Friday 15 February 2013


I was recently introduced to Omniglot and lost several hours of my life. It's quite addictive.

Invented by Welshman, Simon Ager, Omniglot is a pure celebration of languages. Seeking to gather together examples of every written language on earth, it even encourages people to invent their own. You can find everything from French to Klingon.

Some of my personal favourites include:

Inuktitut: a language used by Inuits in the far North of Canada (Nunavik). It is one of the two reasons I would very much like to visit that region - that and the Northern Lights. But it looks like something you might see inscribed on the side of a spacecraft.

NĂ¼shu: a language invented by women in Hunan Province, China, who were banned from formal education. They used this script to share information and mothers would write books of knowledge which they handed to their daughters after their weddings. It is both beautiful and an affirmation of the human desire to know.

Rotor Script: a made-up language (or 'experimental script') using animated symbols. Beware though, it can give you quite a headache!

Lanna: I like this one simply because it is artistically beautiful. Many of the scripts are, so each to their own, but this one does it for me. It was used by the Lanna Kingdom of North Korea between 1259 and 1558. Similarly beautiful is an invented script for Hungarian called Cloud and Rain.

ColorHoney: one of the several scripts invented using colours. There are about five or six along this theme, it's rather inventive.

Did you also know that, as well as going from left to right, right to left, and up to down, there are scripts that can vary their direction? Apparently that's why ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were so hard to read, because they could be written in any direction depending on what they were being written on. So long as it looked good, anything went.

Similarly, Chinese:

...can be written from right to left in vertical columns, left to right in horizontal lines, or occasionally right to left in horizontal lines. In Taiwan it is often written vertically, while in China and Singapore it is usually written horizontally. In newspapers and magazines with vertical text, some of the headlines and titles are written horizontally right to left across the top of the main text.

Others include Etruscan, Japanese, Ogham and Mayan.

Then there's 'boustrophedon' style, which is apparently from the Greek meaning 'to turn' because the first line runs from right to left, the second from left to right, then right to left again and so on down the page.

So, if you enjoy languages, or even if you'd like to have a go at creating your own, take a look at Omniglot. Just do it when you have a few hours to spare.

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