Join 3,441 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?"
February 18, 2007 11:51 AM   Subscribe

White-o-glyphics. The idea: "If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?" Matthew White makes the effort to find out.
posted by Kattullus (25 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
He should really head to junior high if he's lookin' for dingbats.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:04 PM on February 18, 2007


It's not even possible to translate Finnegan's Wake into English.
posted by Flunkie at 12:14 PM on February 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


that's either web .90 or web 9.0. I'm not sure which...
posted by localhuman at 12:33 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Diamond Age.

Also, "Show Character Palette" on OS X. I've got a hankering to register some IDN unicode .coms, but haven't really found anthing that grabs me.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:37 PM on February 18, 2007


This is pretty cool.
posted by Tlogmer at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2007


Now I know why the Egyptian hieroglyphics went out of fashion.
posted by dov3 at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2007


This person has a disorder.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:10 PM on February 18, 2007


This is like those people that made a whole Klingon language...only less useful.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:48 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've got a hankering to register some IDN unicode .coms, but haven't really found anthing that grabs me.

Oh man you just sent me on a hour-long search for any symbols with .coms available. So far, haven't found any single-symbol domains available, but I'm just checking ones I like, so far. This is the kind of thing I will spend hours looking for, buy one, and then forget I had it.
posted by statolith at 2:13 PM on February 18, 2007


I hate to be the one to say this, but is there a point? Not even his own introduction page (misguidingly sutitled "Purpose?") neglects to address the question. I mean, not everything needs to have a larger intent, but I kind of feel like he's devoted enough time to this that he should have something in mind. Just... whyfor? How come? It's a cute idea, but does it help to create a visual language that isn't any easier to decipher? It's not even universal in that it relies so heavily on Western symbolism (like the ten commandments or Orwell's Animal Farm)... I just don't get it.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 2:34 PM on February 18, 2007


This seems a bit like the symbol sequences they used to (still do?) have in comics and local papers - you'd have to decode the pictures into a saying or proverb. Rebus puzzles, I think they are called (Wikipedia). This page has one of Lewis Carroll's rebus letters - not quite the same as White's, as Carroll doesn't replace every word with a symbol.
posted by paduasoy at 2:46 PM on February 18, 2007


Hmm, it looks like most browsers will show the 'punycode' URL, so that "http://www.pаypal.com/" (with a Cyrillic 'a' shows up as "http://www.xn--pypal-4ve.com/" on the status and URL bar. Seems like that would significantly reduce the awesomeness of Unicode domains.
posted by delmoi at 2:48 PM on February 18, 2007


Also instant domain search doesn't work with Unicode. Fuckers. If you can if you can figure out the 'punycode' yourself you can type that in though.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2007


I imagine a ten minute segment on this in a class would be a good introduction to how glyphs and pictographs work in a variety of languages. As a linguistic exercise, it was kind of neat to see how he pulled this off.

Nevertheless, I grew weary of it after his third sample sentence...
posted by darkstar at 2:57 PM on February 18, 2007


I think this would be a very good way to demonstrate to schoolkids, for example, the difference between an alphabetic written language like English and a symbolic written language like Chinese.

Furthermore, it shows what happens when you take a language with things like conjugation, declensions, etc. and try to apply a symbolic writing system to it. You get Japanese.
posted by xthlc at 3:23 PM on February 18, 2007


Finnegan never had a wake.
posted by AmberV at 4:13 PM on February 18, 2007


This is like those people that made a whole Klingon language...only less useful.

K'pekt!
posted by kirkaracha at 4:16 PM on February 18, 2007


You want me to show this to the cat, and have the cat tell you what it is? 'Cause the cat's going to get it.

It's dignity! Don't you even know dignity when you see it?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:08 PM on February 18, 2007


An important clarification: this is not a hieroglyphic language -- or at least not one like Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Ancient Egyptian writing used pictures of real-world objects, but they most often did not represent what they were actually pictures of. What we would call "rebuses" (bee-leaf for "belief") were standard practice -- there were even sets of signs that were used so commonly that they came to represent individual sounds or pairs of sounds (e.g., a picture of the lower part of a leg represented the sound "b," an eye represented the sounds "ir," etc.).

Just an update from your friendly local Egyptologist...
posted by deeparch at 9:31 PM on February 18, 2007


I'm reminded of the classic, obscure, obtuse game Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot (made available by the author for Mac OS 6.0.8; an unreleased, mostly complete DOS prototype is also available).

It's topical (honest!) because it features a hieroglyphic interface; all commands (movement, dialogue, and combat) are assembled from branching lists of possible symbols. It was a bit clunky at first (thank goodness for the pseudo-tooltip translation function) but as soon as characters began making offers, sentences started sprouting clauses, and offers gave rise to counter-offers, conditions, and alliances, I definitely geeked out a bit.

I haven't really gotten the hang of playing it yet -- making and breaking promises to win as often as possible at nightly games of mystical rock-paper-scissors still hasn't entirely clicked with me -- but it's worth taking a look at because it's basically White's spiel backwards.

Can we adapt works of ridiculous complexity into arbitrary, human-readable symbols without losing data or gaining efficiency? Maybe (...probably...) not, but it's an interesting exercise. As common sense suggests and Trust and Betrayal shows, we can create robust symbolic grammar if the set of all possible objects and actions is fairly small. Another interesting exercise, if nothing else.
posted by lumensimus at 2:14 AM on February 19, 2007


Ancient Egyptian writing used pictures of real-world objects, but they most often did not represent what they were actually pictures of. What we would call "rebuses" (bee-leaf for "belief") were standard practice

This makes it so much easier to not be annoyed by scifi movies (like stargate) wherein the Egyptian expert skims over a wall reading out what it says at almost normal conversation speed.
posted by odinsdream at 6:56 AM on February 19, 2007


Next up: an enormously complicated scheme involving a nationwide network of dedicated couriers, trained to deliver sticks that can be rubbed together to make fire. Different coloured sticks for different sized fires, of course, including:

Green: cigarette
Beige: small domestic hearth
Black: industrial furnace
Taupe: wood-burning cooking equipment
Puce: heritage steam engines.
posted by athenian at 9:10 AM on February 19, 2007


Also from Matthew White:

Historical Atlas of the 20th Century (earlier)

The Atrocity Museum

History topic of the month or week or something

Plus: Wikipedia Watch
posted by russilwvong at 9:23 AM on February 19, 2007


Fun post, Kattullus - thanks. I had just been reading If English was written like Chinese, which deals with Hanzi characters and pictograms - so your post is a great segue.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:38 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh damn! If I had remembered the existance of that zompist page I totally would have linked to that too. Stupid faulty brain, why must you let me down yet again! Thanks for the link, madamjujujive, I'm glad it's in the thread.

And yeah, Matthew White's site has such a plethora of great stuff, that it'll be a while until his site has been exhausted by MetaFilter. Same goes for zompist.
posted by Kattullus at 1:19 PM on February 19, 2007


« Older Waffle House Family...  |  Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustra... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments