the throne by documenting his parentage, his accession to power, his conquests, and his performance of important ritual and ceremonial acts. Calendrical information also comprises a major component of Classic Maya inscriptions. Historic events are documented by means of a complex system that both fixes events in time and ties them cyclically to the mythological past.
Volume 24 | Issue 2 | May 1990Rosemary SassoonFor a thousand years before the alphabet, the scribal schools in Mesopotamia and Egypt had studied and taught their scripts, cuneiform and hieroglyphics, but no record of the original alphabet or any reference to it has been found among the hundreds of thousands of tablets from scribal archives. The silence in which the origin of the alphabet is shrouded invites comment but receives none. Among the ancient tablets of Sumer are numerous wordlists containing, for instance, the names of animals or of plants or of legal terms and many others. Some word lists are bilingual given the Sumerian words with their Akkadian or their Eblaite translations. Their classified lists of words were used as reference sources in early proto-science and as teaching material in the scribal schools. Scholarly exchange between Ebla and Mesopotamia has been established by more than a hundred word lists in Sumeria found at Ebla that are identical with word lists from cities in Mesopotamia.
Volume 24 | Issue 2 | May 1990John SassoonThere is neither record of nor reference to the invention of the alphabet in any known source. That in itself may say something about the invention—that it probably did not take place in the scribal community. The alphabet grew out of the syllabaries which precede it, of which the most widespread were cuneiform and hieroglyphics. It probably emerged from the commercial communities of the ancient Near East but owed its consonatal principle to the Egyptians. A Canaanite in north Syria around 1800 B.c. is the most likely inventor, and the city of Ebla is taken as a hypothesis. The early Mesopotamian scribal tradition of which Ebla was part is outlined. Opinions about how the alphabet was invented are considered, concluding that it was probably a single “giant leap,” and by one man. The inventor’s necessary background, creation of letter shapes, the writing medium and direction of script are reviewed. For the tricky problem of initial acceptance and diffusion, for which these is no evidence, a possibility is postulated. At the end, the whole process is encapsulated in a brief story.
Volume 27 | Issue 1-2 | January 1993Jerrold CooperAncient Mesopotamia was the birthplace of the earliest known writing system. It was also a land of ethno-linguistic diversity, that included Sumerians, who invented cuneiform writing, and an increasingly large number of speakers of Semitic languages. As cuneiform spread throughout Mesopotamia and into neighboring regions, it was adapted to write Semitic and other languages, and bilingual and even trilingual cuneiform tablets were produced, containing Sumerian texts and their translations, usually into Semitic Akkadian. Various formats were developed to set off the translation from the original, and the practice, which began around 2400 B.C., continued almost to the beginning of own own era.
Volume 32 | Issue 3 | September 1998Alejandro BrizuelaA contemporary designer pays homage to the ancient codex designers or Tlacuilo. “Tale of the origin” is a Mesoamerican science-religion story of the beginning and end of life. The myth is presented first as a Spanish language artist’s book in a documentary style. Key moments and characters in the myth are symbolically visualized. This document is then analyzed and interpreted using rhetoric as a subtext or key to understanding the ideas of the myth as well as the visual structure of the unfolding story and book. Yet another subtext translates the myth into English.
Volume 8 | Issue 4 | October 1974I. J. GelbWritten records together with material remains derived from excavations form the main bases for our understanding of past civilizations and their underlying language systems. There is no systematic treatment of written records, and little attention has been paid to the interrelationship between ancient writing and language. Full systems of writing express language at two levels—morphological and phonetic—which give rise to three basic writing systems types—logo-syllabic, syllabic, and alphabetic. Four categories of decipherment—based on our relative knowledge of the writing system and the language—are discussed: known writing/known language; unknown writing/known language; known writing/unknown language; and unknown writing/unknown language. From a cryptanalytic point of view there are two general decipherment methods: 1) utilization of external information to determine probable contents (e.g., bilingual texts,) and 2) internal information from an analysis of the text itself (structure and typology). The assumption of the underlying language is critical for deciphering procedures and provides the test of successful decipherment.
Volume 10 | Issue 3 | July 1976A.R. LittlewoodByzantine epistolographic concepts are a natural development of the concepts of classical antiquity, and especially of the Second Sophistic, that were adapted to fit the requirements of Christian ontology. The surviving letters were intended not always to convey information, for which the courier or “living letter” was often responsible, but usually to fulfill the obligations and genuine needs of friendship and to serve as much prized pieces of literary art in their own right. In the one case the letter was deemed an “ikon of the soul,” creating an illusion of the presence of the writer and thereby demanding tokens of his individual characteristics. In the other it was required to be original within the strict framework imposed by the imitation of ancient models; and by adherence to changing stylistic canons it came both to foster obscurity and to embrace subject-matter not commonly associated with the letter.
Volume 14 | Issue 2 | April 1980Jon StrattonThe concept of law is too often treated as an a-historical category; similarly, the impact of writing (when used as a medium of communication) on the conceptual order and on the social structure of a society has been little analyzed. These two problems are brought together in the context of ancient Greece to demonstrate how the concepts “law” and “justice” developed in relation to changes in the social structure of that society. The impact of writing on Greek society not only produced the situation in which these changes took place but also helped form those changes.
Volume 27 | Issue 1-2 | January 1993Richard HodgsonRalph SarkonakProducing and reading a bilingual text, much like creating and viewing a stereoscopic image, involve a much more complex process of perception and decoding than do the writing and deciphering of a monolingual one. Working with bilingual texts creates both special problems and unique opportunities for the writer, the graphic designer, the reader and for those of us who are fascinated by visible language in all its forms. Most studies on bilingualism tend to neglect the written manifestations of the phenomenon in favor of the psychological, social and pedagogical dimensions of the problem as they appear in the spoke language. This issue explores the practice of bilingual writing in a wide variety of texts, from cuneiform tablets and bilingual dictionaries to contemporary fiction and bilingual editions of texts. “Texts” can be anything from polyglot bibles to advertising slogans and brand names. The main objective of this issue devoted to writing “in stereo” is to bring together specialists in a wide range of fields, from graphic design and lexicography to text-linguistics and literary theory, to study the practice of bilingual writing at the level of the word (company logos and bilingual dictionaries), the sentence (code-switching) and the entire text. The examples chosen involve both visible and invisible bilingualism (depending on the reader/viewer’s knowledge of the languages in question).