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At 12:36 PM -0500 1/18/99, Rhialto wrote:
>I need an artist to help me design an alphabet, as all I know about art
>packages can comfortably fit on the tip of a pin.

I'd like to echo Taliesin's comments, but vary them a bit. I find designing
scripts to be one of the real joys of conlanging -- in fact, I tend to have
more scripts on tap than conlangs, at any given time. I could volunteer
some ideas, but I think you'll find that you will really have to think
about the graphic impression you want to make, and the culture you have in
mind before you can create a satisfactory script.

The one thing I'd change is Taliesin's advice to use a pencil. I find that
I get a lot of ideas by choosing a particular writing implement (something
unusual) and then exporing that shapes that that implement _wants_ to make,
and then evolve a system based on that.

Currently, I've been working with "brush pens", which have a great stroke,
and a lot of possible variation and control. I even find that using a very
neutral instrument like a fine-line felt-tip pen can lead to an interesting
style: either intentionally simple, like a sans-serif font, or
compensatorially ornate, with fourishes and curliques, in defiance of the
uninflected line.

Once you get some basic shapes, combine them in different ways, and the
write your letters over and over until they "jell" into comfortable shapes.
You may want to develop a "script" version with continuous joined letters.

There are also options like syllabaries, or Indic style scripts, where
consonants are full letters, and vowels are diacritic-like modifications of
them.  Indic scripts typically combine consonants into ligatured forms when
a consonant cluster is to be represented.

I'd recommend developing your own script, as it's so much fun. You could
start (as many of us did) by making an assignment of your phonology to
Tolkien's Tengwar -- Computer fonts are readily available, and it was
designed to be targetable to many phonologies. I don't personally agree
with the opinion that it's not visually distinctive enought to be a
possible real script. (That's an old Conlang argument/topic).

The hardest thing (if you want to have it) is to introduce irregularities
and imperfections into your writing system -- I always end up with very
phonemic systems, perhaps because I always understand the phonology pretty
well when I develop the script. trying to invent something as interesting
as English (or even French) spelling is hard.

Burmese is one of my favorite scripts, and is also a marvellously weird and
unintuitive writing system. Tamil is also exceptionally beautiful, as is
Arabic (most Arabic typesetting is visually inferior to grisly, it demands
to be written by a sensitive and skilled calligrapher).

There are good books to read:

Writing Systems of the World?, from Oxford University Press, is a marvel,
but expensive -- a University library may well have it. The next best is
Hans Jensen (I think, but search by title, not author, to be sure), "Sign,
Symbol, and Script"

Joanna Drucker wrote an amusing book on the history of the alphabet ("The
alphabetic Labyrinth" (?)), which, while not completely accurate as a
history, has many well-chosen plates and examples. She's a medium-famous
current graphic designer, among those who follow such things.

The Unicode Book has a lot of examples, but doesn't give much information
on how the scripts actually function. So it won't help you evolve the
writing system, as much as perhaps give you graphical ideas.

And of course there are many books on Mayan writing, a cool, but difficult,
logo-syllabic script (a syllabary with some signs that represent whole
words). I can't think of a favorite to recommend.

For Egyptian Hieroglyphics, "Hieroglyphics Without Tears", from University
of Texas Press is definitely the best. Reasonably painless, and quite
clear, and gives a lot of information in a short space. Con-hieroglyphics
are rare, however, due to the large size of the symbol sets, and the
relatively high artistic demands of drawing many recognizable pictures.

   -- David
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