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Letters, Unfettered

January 21, 2013

A month ago on Christmas Eve, while we were discussing handwriting in the Mountain Mail, The New Yorker was discussing invented languages. Communication is of abiding interest to us humans, perhaps because we struggle with it so.

There have been over 900 invented languages since the Middle Ages. The oldest known completely artificial language was invented by the mystic Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century. It is called Lingua Ignota and is composed in an alphabet mostly recognizable.

The New Yorker article centers on John Quijada, who invented the hypothetical language Ithkuil with motivations similar to other language inventors over the centuries—to improve on the imprecision, redundancy, ambiguity, illogic, and other imperfections of naturally evolved languages.

Ithkuil has become more than hypothetical, however. It has garnered a following in Russia, and the story is interesting, but what concerns us here is that his language is written in its own “alphabet.”

This might become one source of inspiration for artists and writers who take up our challenge for this year’s library art show in May and June. You may recall some of the themes over the years, ranging from words as art and altered books to collaborations between artists and poets and writers.

My thanks go once again to Sally Mather and Barbara Ford for their work on this show.

This year’s theme is “Letters, Unfettered.” There are two sets of parameters, one for visual artists and one for writers.

For visual artists, “The challenge this year is to create an art piece inspired by letters, phrases, or the entire body of one or more non-English/Latin alphabets.”

You can use a modern alphabet, an endangered alphabet, or an extinct alphabet … or invent your own! For example: Greek, Korean, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic, Egyptian hieroglyphics, cuneiform, Phoenician, or Ithkuil.

Here’s one online source of information and inspiration: http://www.omniglot.com/writing. Here you’ll find alphabets, syllabic alphabets, abjads, syllabaries, and more.

More details about acceptable dimensions of artwork, hanging systems, etc., may be at the library or on our website, http://salidalibrary.org. Most importantly, the artwork submitted must be related to the theme of the show.

Of the second set of parameters, for writers, most important is that theme of “alphabet” must be used. For poetry, the limit is 40 lines. For prose, the limit is 250 words. You may use English. It won’t be necessary to compose a poem in Phoenician or a brief essay in Hindi.

A sonnet in Klingon might be interesting, though. A dear friend with the surname of Ptak has had to live with the fact that his name in Klingon is a curse word, on the foul side.

Entries are due by May 1st. That’s not so far away, really, but plenty of time to mull over this theme. The drop-off date for visual artists will be May 11th. If you’re interested in participating, be sure to review the few rules and parameters.

This might be just the time to dust off that secret language from your childhood or wax poetic with your gang hand-signs. If you channel someone from another time and place, there might be inspiration there.

Note that this challenge is about alphabet and not just calligraphy.

For example, the Omniglot website lists Fraktur under alphabet, but it strikes me as a font style of our familiar alphabet. Even Irish Uncial seems a matter of typography. Coptic or Old Church Slavonic, though, look far enough removed from Latin-Roman lettering to my eye.

But inspiration is up to you. Or the Universe.:)

********

Note: in the spirit of alternative alphabets, I ended with a colon-parenthesis for a smiley face, which is apparently changed by some programs to a yellow smiley face icon, which was not my intention. In case you’re wondering.

A month ago on Christmas Eve, while we were discussing handwriting in
the Mountain Mail, The New Yorker was discussing invented languages.
Communication is of abiding interest to us humans, perhaps because we
struggle with it so.

There have been over 900 invented languages since the Middle Ages. The
oldest known completely artificial language was invented by the mystic
Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century. It is called Lingua Ignota
and is composed in an alphabet mostly recognizable.

The New Yorker article centers on John Quijada, who invented the
hypothetical language Ithkuil with motivations similar to other
language inventors over the centuries—to improve on the imprecision,
redundancy, ambiguity, illogic, and other imperfections of naturally
evolved languages.

Ithkuil has become more than hypothetical, however. It has garnered a
following in Russia, and the story is interesting, but what concerns
us here is that his language is written in its own “alphabet.”

This might become one source of inspiration for artists and writers
who take up our challenge for this year’s library art show in May and
June. You may recall some of the themes over the years, ranging from
words as art and altered books to collaborations between artists and
poets and writers.

My thanks go once again to Sally Mather and Barbara Ford for their
work on this show.

This year’s theme is “Letters, Unfettered.” There are two sets of
parameters, one for visual artists and one for writers.

For visual artists, “The challenge this year is to create an art piece
inspired by letters, phrases, or the entire body of one or more
non-English/Latin alphabets.”

You can use a modern alphabet, an endangered alphabet, or an extinct
alphabet … or invent your own!  For example: Greek, Korean, Hindi,
Japanese, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic, Egyptian
hieroglyphics, cuneiform, Phoenician, or Ithkuil.

Here’s one online source of information and inspiration:
http://www.omniglot.com/writing. Here you’ll find alphabets, syllabic
alphabets, abjads, syllabaries, and more.

More details about acceptable dimensions of artwork, hanging systems,
etc., may be at the library or on our website,
http://salidalibrary.org. Most importantly, the artwork submitted must
be related to the theme of the show.

Of the second set of parameters, for writers, most important is that
theme of “alphabet” must be used. For poetry, the limit is 40 lines.
For prose, the limit is 250 words. You may use English. It won’t be
necessary to compose a poem in Phoenician or a brief essay in Hindi.

A sonnet in Klingon might be interesting, though. A dear friend with
the surname of Ptak has had to live with the fact that his name in
Klingon is a curse word, on the foul side.

Entries are due by May 1st. That’s not so far away, really, but plenty
of time to mull over this theme. The drop-off date for visual artists
will be May 11th. If you’re interested in participating, be sure to
review the few rules and parameters.

This might be just the time to dust off that secret language from your
childhood or wax poetic with your gang hand-signs. If you channel
someone from another time and place, there might be inspiration there.

Note that this challenge is about alphabet and not just calligraphy.

For example, the Omniglot website lists Fraktur under alphabet, but it
strikes me as a font style of our familiar alphabet. Even Irish Uncial
seems a matter of typography. Coptic or Old Church Slavonic, though,
look far enough removed from Latin-Roman lettering to my eye.

But inspiration is up to you. Or the Universe.

********
Note: in the spirit of alternative alphabets, I ended with a colon-parenthesis for a smiley face, which is apparently changed by some programs to a yellow smiley face icon, which was not my intention. In case you’re wondering.

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