Saturday, December 24, 2005

Roman Shorthand: Tironian Notes

I have accepted that I must simply work at improving my reading knowledge of German. This shouldn't be impossible since I once studied German and spent one summer with a family near Tübingen. However, no polished German translations are about to turn up here under my authourship.

This is the first 20 words of Psalm 12:6-7 * in Tironian notes. The best resource that I have found so far on Tironian notes is Boge's Griechische Tachygraphie and this site with images of a manuscript by Karl Eberhard Henke. This will keep me busy for a while.

Tironian Notes are attributed to Tiro, who worked for Cicero. The National Court Reporters Assocation has a great article on The History of Shorthand By Anita Kreitzman. Here is the section on Roman shorthand.

"Shorthand in ancient Rome seems to have appeared as early as 200 B.C. with the poet Quintas Ennius, who devised a system of 1,100 signs. But it was not until Plutarch in 63 B.C. that definite and indisputable evidence of the use of shorthand is recorded. He writes of the debate on the Catilinian conspiracy that was recorded in shorthand in the Roman Senate as the famous orator Cicero expounded his views.

It is interesting that Cicero was indirectly responsible for the method of shorthand devised by Tiro. Tiro was a slave of Rome and had been granted his freedom by Marcus Tullius Cicero. Upon becoming a freedman he adopted the first two names of his master and thereafter was known as Marcus Tullius Tiro. Highly educated, "he then became Cicero's secretary and confidant," and as such had the opportunity and fortunately the intelligence and skill to invent a system of shorthand that was to be used in the Roman Senate and as a basis for future shorthand systems. Initially, his system involved abbreviations of the more popular words with the remainder of the text filled in from memory using context clues. Not a very accurate method, but Tiro continued to improve on his system by devising further abbreviations for common sentences and phrases used by the orators of the day. He is also credited with inventing the ampersand, which is still in use today.

In the Curia, as many as 40 shorthand writers were stationed in the different areas. They recorded what they could and their transcripts were then compared and compiled in order to record the complete orations of such greats as Cicero and Julius Caesar. Today, in our own Congress, a similar system is used except that the reporters work in relays.

Famous writers such as Horace, Livy, Ovid, Martial, Pliny, Facitus and Suetonius make mention of shorthand in ancient Rome. Julius Caesar, himself, was proficient in shorthand. And to be proficient in shorthand was not an easy task.

The ancient Roman scribe did not have paper, pen, pencil or ink. How, then, did they record the events? The medium was a tablet with raised edges covered with a wax layer. As many as 20 such tablets could be fastened together to form a book. A stylus, similar to a pencil, was used for the actual writing. The point was ivory or steel, the other end flat in order to easily smooth the wax when the notes were no longer needed and a new tablet required. Ironically, it was with such instruments that Caesar was stabbed to death. Had Caesar the foresight to see his fate, perhaps he would not have pursued his interest in shorthand.

Others who demonstrated an avid interest in shorthand writing included Titus Vespasian Caesar, who was so skilled at shorthand that he participated in "contests for wagers and personally taught the art to his stepson," and Augustus Octavianus, an expert shorthand writer who "appointed three classes of stenographers for the imperial government." He considered the skill so important that he taught it to his grandchildren. And even Seneca, the great orator and philosopher, who became so fascinated with shorthand that he improved Tiro's system by adding several thousand abbreviations of his own."

Somehow I could not abreviate this article and extract the interesting parts - it is all too fascinating. I am off to study Karl Eberhard Henke.


Image is from "Du Charactère Sténographique de Toute Écriture." Yves Duhoux. Studia Minora Facultatis Philosophicae Universitatis Brunensis N 6-7, 2001-2002. Unfortunately Duhoux does not give the location for the Latin manuscript but it was also mentioned in M. Proux. 1910. Manuel de paléographie latine et française. Album. Paris.

Karl Eberhard Henke:Tironische Noten. MGH-Bibliothek Hs. B 16. Digitale Ed. [Manuskript ca. 1954] / Konzeption u. Bildbearbeitung: Arno Mentzel-Reuters

Boge, Hebert. Griechische Tachygraphie und Tironische Noten. 1973. Akademie Verlag. Berlin.

Friday, December 23, 2005

William Moon Blind Alphabet

This is the Moon writing system from the early 1840's in England. It is still in use by a limited number of older people in England..

Below is the Cree syllabary. The characters for the p, t, ch, m series are in the same order as the Moon alphabet, when it is grouped by shape. The Cree p,t,k,ch finals also appear as a group in the Moon alphabet.

The fact that these two systems are so similar cannot be a coincidence. These systems appeared within two years of each other, 1841 in Canada and 1843, in England. I suggest that they had a common ancestor in the shorthand descended from John Willis shorthand.

The Moon Code, as it is known, was invented in England between 1843 and 1847 by William Moon who was himself blind. The Moon code was a full alphabetic orthography in which each symbol stood for a letter of the Roman alphabet. However, is is taught by organizing the symbols into an arrangment of similar shapes. It is still used today.

A direct predecessor of the Moon alphabet was the Lucas system. "The script invented in 1832 by Thomas Lucas at Bristol, England, consisting of embossed characters in the sort of symbols used by stenographers, was used in both China and India." The Lucas system can be seen here.

The evolution of Cree from the Frere and Lucas systems has already been written about at Tiro Typeworks.

I am only adding the pieces about the Moon alphabet which shows the order of the symbols, and the John Willis shorthand. More here.

Notes: A Simplified Alphabet. The Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Museum Collection at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Silver Gospel

Lat night the men were discussing history as usual and the Goths came up in conversation. I mentioned casually that there was a Bible translation into Gothic in the fourth century. They were ruminating on military campaigns. However, one guest paused in thought and said, "Gothic, fourth century - I didn't think it was written that early."

So here it is. This is the Lord's Prayer in the Silver Gospel and there are almost endless internet resources on it. It is officially called the Codex Argenteus and is a copy of the Gothic Bible which was translated by the Gothic bishop Wulfila, who designed the Gothic alphabet.

More about the Codex Argenteus and its significance in studying early Gothic here.

"The manuscript, the Codex argenteus, is probably written in Ravenna during the Ostrogothic empire, and probably for the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric the Great, in the beginning of the sixth century. It is written on very thin purple-coloured vellum of high quality with gold and silver ink. The silver text is dominating, and therefor the manuscript is called the »silver book«, or » codex argenteus «. It was made to be an admirable book, which may be difficult to see today, when hastily looking at its roughly handled remnants in Carolina Rediviva in Uppsala. Probably it originally had a splendid binding with pearls and precious stones. The text of the Silver Bible is one of the oldest and most comprehensive documents in the Gothic language known today. Beside the Silver Bible, there are very few text lines in Gothic handed down to posterity."

Now for the good stuff. There is a Project Wulfila with resources on the Gothic language and each word of the Lord's Prayer above can be read in Gothic and compared to the English and the Greek. The Lord's prayer is in Matt.6:9 starting in the middle of the verse. Notice that the word order of the Gothic follows the word order of the Greek, since it is a very literal translation. Each word of the Gothic is clickable so you can crosscheck. I believe this is the earliest record of a language ancestor to English. (direct ancestor - not PIE)

Notes: The image above is from Alfabetos de Ayer y de Hoy.

Thanks for this comment from Curtis.

Gothic is classified as East Germanic, while English is West Germanic; Gothic is at best a cousin to English, not a direct ancestor. See e.g.,

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

John Willis Shorthand

I confess. I can't remember where I read that X was used for Christ in the 16th century. I'll find it soon. However, as I went through my notes on shorthand I realized that I now have this image. It is the shorthand system developed by John Willis in The Art of Stenographie, 1602. Here X is 'ch'. The question is whether X alone would represent Christ.

The earliest shorthand for English was that of Timothie Bright, 1588. Apart from the basic symbols which are presented in Joanna Drucker's The Alphabetic Labyrinth, I have not seen Bright's system. However, it is possible that X was used for Christ in one or both of these systems.

There is a Bible in the John Willis shorthand system here at University College in London. There are a few other shorthand items there also. One day maybe I will be able to have a look for myself. Any Londoners out there anxious to look at a shorthand Bible from the early 17th century?

Notes: This image of John Willis shorthand is found in World's Writing Systems by Peter T Daniels and William Bright

Monday, December 19, 2005

Merry Xmas

This is a verse from the Bible in James Bay Cree, published in 2001 by the Canadian Bible Society. It says "Then Simon Peter answered, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (of God who lives, the son.)" Matthew 16:16

The ninth word from the beginning is X for Christ. The Chi sign X is used for the name of Christ in this New Testament published in 2001. In Unicode it is U+166D : CANADIAN SYLLABICS CHI SIGN.

There is another way to write "Christ" in Cree. Here is a verse of Silent Night in Western Cree. At the beginning of the fourth line Christ’s name is written phonetically. However, ‘r’ is not a Cree sound and the syllabic used for ‘r’ shows that this is a non-Cree word. The double consonants are also foreign to Cree, so the name of Christ is identifiable as a foreign word in Cree when spelled out phonetically.

The use of the Greek letter chi for Christ has a long history. The first shorthand for Christ seems to have been ΧΡΣ P46. This site explains that the Nomina Sacra were used not as abbreviations but to set apart holy words in text.

Two kinds of shorthand were used from the third century up until the 16th century in Greek manuscripts. First, the nomina sacra, where a closed set of frequently occuring siginificant names were abbreviated to create a logographic entity. Second, there were ligatures which shortened or combined two or three letters, especially grammatical endings, later even including the accent in the ligature.

Χριστος has been represented by Χρς, or Χς, and by ΧΡ in art and other representation. I have not found the ΧΡ in manuscripts and would not expect it since the manuscript form always includes the grammatical ending.

A quick glance at some facsimiles of Greek manuscripts* shows that the words ιησους, χριστος, θεος, ανθρωπος, πατερ, ματερ, πνευμα and some other words were represented by their initial and final one or two letters which represent the grammatical ending. This could be ς,υ,ν,οι, ι &c.

For this reason, I am assuming that the transition from Χς to Χ happened with the beginning of the use of the vernacular languages in Europe, when the ending was no longer relevant. There would be no reason to retain the last letter and X alone came to represent Christ. There is also no reason to see a sign of disrespect in the transition from Χς to Χ. And so Xmas first appeared in English texts in the 16th century.

Χ retained the meaning of Christ for those who knew Greek but possibly also in some form of British shorthand at least up until the last century. It occurs in the Cree writing system devised by James Evans in 1841 and now called Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, pictured at the beginning of this post. It is recognized that Evans drew on his knowledge of early British shorthand for the Cree syllabary. However, he must also have studied Greek so either way he would be familiar with the chi X symbol.

* Barbour, Ruth. Greek Literary Hands. 1981. Clarendon Press. Oxford.

I have previously posted on the use of the Greek chi symbol here and Greek Literary Hands here.


Further information on the Chi sign X and its first use in English are at the folloing links.

This is a general hodgepodge of information but one site claims that Wycliffe used the sign X for Christ. It should be possble to check that out.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Delphi Tablet: Der Erfinder

It is rather slow going on the Delphi tablet. The book is in German and while I have had a generous offer of help on the German, I simply have no idea which part of the book I want to know about most. So I am slogging away, dipping into a little here and there.

The epigram describing the Delphi writing system, or set of indiosyncratic symbols, whatever one wants to call them, is dated "In the time of the Delphic Archon Charixenos." (277/276 BCE) The inventor's name , begins with M. According to Boge, who quotes Bousquet, this must be the philosopher Menedemos of Eritrea, an accomplished politician, teacher, architect, artist and sculptor, who was priest in Delphi at that time.

There seems to be a year or two of variance on these dates so there is some doubt, but that is the best I can do for now.

It is interesting to note that Greek has letters for double consonants like 'ps', 'dz', 'ks', and English still has 'ks'. There isn't much more about the double consonants of Delphi but there is a lot more to learn about classical tachygraphy.

To view previous posts on the Delphi tablet, use the 'search this blog' button and enter "Delphi Tablet".

Thanks for the additional comments, Gary.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Thanks to Don Osborn for mentioning this in qalam.

Old Portuguese in Hebrew Script: convention, contact, and convivência

"This dissertation explores the process undertaken by medieval writers to produce Portuguese-language texts using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Through detailed philological analyses of five Judeo-Portuguese texts, I examine the strategies by which Hebrew script is adapted to represent medieval Portuguese in the context of other Roman-letter and Hebrew-language writing. I focus on the writing system in order to challenge the conception of such texts as marked or marginal, a view that misleadingly equates language and script.

I argue that the adaptation of Hebrew script for medieval Portuguese is neither derivative of Roman-letter writing nor entirely dependent upon the conventions of written Hebrew. Nor is it an adaptation performed anew by each writer and influenced primarily by spoken language. The perspective I adopt thereby rejects the premise that the patterns manifested in this unconventional orthography are ad hoc creations by its writers, that it requires extra effort from its readers, or that it is less 'native' than the dominant, more conventionalized, Roman-based adaptation that normally bears the title 'written Portuguese.' "

More about Texts in Hebrew Script here.

"Medieval Judeo-Portuguese texts can be found in libraries all around the world. The oldest known document is a treatise on the art of manuscript illumination dating from 1262, written in Portuguese with Hebrew characters – O livro de como se fazem as cores. It is a document of prime importance for the history of Hebrew manuscript illumination, as the instructions contained in the text were used for the illumination of an elaborate Bible manuscript in Corunna, Galicia, in 1476 (Blondheim 1929-1930).

The oldest known liturgical text is a Spanish Mahzor in Hebrew script, published in Portugal around 1485, which includes ritual instructions in Portuguese Aljamiado (Metzger 1977). "

I have found images of Ladino or Sephardic manuscripts on the internet but none so far that are Judeo-Portuguese. Maybe some other time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Delphi Tablet III

I posted in October on the Delphi tablet here and here. This image is piece #6323. However, I only have time for the first four lines at the moment.

Ἧ πολὺ κ[αλ]ίστωι σε θεαί, Μ[..., γέρησαν
Δώρωι Π[ιερ]ίδες παρθένοι ε[ὺπλόκαμοι]
Αίπερ σοι [τό]δε μούνωι ὲπιχθ[ονίων ἀνθρώπον,
Ὤπασα[ν] ἐξευρεῖν πείρατα πά[ντα τέχνης.] *

With this translation into German,

Wirklich mit einem sehr schonen Geschenk haben dich, M...
die schonehaarigen pierischen Jungfrauen geehrt
die dich als einzigen Mensche auf Erden damit
begabt haben, jegliche Grenzen der Kunst zu erfinden

Truly with a very great gift
have the beautiful haired Pieridean maidens
honoured you, who is the only human on earth
to whom it has been given to invent the very finisher of all arts

In plain English,

The Muses have truly honoured
you with a great gift,
for you to be the sole inventor
on earth of the ultimate art.

I have disagreed with the German translator somewhat on this phrase, πείρατα πάντα τέχνης. Or maybe I am unfamiliar with the German term 'Grenze der Kunst.' Πείρατα can refer to boundaries or borders, but it also is used for the goldsmiths tools, the finishers of art.

Here is Liddell and Scott.

I - an end as in the ends of the earth
II - the end or issue of a thing: the furthest point, the utmost verge: the chief or most important object.
III - that which finishes, a godsmith's tools are called πείρατα τέχνης, the finishers of art.

I am inclined to think now of this system on the Delphi tablet as a poetic device, or a way to represent phonology, or even an early example of a constructed script. After all, the name of the inventor was mentioned, although it has not been preserved in this fragment.

Any further comments are welcome, whether to improve my translation or otherwise.

* The bracketed letters have been cited by Boge from J. Bousquet, 1956.


Boge, Herbert. Griechische Tachygraphie und Tironische Noten. 1973. Akademie Verlag. Berlin.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Syriac Again

Okay, I goofed. I posted today a draft from November 30, 2005 and there it is.

This gives me a chance to post Tim May's comment with his Syriac text plus vowels, where it can be more easily read.

By comparing the Syriac and Latin versions, and referring to the Omniglot page, I've managed to render the first sentence of Malcuno Zcuro in Unicode. There are probably some errors - I don't really know anything about Syriac spelling, and there are a lot of diacritics that basically look like a dot. Also the editor I was using didn't render the text quite perfectly in some cases, leaving me uncertain as to the correct order. But it should be mostly correct.

ܥܶܡܪܺܝ ܫܶܬ݂ ܐܷܫܢܶܐ ܚܙܶܐ ܗ݇ܘܰܝܠܺܝ ܢܰܩܠܰܐ ܒܶܟܬ݂ܳܘܳܐ ܕܥܰܠ ܗ݇ܘ݂ ܥܳܒܳܐ ܒܬ݂ܽܘܠܳܐ ܕܟܶܬܘܰܐ ܐܷܫܡܶܗ »ܫܰܪ̈ܒܶܐ ܕܰܐܬ݂ܶܢ ܒܪܺܝܫܶܗ-ܕܚܰܕ݇« ܨܽܘܪܬܳܐ ܗܕ݂ܺܝܪܳܬܐ.

Cəmri šeṯ əšne ḥzewayli naqla bkṯowo dcal u cobo-bṯulo dkətwa əšme »Šarbe daṯən briše-dḥa« ṣurto hḏirto.

If you want to see it in a form more closely resembling the original, the Beth Mardutho fonts include several Serto variants. You can see samples on the Syriac page of David McCreedy's Gallery of Unicode Fonts. (Incidentally, Estrangelo Edessa, in Windows, is actually one of the fonts from this package.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hebrew Online Keyboard with Vowels

I was back visiting the Lesser Of Two Weevils to pick up a few tips on how she can input and display Hebrew vowels so easily. I found this online keyboard with vowels. How cool is that! I don't want to lose it since I have been looking for one for ever so here it is.

And she has a post which may elucidate the Golem legend. Here is an excerpt from her post on the The Power of the Word. (This also gives me a chance to input and display Hebrew.) The topic of her post is the word דִבְּר diber, 'to speak', from dabar 'word'. The point is that this is a keyboard that takes no time to learn, just click around. Okay, so it is a picker. It works.

Here is Talmida on 'the word'.

In finishing my translation in 2 Kings 14 I ran into an expression that I found very satisfying.

Verse 27 begins,

וְלֹא-דִבֶּר יְהוָה לִמְחוֹת אֶת-שֵׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל
/v'lo-diber adonai limhhot et-shem yisrael.
Word for word, that works out to this: and not - he spoke the Lord to erase name of Israel.This spoke (no pun intended) to me in a very powerful way.

One of the things that I feel drawing me (calling me?) to study Hebrew is that the Hebrew words themselves are important -- not just their meanings, but the words. I'm not quite sure how--and I don't think I'm ready to study Kabbalah just yet--but I sense that there is something just beyond my grasp and that the way to reach it is to master Biblical Hebrew, and when that's done, I will see my way clear to the next step God wants me to take. I've blogged about this a bit before.

This passage resonated so powerfully with me I want to shout it out! The verb diber means, to speak. The noun form, davar, means word, thing, affair. If you look in a modern Hebrew New Testament, the Gospel of John tells us that "in the beginning was davar". There's a reason for that.

The most common English translations have a similar spin on this verse of 2 Kings:

And the LORD said not that he would blot out the name of Israel (KJV)
But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel (NRSV)
And the Lord did not say that he would blot out the name of Israel (D-R)

But check out the Judaica Press version:
And the Lord did not speak to eradicate the name of Israel (JPCT)

Thanks, Talmida.

I have not forgotten Syriac, or the Delphi tablet, but unfortunately those posts are a little more work since they require images. Sorry.

Scalable Vector Graphics

When I asked about missing characters the other day Simos sent this comment about Webfonts, SVG and the new Firefox 1.5.

You can follow the tutorial at, missing fonts in the system, you may specify a Webfont (downloaded dynamically) or even use SVG fonts.

The new version of Mozilla Firefox 1.5 was released a few days ago and it probably is the first browser with SVG support. Have a look at the sample page with SVG fonts, at

I will take time to absorb some of this but I am trying to familiarize myself with some of these ideas. There have been many things that I thought I would never try but I have ended up familiar with; so I'm thinking about this.

I ended up reading on this page.

SVG: Scalable Vector Graphics, a new, completely open standard recommended and developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the development of which is seconded by many notable software groups and scientific communities. SVG offers all the advantages of Flash, the de-facto standard of the day (refer to above), plus the following features: embedded fonts, extensible markup language (XML), stylesheets (CSS), interactivity and animation. With the help of the DOM, full HTML compatibility is obtained. For a more detailed description, please go to the main section of this article.

Embedded fonts and extensible markup language. Yes, I think this relates. The best thing about this page is that it really spells things out. Each acronym actually comes with the full name written after it. How cool is that. Now I finally know what pdf means!

It also spells out the difference between 'de jure 'standards and 'de facto' standards. I think I figured that out but now I have a nice Latin way to express it.

And on to this page.

Dangers of Right to Left

I've had a busy time at work lately so I have been doing some reactional surfing on the net and not so much hard work taking screenshots of this and that. I also got to feeling a little lonely for some female company. :-) It had to happen!

I found a great blog with the most lovely Hebrew vowels. I haven't spent time trying to display these yet but I've seen it done a few places.

At The Lesser of Two Weevils I read this post and thought that maybe it was a good thing that I hop around from one writing system to another after all.

Talmida writes:

Turns out there IS a downside to studying God's language. You could flunk an eye exam.

Without any conscious thought whatsoever, I read the eyecharts from right to left today. The optometrist was quite concerned (what on earth is she seeing?) until we figured out what I was doing.

It's odd -- if there are legible words, my brain apparently says "read", and I start at the left. But since it was just random letters, I'm guessing that my brain concluded "decipher!" and started at the right as I do in Hebrew. Even when I was made aware of what I was doing, I had to force myself to read from the left. My eye wanted to begin at the right to turn the letters in to words.

What an interesting phenomenon.

I've also added Fontblog and Blogamundo to my sidebar. I've been reading these blogs on and off for a month or two and just haven't edited the sidebar. There is some great stuff there.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Website Etiquette

Here is something I have been wondering for some time. Should one try to make a post display well in more than one browser? I have been using Internet Explorer most of the time. I installed Firefox a couple of months ago and have used it whenever I visited a site with too many empty boxes. Fairly frequently actually.

I have had the philosophy so far that I should try to make my own posts display well in IE. This means that I always checked which font displayed all the characters that I wanted to use and then defined the font. This only applies for polytonic Greek and Extended Latin as far as I know. All the complex scripts like Tamil and Syriac seem to display without a problem.

However, when I went to post the transcriptions for Syriac I could not find a font, already bundled in Windows, that had both U+02BF : MODIFIER LETTER LEFT HALF RING and U+1E6D : LATIN SMALL LETTER T WITH DOT BELOW. COMBINING DOT BELOW 0323 does occur in Lucida Sans Unicode but it is significantly out of position.

Therefore, I am unable to properly display the transcription for Syriac in my post unless I recommend that the post be viewed in Firefox, or that the viewer download a special font. Of course, this is what others have been doing all along. I somehow thought that it wouldn't be necessary for this blog.

The question now is whether one should post these characters at all knowing that others might be in a position to view only empty boxes. I will chose not to for now since this is not a specialist blog on Syriac.

I haven't really tried to display a transcription for Tamil either. When it comes to working with transcriptions the computer does not compare to good old pencil and paper.