Graecum est; non legitur

Letters are fascinating. Why shouldn’t we find them so? Their shapes afford us a sense of order if not actual orthodoxy and by them – along with the sounds they represent – we attempt to make ourselves known. Letters are even how we identify ourselves.

As writing systems are essential to our having a recorded history, letters are as old as time. In his last fable, Hyginus states, “The Parcae – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters.”

ΑΒΗΙΟΤΥ

The novel I’ve set in mythological Greece won’t be written in Ancient or Modern Greek but I have been making an effort to get the character names and certain terms correct. Effort at being thorough and accurate has often taken me to the area where fascinating letters become tricky things — in combination they invite pronunciation, spelling, and meaning.

During my formal education the pronunciation key in any dictionary made use of diacritical marks. Later the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) became the key of choice. Though there is an online English-to-IPA translator, I’ve yet to find one that works in reverse. I still have to compare IPA vowels to a diacritical chart.

dia v ipa

In addition to the story of Teiresias, another novel in development takes place chiefly in WWII-era Great Britain. This setting brings up an entirely new set of permutations of expression and a few slightly different vowels.

While on his third visit to England and attempting, among other things, to have Pennsylvania made a Royal Colony rather than a proprietary province, Benjamin Franklin devised A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling.

The premise of any phonetic structure – beyond illustrating pronunciation – is that knowing how a word sounds is the same as knowing how to spell it. Dr. Franklin removed c, j, q, w, x, and y. Six new letters were introduced. The rules are not included here but many websites provide them.

Franklin letters

It seems unlikely that Franklin’s scheme could have replaced the alphabet; it would have meant having to relearn to read and write for those who already knew. Dr. Franklin did give permission to another to try.

“As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government. Great Britain, whose children we are, and whose language we speak, should no longer be our standard…” — Noah Webster

Both men became more involved with The American War of Independence. Spelling and use of certain words were deliberately – and apparently irrevocably – changed. The British-import alphabet thankfully remained.

When not writing or involved with other arts and history, I sometimes explore the world of conlanging – a documentary about which was directed by a friend of mine – Britton Watkins. Conlanging is the pursuit of developing new languages and/or alphabets, usually for the sake of fiction.

Examples include languages of Tolkien’s elves and of Roddenberry’s aliens (developers include Dorothy Jones Heydt, Mark R. Gardner, and Marc Okrand). Mr. Watkins has also produced a very thorough and beautiful font for writing in Vulcan. The best-known real world conlang may be Esperanto, created by L. L. Zamenhof and offered with high hopes as “an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language”.

I hesitate to say that most conlangers use the IPA while developing their new languages but many do. This is particularly true of most of the dozen or so who’ve attempted a Circular Gallifreyan font. Exceptions include the systems by Loren Sherman and Rachel Sutherland, respectively. Their alphabets are the most commonly used by fandom.

Hexagon

All this to say — we may not have been looking at the symbols of the Time Lords from quite the right vantage point. Every letter – real or imaginary – is two-dimensional. Given time and relative dimensions in space, Gallifreyan letters may not be flat shapes; I don’t think it’s Circular at all. For the sake of art and of curiosity, I am developing a new system and will likely produce a font and/or Photoshop Brush Set. The guide will include IPA and diacritical alike.

revolve


鬼劃符

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3rd Quadrant, Sector 8023

If it hadn’t been for the blizzard this post would have been a few days earlier and would have predicted Steven Moffat leaving his position as showrunner of Doctor Who. For some weeks, he had been discussing when he’d know it was time to go. This changed to news of his “actively seeking” his replacement early this month. There was other data but – as this post can no longer prove prescience – it is hoped you’ll enjoy a slightly different Doctor Who-related story.

In mid-September of last year, while attending a new convention, I was asked to be a guest panelist for a Doctor Who discussion. I am leaving anonymous those who invited me to participate as a courtesy due to the nature of this story. They’ll be getting private messages about this post and can certainly chime in when they see this and if they so wish.

One of the questions posed in two parts to the audience for a show-of-hands response was: “How many like the new Doctor (Peter Capaldi)?”

The reaction was mixed and one who raised her hand to express a negative opinion was probably in her very early teens. The moderator asked her specifically why she was opposed to the 12th Doctor.

She informed us that she’d heard there was a policy that the Doctor was supposed to be getting younger. Apparently she believed Gallifreyans experience the equivalent of aging backwards – incrementally – with each regeneration. Given that Christopher Eccleston is 7 years older than David Tennant, who is 11 years older than Matt Smith, it seems she was expecting an incarnation portrayed by an actor in his (or her) early 20s or even younger.

This would certainly mean the Doctor’s and her own age would more or less match up with the 13th.

One of the lines Mr. Capaldi has delivered while playing the part was: “Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.” There’s no evidence that the girl in the audience wanted a younger actor in the role to facilitate a crush. More of her comments made it seem more likely she wanted to see the Doctor as a kind of playmate, though.

My heart went out to the girl in the audience then and still does to some extent. How does one correct a misapprehension about BBC policy, or showrunner intent, or Doctor Who canon without stepping on a dream? Isn’t one of the features of DW how easily it engages our imagination?

With Mr. Moffat’s departure the only installment of DW in 2016 will be the next Christmas special. The new companion series “Class” doesn’t start filming until Spring and won’t air until next year either. The target demographic for Class would seem to be much closer to the age of the girl at the panel. I hope she finds her peer in it.

I could say I hate waiting (because I do). I could say I’m happy to see Moffat’s tenure end (as I am). But I think this year-plus gap in Doctor Who affords all of us fresh territory in the imagination it invites – the Girl in the Audience included.

I’ve already been inspired; there’s a new art project inspired by these and other thoughts.

Gallifrey Page

Let’s see where this goes. Or, in other words, stay tuned.


 

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