Hi again, everybody! Thanks for comments as ever! I turn now to the final set of cases of this kind. Some of these involve East Asia.
Dubious claims have been made regarding artefacts and written texts from a sunken civilization off the coast of Taiwan associated with the aboriginal Ketagalan group. Also in the Chinese world, Nu Shu (or Nü Shu) is a script and supposedly a language confined to women in one specific area within China. Unlike the standard logographic Chinese script, Nu Shu is syllabic (and hence phonological); each of its characters represents a syllable in the local ‘dialect’. It possesses considerably too small an inventory to represent all the syllables, including tonal distinctions; digraphs are used for the remainder. Zhou Shuoyi, reportedly the only male to have mastered the language, compiled a dictionary listing 1,800 characters, many of which are variant forms of Chinese characters. The origin of Nu Shu is unknown, but it has been suggested that it may date back as far as the third century CE.
Bruria Bergman claims in connection with her theory that a Japanese temple chant is in distorted Hebrew (mentioned earlier) that in 1935 one Kiyomaro Takeuchi discovered an actual document in the area in question (Herai) which dates from around 100 CE and is written in the kana syllabary (several hundred years before kana are known to have been used); this text allegedly shows that Jesus is buried in Herai, and contains his will. However, the document is probably a nineteenth-twentieth-century forgery.
Some cases of this general type are not closely associated with a particular region, because they involve portable manuscripts rather than inscriptions and are not linked with any identifiable language. The best known of these is the Voynich Manuscript, a genuinely mysterious medieval book-length work in an unfamiliar script, including illustrations; the topic may be botanical. Many decipherments have been advanced (some of them themselves book-length). The case arguably involves cryptography rather than linguistics, but either way the issue is my no means settled. Another such case involves the Rohonc Codex, which is of unknown date and may well be a hoax; there have been various attempts at translations (into Hungarian, an unidentified form of early Romance, Hindi etc.), mostly transparently non-mainstream in character.
A few non-mainstream theories involve written numerals. One such proposal, by Jason King, deals with the origins of the shapes of the ‘Arabic’ (apparently ultimately Indian) characters used to represent numbers (integers). Some such number-symbols, notably ‘Arabic’ 1, appear motivated: the symbol 1 is a single stroke. Most of the ‘Arabic’ symbols, however, appear arbitrary: for example, the character 9 does not obviously express the meaning ‘nine’. However, King holds that the ‘Arabic’ numerals 1-9 and also the zero sign (0) are not in fact arbitrary. The basic claim is that each symbol was invented so as to have angles corresponding in number with the meaning of the symbol. Thus, 0 has no angles, 1 (written as now usually printed) has one, 2 (written here as Z) has two, etc. King has to make various dubious assumptions in arriving at this view. For instance, he assumes that 1 was originally written as now printed; but in older versions it is typically a single vertical stroke with no angles. King does not offer any actual evidence that his forms are original ones; and he claims that they were invented by the Phoenicians rather than in India (although the usual Phoenician number-symbols were not in fact similar to the ‘Arabic’ symbols). In sum, it does not appear that King is correct here. The best that can be said is that he has drawn attention to a somewhat neglected matter.
I have now completed this summary survey of non-mainstream historical-linguistic and epigraphic claims. On request I will comment on claims regarding any particular language not so far discussed (especially linguistic rather than epigraphic claims). Apart from this, I now propose to look at non-historical aspects of ‘fringe’ linguistics. I may take a short break from blogging before embarking upon this. But thanks again for your support, and see you soon!