Friday, August 20, 2010

Second Symbol: Single Post

The second symbol in the Indus script, at least in my list, is a vertical line.  I designate it I2, the Roman numeral "I" indicating that it is drawn with a single stroke, the Arabic numeral "2" indicating that it is the second in the one-stroke list.  The name I've given it is SINGLE POST, to distinguish it from the short stroke (SINGLE QUOTE).  It has other designations in the lists of other authors (KP121c, W198, Fs O-1 and K-3).  It's rather an odd thing, but according to Wells it appears 42 times in inscriptions, while it occurs 149 times according to Korvink (Wells 1998; Korvink 2007).

I mentioned the single vertical stroke in Egyptian hieroglyphs in my previous remarks (glyphs Z1).  There is somewhat similar glyph which is usually horizontal but occasionally vertical (Aa 11 and Aa 12).  It looks like two parallel lines, close together, with a short line joining them at one end.  Usually this joining line is at a slant, so that the top line is slightly shorter than the bottom line.  This is the Middle Kingdom form (Aa 11).  But an earlier form had the two parallel lines more nearly equal (Aa 12) in the Old Kingdom.  This odd glyph, which might possibly represent a platform or pedestal, was a phonetic indicator.  It stood for three consonant sounds transliterated m3', in which the last two are types of glottal stops something like the sound in the middle of English "uh-oh."

King Tut's names, showing three of the vertical strokes
In Old Chinese, a single horizontal stroke was and still is the numeral "one," now pronounced yi1.  There is also a vertical stroke, gun3, "perpendicular" (Wieger 1965: 31).  In the character for "tree," this vertical stroke represents the trunk; in the character for "center, middle," this same vertical stroke represents an arrow; and in the character shen1 "to gird up," according to Wieger, this very same vertical stroke represents a man.  What a useful mark!

In Luwian hieroglyphs (used in Turkey during the Bronze Age, and later in Syria as well), a slanting stroke was used as a phonetic symbol.  What we would call a backslash represented the syllable ra or ri.

In the rock art of North America, a single vertical stroke can be seen at times.  One appears between a small circle and a short upside-down "U" shape, over two dots (Newcomb 1996: 196, Pl. 147 no. 24-G).  Another appears between a large deer with antlers and a small deer with an object resembling a pot on its back (Pl. 147 no. 24-H).  Yet another appears to the left of a long-eared (or long-horned) quadruped (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 126, fig. 63 a).  A horizontal stroke can also be observed.

In proto-cuneiform, a single horizontal stroke is designated N57, the initial letter of this designation indicating that it is a numeral.  There is a virtually identical mark in Proto-Elamite, M001, which may or may not also be a numeral.  A variant, M001~b, is the same line with a wedge impressed at one end.  This may be a distinct symbol.

In Linear B writing, a single vertical stroke is sometimes used as a nonlinguistic mark to separate words.  Similarly, as noted in the previous post, the Egyptians used their vertical stroke most often to indicate that a given glyph was functioning as an ideograph rather than as a determinative or phonetic symbol.  Thus, the relative frequency of the single stroke in Indus inscriptions may not indicate meaning in the sense of a grammatical marker.  The SINGLE POST may have served a function similar to that of the Egyptian or Linear B stroke; i.e., it may have served as a nonlinguistic indicator of some kind. 

The same is also possible for the SINGLE QUOTE.  This sign is more often cited as an example of a suffix due to its frequency.  However, positional regularity is not, in and of itself, proof of linguistic function. 

Egyptian determinatives are an example of this sort of thing.  These symbols were not pronounced at any time.  They provided clues for the reader about the type of word.  This was necessary for comprehension because the nature of the writing system did not provide full details on the pronunciation of words.  Consonants were indicated but not vowels, so there was a certain amount of ambiguity built into the system.  The determinatives helped clarify things.  Now, the determinatives' position was quite regular, always coming at the end of the word.  If we examined the position of the seated man -- a common determinative -- we might be tempted to consider this glyph a grammatical suffix due to its final position in so many words.  But it is not a suffix.  It has no grammatical function when it is a determinative despite its position at the end of the word.  It has a function in the writing system that is essentially independent of language.  So it may be in the Indus script, particularly if that script is not closely coupled to language as I consider likely.

In the picture above, the reader can see another use of the vertical stroke in Egyptian.  Three vertical strokes indicated the plural, which was pronounced w.  Eventually, the triple strokes could be used as a phonetic symbol, indicating this sound.  Earlier, only the chick represented this sound.  In King Tut's names, both symbols are used.  The name most of us are familiar with, Tutankhamen, includes the chick.  His less familiar name, Nebkheperure, makes use of the three vertical strokes.  We can observe another oddity of Egyptian in both names, the honorific placing of the divine portion of the name in initial position.  In "Tutankhamen," the divinity so honored is Amun, so the reed that resembles a feather starts it off (i), followed by the side view of a gameboard with all the little men on it (mn), and in case you didn't get it from that there is a zigzag representing water (n).  It's the middle section of this name that spells out the "Tut" part, the two little half circles which are bread loaves being the "T" consonants and the chick being the "w" in between.  The "T" shape with a loop on top is the ankh, the symbol meaning life which originally came off of a sandal.  That's the middle of Tut's name. 

That leaves three more symbols at the bottom of Tut's cartouche, doesn't it?  They are not part of his name, but they are inside his cartouche quite regularly, another oddity of the ancient Egyptians.  They tell the ancient reader in the know that he was king of Upper and Lower Egypt (in case you had any doubt).  The other cartouche begins with the other divinity's name, Ra.  That's the big circle, which should have a dot in the middle.  But it's hardly going to be confused for any of the other circular signs in Egyptian when it's in front like that, so it doesn't really matter that they've out that little detail.  The part that was pronounced first, Neb, actually comes last in this cartouche.  That's the large half circle representing a basket.  It wasn't a deity and impressed no one.  The second element in the cartouche was also a deity, the dung beetle Heper (or Kheper to be a bit more accurate about the pronunciation).  It was the beastie who rolled the sun (Ra) across the sky, so it had to come next to the sun's disk in the writing.  And somehow linguistically the three little posts had to come next because there were really many little divine dung beetles, one for every day evidently, and that's what the three posts represented.  So they got to go next, pushing Neb the decidedly mortal basket to the tail end.

All of which goes to show that when one is dealing with an unknown script, all bets are off.  The Indus folk might have been following all sorts of arcane ordering schemes that had to do with honorific rules, nongrammatical clues to meaning (similar to determinatives), nonlinguistic separator signs, and so on.  Simply declaring that a sign is an ending because it comes at the end is too easy!  Besides, as we'll see later as we go along, some of the symbols that are called endings show up all alone.  One never sees that in real endings.  You never see someone get a ring inscribed "-ed."  Nobody ever got a tatto that said "-ing."  Nobody I know anyway.

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