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Imaginary Alphabets

#1
Dave Bleja has posted a great article at Gamasutra on Designing an Alien Alphabet.

He discusses the importance of keying the look of an invented alphabet to the nature of the culture (and its display technologies) that uses the alphabet. He also provides several good resources for ideas when starting to design such an alphabet. It really is an excellent piece of writing for any visual creator of new worlds.

It's not 100% applicable to Limit Theory, in which there could be many randomly generated cultures, each with one or more native alphabets. But who knows? Maybe it's a starting point for a clever modder. :)
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#3
Ohhhhhh, I like this. :shock: Bookmarking this. I already wrote a program to procedurally generate thematic languages - this would make it so, so easy to make something that could procedurally generate characters as well.

Well... relatively easy, anyway. It makes for a good starting point.
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#4
When I got bored in highschool i developed a habit of designing writing systems. :geek: I never got into conlanging, though, so they were all for english. Here's a sample of my most recent (and most developed) conscript -- an abugida:
Image I can explain the orthography in more detail, if anyone's interested.

Talvieno -- what's this about procedurally generated languages? Do tell.
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#5
That's fascinating, Juggler -- I understand now (I think) the origin of your avatar for this forum.

I have a vivid memory of creating new fonts while bored out of my mind in my high school English class, writing "this is boring" in my novel font, followed by realizing that in my preoccupation I hadn't noticed that my teacher was standing right behind me reading every word. :oops:

That wasn't really a new alphabet (or abugida), though. Neat stuff, and please feel free to share info about yours here if you like.
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#6
[nerdgasm] :geek:
My main goal designing it was to make something as wildly different from our alphabet as possible. So in addition to making it a (strictly phonetic) abugida, I also made sure to add as many irregularities as possible. The end result was an insanely complicated script. How insane? :twisted:

1. As with all abugidas, vowels are written as modifications to the preceding consonant. But in my script, most vowels (or diphthongs -- the script treats them as the same thing) can be written by changing the shape of the consonant, adding a diacritic above or below the consonant, or even writing the vowel (spoken after the cons.) before the consonant. None of these methods are ever interchangeable, because reasons.

2. A lot of abugidas have a null consonant. Mine has two! They aren't interchangeable.

3. It indicates stressed syllables. It can do so by (a) doubling the vowel or (b) marking the stressed sound by placing a "stress" character before it. And no, these aren't interchangeable either.

4. It makes extensive use of ligatures. Remember all of those diacritics I've mentioned? Well, ligatures frequently affect their placement, such that they don't modify the letter they're over, but rather that other character way the hell over there. YAY CONTEXT CLUES.

5. But, you know, at least it doesn't have capital letters. :lol:
[/nerdgasm]


The whole process has actually been a great learning experience. It's helped teach me how other writing systems can differ from our own. It was an interesting artistic challenge, as well. Unifying all of the letterforms (there's more than a hundred, not counting ligatures) to give the script its "look" was devilishly tricky.

Flatfingers wrote:
I have a vivid memory of creating new fonts while bored out of my mind in my high school English class, writing "this is boring" in my novel font, followed by realizing that in my preoccupation I hadn't noticed that my teacher was standing right behind me reading every word. :oops:
omg this is hilarious :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#7
<whistle> That is certainly detailed.

At first it reminded me of Tamil, but after looking at the abugida chart on Wikipedia I see that it seems closer in spirit to Telugu. Were you inspired by the looks of any existing abugidas or alphabets?

(Actually, when I originally looked closely at your example, my first thought was, "Hmmm... these look sort of like English letters read in a mirror." I tried flipping them horizontally, and sure enough, some of the individual letters start to look familiar: I can see an "s" and an "a," and possibly "c" and "r" and "n" as well... but I think those are just coincidences. And yet somehow the horizontally flipped text seems to me to create words that almost feel like I should be able to translate them, where the original feels more alien. Funny. :))

Is there also an invented language behind the characters, or are they a direct cipher for an existing human language? I think I'm safe in guessing that this one is a cipher from English, yes?

Also, not to pry into "because reasons," but are there at least rules behind the reasons for the different non-interchangeable placements of vowels and stresses and non-consonants so that I don't have to try to sleep knowing that someone has invented a semi-randomized writing system? :o :lol:
TheJuggler wrote:
Flatfingers wrote:I have a vivid memory of creating new fonts while bored out of my mind in my high school English class, writing "this is boring" in my novel font, followed by realizing that in my preoccupation I hadn't noticed that my teacher was standing right behind me reading every word. :oops:
omg this is hilarious :lol: :lol: :lol:
The story has a happy ending; this teacher got me a scholastic award that year... for English. :)
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#8
Flatfingers wrote:<whistle> That is certainly detailed.

At first it reminded me of Tamil, but after looking at the abugida chart on Wikipedia I see that it seems closer in spirit to Telugu. Were you inspired by the looks of any existing abugidas or alphabets?

(Actually, when I originally looked closely at your example, my first thought was, "Hmmm... these look sort of like English letters read in a mirror." I tried flipping them horizontally, and sure enough, some of the individual letters start to look familiar: I can see an "s" and an "a," and possibly "c" and "r" and "n" as well... but I think those are just coincidences. And yet somehow the horizontally flipped text seems to me to create words that almost feel like I should be able to translate them, where the original feels more alien. Funny. :))
As a matter of fact, I was! One of my earliest goals as I was developing it was to elicit a resemblance to the Brahmic scripts (like Telugu, Gujarati, etc.), but I avoided actually looking at any of them during the initial drafting period to avoid explicitly borrowing any letterforms. I *did* end up stealing a few letters from Thai, though. Throughout the bulk of development, I drew most of my inspiration from Ayeri, a conscript by Carsten Becker:
Image And those almost-English letters? You got me. :roll: Designing >20 basic letterforms from scratch was too much. Some of the letters are completely original, and others bear resemblance by chance, but all told, I ultimately took/slightly modified:
5, 4, 3, 2, c, n, R, s, z, and G.
Flatfingers wrote: Is there also an invented language behind the characters, or are they a direct cipher for an existing human language? I think I'm safe in guessing that this one is a cipher from English, yes?

Also, not to pry into "because reasons," but are there at least rules behind the reasons for the different non-interchangeable placements of vowels and stresses and non-consonants so that I don't have to try to sleep knowing that someone has invented a semi-randomized writing system? :o :lol:
No conlanging here! I simply don't have the time. So, yes, it is a phonetic transcription of English. It's actually optimized for my specific American accent, partly because I'm not terribly familiar with other accents. For instance, like me, my script exhibits the cot-caught merger.

There are definitely rules to the madness -- nothing is random.

The null consonants are probably the simplest example. One is used only at the beginning of words (and can carry both mods and diacritics) while the other is used in all other cases (and can only carry diacritics.)

It's hard to concisely explain the situation with the vowels, but it could be said that mods are standard and diacritics and standalone letters are (usually) auxiliary. Usually if a diacritic is used it is over the medial null consonant (^) or is rewriting the vowel already marked via a mod (i.e. doubling) to indicate stress. There are other uses, though. :|

Part of the reason why it is so complex is because I just kind of threw new features into the mix every few weeks/months instead of designing it from the beginning with all of those features in mind -- i.e. the rules and complexities grew organically as a by-product of finagling. So you can sleep easy. Or not, seeing as the semi-randomized writing system you mentioned already exists. It's called English orthography. :lol:
Spoiler:      SHOW
And don't think you're prying -- I just said "reasons" because I thought it sounded funnier ;)
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#9
TheJuggler wrote:Talvieno -- what's this about procedurally generated languages? Do tell.
It's simple stuff, really... I wrote a program that would produce a language from any number of user-input words. It was originally for my own benefit, but I later modified it for Dwarf Fortress... I have another version of my own that's a lot more complex. Using the Dwarf Fortress version, if I take your words in the above quote (and your name):

the,juggler,thejuggler,talvieno,whats,this,about,procedurally,generated,languages,do,tell

It comes out with:
Spoiler:      SHOW
ABATE: terane
ABBEY: gicar
ABSOLUTE: gaggloubas
ABYSMAL: thiererur
ABYSS: gutes
ACCIDENT: tingucudo
ACE: anall
ACHE: tujas
ACRID: atally
ACT: ther
ACTION: tedatas
ADMIRATION: anaggletar
ADMIRE: gejajer
ADORE: anegos
ADULATE: goubagill
ADVENTURE: tebegunas
AFFECTION: anocotut
AFFLICT: thiereras
AFTER: predes
AGE: tajos
AGELESS: terorats
AIR: juats
ALCHEMY: jilvaner
ALE: tenes
ALLEGIANCE: thunadejo
ALLIANCE: theriro
ALLY: jete
AMAZE: thenet
AMBER: genats
AMBIGUOUS: thanagour
AMETHYST: proungeco
AMUSE: arure
ANCIENT: loujos
ANGEL: langar
ANGER: prenid
ANGUISH: gulvally
ANIMAL: tebagout
ANKLE: pruad
ANVIL: thores
APE: gerer
APEX: anuar
APOGEE: tijetas
APPEAR: whenas
APPLE: atenes
AQUA: agats
AQUAMARINE: jegalvengeco
ARCH NOUN: jeces
ARCH: anuas
ARDENT: prangos
ARENA: whures
ARM: that
ARMOR: thajes
ARMORY: thaggles
ARROW: prenus
ARTIFACT: wherejes
ARTIFICE: thenurud
ASH: gatet
ASHAMED: prelvaned
ASSAULT: tinude
ASSEMBLE: teredatus
ATTACK: preniets
ATTIC: agejes
AUBURN: terucats
AUNT: tenir
AURA: teget
AUTHOR: adugglis
AUTHORITY: anadegat
AUTONOMY: thajungaro
AUTUMN: terejos
AVALANCHE: prereneco
AWE-INSPIRING: ledugugglingoutas
AXE: les
AZURE: gajats
BABY: tenar
BACK: whuts
BAD: thied
BAIT: anor
BAKE: getes
BALANCE: whebets
BALD: ares
BALL: prago
BAND GROUP: tojur
BAND OBJECT: thuro
BANDIT: thierece
BANE: pret
BANK: thobe
BANNER: teroter
BAR: anad
BARB: lell
BARBARIAN: teboujelvaje
BARBARITY: thieregibuat
BARRICADE: thengudenes
BASEMENT: ajanajes
BASIC: toujar
BASIN: gerero
BASTION: tecebaje
BATH: prado
BATTLE: lenotat
BEACH: thuado
BEAK: thell
BEAN: gebir
BEAR: gerir
BEAR_VERB: thits
BEARD: geroro
BEAST: prened
BEAUTY: aneber
BED: ages
BEE: geres
BEER: tebes
BEETLE: thierar
BEGUILER: preteretet
BEIGE: ganats
BELCH: jagell
BELL: jaces
BELLY: tejous
BELOVED: anerunuar
BELT: thuno
BEND: gally
BERRY: gerell
BEWILDER: thejucet
BEWITCH: thierebes
BIG: thos
BILE: abuar
BIN: jenes
BIND: jeges
BIRD: gerod
BITE: tebos
BITTER: precejas
BLACK: garied
BLADE: prener
BLAME: jally
BLAMELESS: whangudalvad
BLANCH: prejell
BLANKET: tecabano
BLAZE: lurell
BLEACH: prelvebe
BLEED: prill
BLENCH: prelver
BLIGHT: prengaro
BLIND: tietet
BLISTER: thegenell
BLIZZARD: whoruajo
BLOAT: tegell
BLOCK DEFEND: tecets
BLOCK SQUARE: aguar
BLOCKADE: tuanguajer
plus a couple thousand other words.

It also adds prefixes and suffixes to words based on their theme/meaning. In this particular case:
Spoiler:      SHOW
FLOWERY = prer-
NATURE = ger-
PRIMITIVE = teb-
HOLY = -car
EVIL = -ried
NEGATOR = prelv-
MAGIC = jilv-
VIOLENT = pren-
PEACE = lielv-
UGLY = -gell
DEATH = thelv-
OLD = -jos
SUBORDINATE = -ror
LEADER = ani-
NEW = -ber
DOMESTIC = -nes
MYTHIC = -rats
ARTIFICE = -jes
COLOR = -cats
MYSTERY = -lvet
NEGATIVE = thier-
ROMANTIC = ano-
ASSERTIVE = -tas
AQUATIC = -ado
PROTECT = tec-
RESTRAIN = thuc-
THOUGHT = thoud-
WILD = -ure
NAME_SWAMP = -nuar
NAME_DESERT = -uate
NAME_FOREST = -nell
NAME_MOUNTAINS = -ngell
NAME_OCEAN = -ade
NAME_GLACIER = -ngir
NAME_TUNDRA = whor-
NAME_GRASSLAND = thut-
NAME_HILLS = -cour
NAME_REGION = whet-
NAME_CAVE = -tes
EARTH = -eco
NAME_LAKE = whoj-
NAME_ENTITY_KINGDOM = -age
NAME_ENTITY_TOWN_FOUNDER = -bur
GOOD = whang-
NAME_CONTINENT = lit-
NAME_ISLAND = -ube
NAME_ISLAND_SMALL = tet-
NAME_PEAK = thoulv-
NAME_VOLCANO = gat-
NAME_COMMON_RELIGION = -eje
BALANCE = -gets
BOUNDARY = gin-
DANCE = whuj-
DARKNESS = gor-
LIGHT = -res
ORDER = tad-
FESTIVAL = ter-
FAMILY = ten-
FIRE = lur-
FOOD = teng-
FREEDOM = -ero
GAMES = ara-
LUCK = ting-
MUSIC = whun-
SKY = whab-
SILENCE = ther-
TRADE = prun-
TRAVEL = tar-
TRUTH = -nits
WEALTH = jec-
NAME_BUILDING_TEMPLE = led-
NAME_BUILDING_KEEP = -ner
NAME_WAR = -cets
NAME_BATTLE = -tat
NAME_SIEGE = -ude
NAME_ROAD = -ugo
NAME_TUNNEL = -ges
NAME_BRIDGE = -nets
NAME_WALL = tuang-
NAME_BUILDING_TOMB = thing-
The created words are affected by a diverse variety of things, such as the average length of the input words, the length of the original translations, the vowel/consonant placement, etc.


Just to give a couple examples, here's the result of asking someone who'd visited Italy to provide me with ten random Italian words:
Spoiler:      SHOW
ABATE:unjute
ABBEY:bucro
ABSOLUTE:muscuormo
ABYSMAL:berunja
ABYSS:cuotie
ACCIDENT:bazirneta
ACE:mouta
ACHE:sesca
ACRID:utunja
ACT:usca
ACTION:baterno
ADMIRATION:bermenyue
ADMIRE:pruoza
ADORE:betuto
ADULATE:cournuta
ADVENTURE:manenja
AFFECTION:becranjo
AFFLICT:fuscunja
AFTER:feza
AGE:cene
AGELESS:suruone
AIR:unquo
ALCHEMY:binuono
ALE:biggo
ALLEGIANCE:unjouscisca
ALLIANCE:sarneno
ALLY:susca
AMAZE:citata
AMBER:fezete
AMBIGUOUS:buormacro
AMETHYST:sarnoute
AMUSE:cunita
ANCIENT:gricrene
ANGEL:minje
ANGER:furie
ANGUISH:cenqua
ANIMAL:merarna
ANKLE:fitie
ANVIL:banano
APE:sanie
APEX:cinye
APOGEE:sanurno
APPEAR:gruosco
And the result of inputting the names of all the greek gods I could think of:
Spoiler:      SHOW
ABATE:ptopis
ABBEY:tothas
ABSOLUTE:etyekole
ABYSMAL:nyxogos
ABYSS:kirote
ACCIDENT:alamestis
ACE:anyso
ACHE:cotos
ACRID:hethos
ACT:kis
ACTION:netheth
ADMIRATION:losoptegantes
ADMIRE:anysiton
ADORE:kemos
ADULATE:netoleito
ADVENTURE:zosyneneth
AFFECTION:mepedidos
AFFLICT:anosynos
AFTER:ptoses
AGE:euthe
AGELESS:euthemos
AIR:ameia
ALCHEMY:phiodanes
ALE:atres
ALLEGIANCE:delolosynes
ALLIANCE:momidas
ALLY:olia
AMAZE:pomen
AMBER:pinan
AMBIGUOUS:ginelophre
AMETHYST:pinusteia
AMUSE:nemure
ANCIENT:euthobos
ANGEL:elirus


I never thought of making my own alphabet... I really want to do that now. Procedurally, though... it'd be interesting to attempt, I think, but art and letter combinations are two entirely different things, and creating alphabets would be a lot more difficult than creating languages.
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#10
TheJuggler wrote:When I got bored in highschool i developed a habit of designing writing systems. :geek: I never got into conlanging, though, so they were all for english. Here's a sample of my most recent (and most developed) conscript -- an abugida:
Image
That looks like one of the biggest mysterys of the cryptography, the Voynich manuscript : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript

Makes me wonder, if this unresolved mystery was something like a sketchbook by a bored scholar :D
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Re: Imaginary Alphabets

#12
blacktea wrote:

That looks like one of the biggest mysterys of the cryptography, the Voynich manuscript : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript

Makes me wonder, if this unresolved mystery was something like a sketchbook by a bored scholar :D
Ooh, I've read about that! I think it's utterly fascinating that it displays at once charateristics highly indicative of language and features not present in any language. Whatever it is, I doubt it's a hoax. There's no way someone could have created a hoax *that* covincing in the 15th century.
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