Monday, July 11, 2005

Non Legitur

Marco Cimarosti sent me a copy of his new book Non Legitur: Giro del mondo in trentatré scritture. This book demonstrates how 33 scripts from around the world work. It includes 9 alphabets, 15 Indic scripts, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Ethiopic, Tifinagh, Maldivian, Yi, Cree, Cherokee and numerals. It demonstrates how these scripts are composed in Unicode and then explains how they can be read.

For Indic scripts Marco gives details for how each syllable is composed. For Chinese he provides a table of characters listed by radical with a pronunciation guide for Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese (2), and the meaning.

At the end of each script section he lists 12 international words in that script, words like "telephone" "taxi" "coffee". The reader must test out their skills and see if they can decode these words. The answer key is in the back. (I hope to bring you some of these lists of words in the fall.)

The author hopes that his book will help readers muddle through the tapestry of undecipherable signs as they travel around the world. I know the average person would ask "Why try? I would never understand what the sign says anyway, since it is in a foreign language." Not always so, as I recently found out.

I was waiting for a friend on a street corner and decided to brush up on my Panjabi, which is quickly becoming Vancouver's third language. I was looking at the sign in Panjabi over a fashion store window and was asking myself what the word for 'fashion' might be in Panjabi . After a few mental contortions I realized that the name of the store in Panjabi script was indeed "Fashan stor."

I believe Marco is saying "When abroad, give that foreign script a try. You never know, the sign might say something useful like 'bank' 'taxi' 'maps' etc." Here is how Marco described his book to me last winter. "Just a small guide for people who are curious about the funny letters they have seen during their holidays in the sun."

This book is written in Italian but, given the visual layout of the book and its subject matter, that is only a minor drawback.

I would, however, beg my readers to assist me in translating the first paragraph of the introduction where Marco provides the rationale for the Latin title of his book.

'Quando un copista medievale, in un testo in latino, trovava un citazione in greco, anziché copiarla scriveva "Graecum est, non legitur", cioè "È greco, non si può leggere". Con questa annotazione ammetteva nonsolo di non capire il greco ma addirittura di non conoscere le lettere dell'alfabeto di questa lingua. Nell'epoca di Internet e dei voli chartersono cambiate tante cose: troviamo normale avere vicini di casa marocchini o giapponesi, andare in vacanza in Grecia o in Thailandia, trovare nel manuale d'uso del frullatore la traduzione cinese o russa delle istruzioni. Eppure, se ci chiedessero di leggere o di copiare una scrittura diversa da quella latina, non sapremmo far altro che esclamare smarriti: "Non legitur!" '

I wish also to mention that while I provided the Tamil wordlist for this book, Marco provided clarity and common sense in discussions about the Cree writing system. Much of my recent investigation into antecedents for Cree are in response to comments he made last year.

Addendum: Translation provided by Simon.

"When a medieval scribe found a citation in Greek in a Latin text, instead of copying it they would write "Graecum est, non legitur", that is, "it's Greek, it can't be read". With this annotation, they admitted not only to not understanding Greek but also to not even knowing the letters of that language's alphabet. In the age of the Internet and of charter flights many things have changed: we find it normal to have Moroccan or Japanese neighbours, to holiday in Greece or Thailand, to find the instructions for the food processor translated into Chinese or Russian. Even so, if we were asked to read or copy a script other than the Roman, we could do nothing more than exclaim in bewilderment: "Non legitur!".

6 Comments:

Anonymous Simon said...

It's all Greek to me! I'll have to get a copy of that book, it looks like fun.

Here's my unpolished translation:

When a medieval scribe found a citation in Greek in a Latin text, instead of copying it they would write "Graecum est, non legitur", that is, "it's Greek, it can't be read". With this annotation, they admitted not only to not understanding Greek but also to not even knowing the letters of that language's alphabet. In the age of the Internet and of charter flights many things have changed: we find it normal to have Moroccan or Japanese neighbours, to holiday in Greece or Thailand, to find the instructions for the food processor translated into Chinese or Russian. Even so, if we were asked to read or copy a script other than the Roman, we could do nothing more than exclaim in bewilderment: "Non legitur!".

10:37 PM  
Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

Thanks, Simon, that sounds very smooth.

I did understand it but did not feel up to translating it. The food processor had me stumped.

I will refer to the book again because, while Marco says it is for fun, it does give a detailed view of the codepoints in Unicode and the action in Uniscribe.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Interesting, Suzanne. BTW, should the first comment under this post begin "Simon said" or "Simon says"? We used to play the latter game as children! :-)

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Marco Cimarosti said...

Thanks for your review, Suzanne!

Abecedaria readers might also be interested in my new page about "Non legitur":

http://web.tiscali.it/marco.cimarosti/non_legitur.html

(Reviews, Table of Contents, Sample pages, and Sites where you can purchase the book -- almost all in Italian, sorry).

Regards.
Marco Cimarosti

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Marco Cimarosti said...

Hallo, Suzanne & everybody.

This is just to let you know that an errata corrige for "Non legitur" is now available on my home page:

http://web.tiscali.it/marco.cimarosti/nl_errata.html

Most of the error listed have been correct in the 1st reprint, which is being issued right now.

Regards.
Marco Cimarosti

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