Saturday, August 18, 2012

Glottography and semasiography

Glottography is the recording of language-based utterances. To be more precise: the recording of the vocal cords during respiration and phonationthe production of vocal sounds and especially speech [1]. In the context of physics and anatomy, the term recording here refers to the measurement and study of such audible expressions. Linguistically, it refers to the fixation of uttered sounds in the form of symbols or characters, defining a writing system.

In principle, a writing system can be derived from glottographic and non-glottographic origins of symbols or characters [2]. In the latter case, no relation between symbols and sounds is evident. Such a writing system is called semasiographic, formerly ideographic [3]. In semasiography, symbols are constructed by humans who agree upon their meaning. The international road sign system and the ancient quipu of Inca Peru—connected, color-coded cords with tied knots—are examples [4].

The distinction between glottographic and semasiographic writing systems has clearly been made by the British linguist Geoffrey Sampson [3-5]. Michael Coe argues that writing systems are primarily glottographic, but that some degree of semasiography plays a part in all known writing [4]. In his fascinating story of the understanding and decipherment of Maya inscriptions and texts, he emphasizes phoneticism—the glottographic concept—to successfully break hieroglyphic codes based on a once spoken language.   

Keywords: linguistics, typology of writing systems.

References and more to explore
[1] The Free Dictionary: glottography [].
[2] Malcolm D. Hyman: Of Glyphs and Glottography. DRAFT 2006-04-01, to appear in Language & Communication [].
[3] Geoffrey Sampson: Writing Systems [].
[4] Michael D. Coe: Breaking the Maya Code. Thames & Hudson, New York, Revised Edition 1999; page 18 and others.
[5] Writing Systems by Geoffrey Sampson [].

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