martedì 29 aprile 2014

L'idea della scrittura e il Superalfabeto

Nell' ottobre di quest'anno si svolgerà a Leiden (Olanda) una conferenza su un argomento che sta divenendo sempre più importante: non solo per l' epigrafia, la storia e l'archeologia, ma  anche per le scienze cognitive e per la comprensione di quello che viene chiamato "uomo moderno". La conferenza si intitola The Idea of Writing, 24-25 October 2014, Leiden ed è già accessibile la prima circolare, la quale contiene diverse idee su cui riflettere. Leggiamola (mio il grassetto):

Beyond Speech? Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of writing as encoding of speech has since long been modified, and on some points rejected. Writing is so much more than speech, and so much less at the same time.
‘Less’, because writing never seems to capture all the information transmitted by oral expression, such as intonation, volume, facial expression, gestures, and the sheer context of speech, including e.g. people present (listening or not), or the weather, at the time of speaking. ‘More’, because writing makes up for being such a poor speech substitute by means of its own intrinsic properties, such as materiality (hence, a promise of permanence), material and visual context (e.g. palaeographic embellishment, impressive monumental context), and by simply being a system of its own. Writing is a systematic code with visual appeal. It wants to be read; potential readers feel attracted by its appearance and the system they suspect behind it. Even if not acquainted with the language encoded, or with the rules of the writing system, people feel the urge to decipher.

Is it a surprise, then, that those who do not master writing come up with systems that share some characteristics with it? With visual codes that capture something of the information normally transmitted by speech, but which are not necessarily concerned with language? Such encodings are all too easily considered ‘alternatives’ to writing. In fact they may have their own contexts and histories, independent from writing, and even precede the earliest writing systems. Systematic visual and material codes existed long before writing, for instance in the decoration of prehistoric pottery, or monumental rock art. Our inclination to call this ‘proto-‘ or ‘pseudo-writing’ says much about our own literate biases. Alternatively, we may try to think of such systems as entirely different from writing, and unrelated to language. But are they, and can they be unrelated to language, when they can be read, even aloud, and when they show some kind of syntax?
The conference envisaged is, on the one hand, about ‘alternative’ visual systems, such as pictograms, marking systems and pseudo script. To what extent are language and contemporary scripts important for the way they work, and look? At the same time, the conference will be about non-linguistic(?) aspects of writing itself, such as graphic design, ornamental writing, and the choice of support. Are these to compensate for the loss of information that would have been available in oral speech; do they actually convey linguistic information, or are they there to add a totally different dimension to what is being communicated, something that could never have been expressed in language?

Non a caso quella stele egizia in figura (di cui purtroppo non viene data una didascalia) è stata scelta come logo della conferenza: reca un messaggio multilivello, ed è impossibile per noi definire dove e se finisce la scrittura ed inizia la "decorazione". Definire "proto-" o "pseudo-scrittura" determinati codici - come gli evergreen potmarks- fa parte, dice l' autore, del nostro bias (errore sistematico, pregiudizio) di società letterata: ma, si chiede, è lecito pensare a certi segni come scorrelati dal linguaggio quando siamo pur sempre in grado di leggerli, anche a voce alta e quando rivelano una sorta di sintassi? Come esempio attuale porta il marchio registrato dei computer Apple: lo vediamo e siamo in grado di pronunciare subito a voce alta "Apple computer", eppure è "solo" un disegno di mela morsicata. Ma fa parte del nostro linguaggio acquisito, della nostra cultura: come la chiocciolina per "at" o la R dentro il cerchiolino per "marchio registrato"; segni che sono scorrelati dal linguaggio specifico, universalmente comprensibili, pur suonando diversi se li pronunciano un cinese o un italiano. 

La consapevolezza crescente che dietro i cosiddetti non-textual markings possa in realtà esserci ben di più (in pratica veri e propri codici di scrittura, talvolta perfino "universali") è fornita non solo dal dover riconoscere che essi non esistettero solo agli albori della scrittura e/o nella parte non letterata delle società antiche, ma che esistono in pratica da sempre: come ci hanno rivelato, ad esempio, gli studi di Genevieve von Petzinger sui segni di 35000 anni fa, le tavolette del medio Eufrate di 12000 anni fa, i potmarks dell'Antico Egitto e del Medio Oriente, i segni dell'età del bronzo, le sigla etrusche; e, scrive l' autore in una nota, gli emoticons ed il linguaggio alfa-numerico-logo-pittografico del textese, nato per scrivere messaggini al telefono e divenuto un incredibile fenomeno culturale. 



I 26 segni ricorrenti identificati da G. von Petzinger nelle caverne francesi del paleolitico superiore (vd.: Von Petzinger, Genevieve; A question of style: reconsidering the stylistic approach to dating Palaeolithic parietal art in France, 2011, Antiquity, 85,1165–1183; Von Petzinger, Genevieve; Making the abstract concrete: the place of geometric signs in French upper paleolithic parietal art, 2009, Master of Arts dissertation, University fo Victoria, Canada

Vi sono naturalmente diversi progetti che stanno andando avanti su questi concetti, caratterizzati da una necessaria interdisciplinarietà e, sempre, da un grande fascino. Diversi riguardano l' Egitto, e non certo solo quello predinastico o proto-dinastico, ma anche quello del Nuovo Regno e oltre. Uno, bello grosso, riguarda le cosiddette sigla degli Etruschi. Il campo è in completo divenire e sta rivoluzionando perfino il concetto che l' "invenzione" dell' alfabeto-nella comune accezione, all' "occidentale"- abbia portato solo vantaggi. Sentiamo cosa dice Frank Kammerzell (Humboldt-Universität di Berlino), a questo proposito (mio il grassetto):

Cross-cultural communication by means of globally applicable signs

Prof. Frank Kammerzell


Western Alphabetic writing is often considered an absolute progress as compared with older logographic, syllabographic, morphographic and hybrid systems. Many people even believe in the Western alphabet being one of the preconditions of European civilization. Those adhering to this way of thinking, however, fail to notice, that alphabetic systems show nothing in principle which did not already exist in the Ancient Egyptian script of the 3rd millennium bc. Hieroglyphic writing is a hybrid system which employed signs corresponding with single consonants or sequences of consonants (like English X /ks/) besides meaningful signs denoting lexical units (like 4 ‘1+1+1+1’) or serving as a classifier (like ® ‘registered trademark’). Since many of the meaningful signs were iconic, they can often be interpreted without necessarily knowing the specific language of the text and thus constituted an ideal resource for intercultural information processing: Egyptian number signs were used in Old Hebrew and Aramaic and yet might have been the ultimate source of the Indian ciphers. Thus, there is some reason to judge purely alphabetic writing not entirely an efficiency increasing simplification but also a reduction of functional options of more complex systems.


That this in some way has also been felt by the users of writing in Europe during the last 2000 years seems obvious from two events: (1) Since long, there is a strong fascination for Egyptian hieroglyphs in the West, culminating in transferring pharaonic monuments to Europe metropoleis in Roman and Late Antique times, in reflecting about the power of hieroglyphs to serve as a universal means of communication in Renaissance and Baroque, and in finally achieving the decipherment of the forgotten principles of the Egyptian writing system. (2) In the course of time, even scripts described as purely alphabetic have been showing a propensity to make use of more and more elements which do not correspond with speech sound — like blanks, punctuation marks, ciphers, abbreviations (to mention only some of them). This trend has reached a peak in the Modern and post-Modern era, when international traffic led to the appearance of universally readable pictographs and the computer keyboard provides a new superalphabet (Roy Harris). This, in spite of its name, does not consist of alphabetic characters alone but rather reflects and/or stimulates a concept of writing which has much more in common with its distant roots than most users are conscious of.


The project aims at working out the development from a hybrid communication system that had the capacity of being used cross-culturally via its language specific successors to present-day systems which are now in fact employed almost globally. By hinting at the origins and historical development of this way of writing, people shall become aware of the importance and the actual role of cross-cultural communication in their everyday life and shall learn that current forms of hybrid writing are neither totally new nor a marginal gadget to be used only by freaks.


Cavoli quanto mi piace la parola "Superalfabeto"!

Va bene, per finire presento una sequela impressionante di segni rinvenuti come "potmarks" a Tell Abu Al-Kharaz (Valle del Giordano) e risalenti alla prima Età del Bronzo (IV-III millennio a.C.); le immagini sono tratte da:  Feldbacher, R., and P.M. Fischer. 2006. “Appendix 2: Potmarks on Ceramic Containers from Early Bronze Age Tell Abu Al-Kharaz, Jordan Valley.” In Tell Abu al-Kharaz in the Jordan Valley. Vol. 1, The Early Bronze Age, edited by P. Fischer, 391–99. 

Buona Lettura!