This page is designed to summarise all the most useful resources for grammatologists. Please send me a message or add a comment if anything is out of date or not included.
A few places to discuss writing in writing.
- Scriptish is a mailing list that began in 2016 as a venue for discussing “writing systems research, manuscript analysis, font-development, palaeography, experimental semiotics, literacy studies, and all things scriptish”.
- Scriptsource is a hub run by SIL for discussing script encoding and to “bridge the gap between the designer, developer, linguist and user”. If you’re designing fonts or working on input systems this is where to start.
- Qalam was a mailing list for writing systems, that was active between July 2000 and April 2014. Archives are still available and searchable.
Because of the crossdisciplinary nature of the field, a grammatologist’s primary affiliation is often in a discipline that does not immediately have anything to do with writing, eg, anthropology, archeology, linguistics, art history, area studies etc. Perhaps for this reason there are very few journals that are uniquely dedicated to publishing research on writing systems, so edited books tend to be more common.
Below are all the dedicated writing-related journals that I know of:
- Written Language & Literacy. The longest-lived still-surviving journal that is specifically dedicated to writing.
- Visible Language. Although this is ostensibly a typography and design journal it has published much on writing systems, including articles by I. J. Gelb, John DeFrancis and William C. Watt. Founded in 1967, the first issue contains an article: ‘The Perspectives for Practical Optical Character Recognition’. Who knew?
- Writing Systems Research. This is a relatively new journal with lots of special issues. Note that it focuses largely on processes of reading, writing and analysis.
- Written Communication. What this journal lacks in prestige and focus it makes up for in enthusiasm. Note that it is mostly concerned with writing and written expression as a discourse as opposed to writing systems in and of themselves.
- Signata: Annales de sémiotiques / Annals of semiotics occasionally has special issues on writing
- Social semiotics. Not really about writing per se, but has a scope that incorporates the sociolinguistics of writing.
- Philological Encounters. A new journal focusing on writing traditions, published by Zukunftsphilologie (see below)
- SCRIPTA: International Journal of Writing Systems. Published by the Hunmin jeongeum Society which accounts for its strong focus on Hanggul.
- Scientific Studies of Reading
- Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Projects and research groups (as of 2023)
These teams are currently doing research on writing:
- Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI). A joint initiative of UCLA, Oxford, and the MPI for the History of Science, Berlin, this is a terrific resource bringing together major cuneiform collections and their annotations. The best place to start is the detailed wiki.
- International Itinerant Paleographic School (IIPS) is focused on written materials produced in the Mediterranean area from Antiquity to Middle Ages: Greek, Latin, Arabic, Slavic, Hebrew and Syriac papyri, ostraca, rolls, codices and inscriptions. The IIPS gives a special emphasis to archiving and cataloguing technics used in different areas and periods and on the creation and developing of collections, the general dynamics of loss and preservation of written heritage.
- Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale. The Anthropologie Linguistique team at LAS (Paris) has a current interest in the anthropology of writing.
- The Mint. This is an independent research group at the MPI for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. The Mint is interested in the origin and evolution of graphic codes (including writing), and employs approaches from experimental pragmatics, linguistics, archeology, anthropology, and evolutionary theory.
- Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP), University of Texas at Austin
- Script encoding initiative. Based at Berkeley SEI team prepares proposals to the unicode consortium for encoding minority scripts.
- Scripta: Histoire et Pratique de l’écrit, Based in Paris this group incorporates some of the LAS team (above).
- The Views Project (VIEWS), is the successor to the CREWS project (below). Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems (VIEWS), is based at the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge, and it focuses on visual aspects of writing and its relationship to visual culture.
- Zukunftsphilologie. Part of the Forum Transregionale Studien at Freie Universität Berlin, this group studies non-Western manuscript traditions and associated practices of manuscript analysis. They have a strong interest in scripts.
- Understanding Written Artefacts is a new ERC-funded research cluster at the University of Hamburg. There is focus on codicology, preservation and digitisation.
- INvention of SCRIpts and their BEginnings (INSCRIBE) is a ERC project under the direction of Silvia Ferrara that “examines the factors that made the invention of writing possible, when this was done as an original creation, in different parts of the world”
- TextWorlds: Global Mapping of Texts From the Pre-Modern World, based at Uppsala Universitet is a research group that “brings together scholars from philology, history, and archaeology to explore text corpora of the pre-modern world in a comparative perspective”.
Previous research groups:
- LitCo was a small DFG-funded research group at Universität Kassel examining the sociolinguistics of writing
- Signs of Writing: The Cultural, Social, and Linguistic Contexts of the World’s First Writing Systems (Chicago)
- eikones. The Iconic Criticism project at the University of Basel was an NCCR funded initiative investigating ‘iconic phenomena’ in its broadest sense. More specific to writing systems research was its sub-project Module A: Materiality and Semantics of Writing.
- CREWS project. The Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems was an ERC-funded project within the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge. The team is looking at early writing in its social context in the ancient Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Levant (c.2000-600 BC). They have an excellent blog.
- Geomapping Landscapes of Writing (GLoW), based at Uppsala Universitet “aims to assemble and analyse a full digital record of the cuneiform corpus, a script in widespread use across the Middle East from c. 3400 BCE to 100 CE, and arguably one of the largest bodies of written source material from the the ancient world.”
Courses/units (as of 2023)
There are not very many places where you can learn about writing systems as an undergraduate, unless it’s part of a broader course in, for example, area studies or archaeology. Having said that, dedicated courses on writing seem to have taken off in the past couple of years. Please let me know if there are any others. Since university web pages and course offerings change rapidly, I’m also including Wayback links for these as a backup.
- The University of New England, Australia, offers ‘Writing Systems of the World‘ taught by Arvind Iyengar with contributions from yours truly (handbook entry here). [Wayback link]
- The University of Toronto offers JAL328H1: Writing Systems. The JAL stands for Joint Anthropology and Linguistics. [Wayback link]
- UC Berkeley offers ‘Writing systems of the world taught by Adam Benkato. [Wayback link]
- UCLA offers ‘Visible Language: Study of Writing‘ usually taught annually by Gina Konstantopoulos. [Wayback link]
- Boston University offers ‘Origins of Writing‘ taught by Sasha Nikolaev [Wayback link]
- Daniel Harbour at Queen Mary University of London teaches writing systems. [Wayback link]
- David Holm at the National Cheng Chi University in Taipei teaches a PhD level course on writing systems [No link]
(Images are from Czech, Franz-Hermann. 1838. Versinlichte Denk- und Sprachlehrer, mit Anwendung auf die Religions- und auf das Leben. Vienna: Commission der Rechitaristen Congregations)