around the world in ‘mysterious’ scripts & texts (7) (‘fringe’ historical linguistics 18)

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!


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6 Responses to around the world in ‘mysterious’ scripts & texts (7) (‘fringe’ historical linguistics 18)

  1. Mark,

    You have discussed many mysterious objects that scholars and non-scholars have tried to decipher. If scholars don’t understand these objects, how can anyone say the non-scholars are wrong? The scholars and the non-scholars are all just guessing anyway.

    Kenneth Greifer
    (My own fringe Hebrew Bible site.)

    • marknewbrook says:

      Thanks, Kenneth.  I don’t think anyone is MERELY ‘guessing’.  The problems with the non-mainstream work in this area typically involve METHOD.  Even in cases where mainstream scholars have no decipherment to offer because the evidence is not adequate (which is true in most of these cases; it is not usually a matter of fringers rejecting existing mainstream decipherments), the fringe writers’ typically provide the reader with no adequate reasons for believing that their notions are correct.  Indeed, all but one of them (if not ALL of them) MUST be wrong, since they contradict each other.  And often they start with a clear bias.  Mark

  2. I have deciphered a hidden language in the English language. Something skeptics don’t like. See:

  3. Pacal says:

    Just a few comments. (I’ll be brief for once.) The Nu Shu system is not terribly unusual in China. In fact classical written Chinese has built into a “language” only known to those taught it. In written Chinese there are c. 40,000 – 80,000 characters, (The number varies according to what book on Chinese you consult.). Of this number thousands upon thousands are “literary” characters known only to very well educated Chinese very familar with classical Chinese literature and in fact many of them are one offs. In fact virtually all written Chinese can be understood by knowing c. 4,000-8,000 charcters. most of the rest are wither specialist vocubulary items or esoteric literary items. THe esoteric literary items are much of the time literary people showing off in a “secret” language all their own.

    As for the nonsense about Kana and Jesus Christ. I just get furious when people don’t bother to do even the most cursory research. The development of the Kana writing system is pretty well known. The earliest wexamp[le of anything that can be described as even an ancestor to Kana is from c. 750 C.E. Japanese accounts attribute the actual development of the Kana script to Buddhist monks c. 830-870 C.E. There appears to be absolutely no sign of anything like the Kana script in Japan before 700 C.E., or even one of the precursors of that system. Further Japanese historical accounts are quite specific about the development of the script and place it after 700 C.E. It appears from the surviving records and from Japanese accounts that the Japanese before developing Kana used the Chinese system and it appears that even use of the Chinese system dates to c. 500 C.E. and after. Any Kana documents supposidly dating to 100 C.E., is an obvious fake.

    As for the Voynich manuscript. I personally think it is a complete con. It is my understanding that analysis of the distripution of symbols does not resemble a human language. Translated the distribution is too random. It is my understanding that using a sort of Renissance random character generater some one could have created the manuscript. The purpose being to create a manuscript full of “hidden” esoteric meaning to gull wealthy people from their money. And if it does have meaning I suspect the usual Medieval woo.

    As for Arabic numerals I don’t suppose the guy even consulted a standard reference source like Ifrah’s History of Numbers?

    • You think everything was created randomly in history. Not true. God created everything — as proven by the ET Corn Gods language/game. Roman Numerals and Arabic numbers are used to uncover the hidden meanings. See:

    • marknewbrook says:

      Thanks as ever, Pacal.  I’m well aware that there are various ‘reduced’ versions of the Chinese orthography around China, but Nus Shu does appear somewhat unusual in that a) it is phonological rather than logographic b) it has been largely gender-specific c) its origins are obscure.  Re Voynich: the opinions I have seen/hear differ widely as to how far the text COULD be linguistic in nature; but you could well be right.  Mark

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