Writing systems resources

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 Please send me a message or add a comment if anything is out of date or not included.

Forums

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.

Publication venues

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:

Projects and research groups (as of 2017)

These teams are currently doing research on writing:

  • CREWS project. The Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems is 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.
  • 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).
  • 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”

Previous research groups:

Courses (as of 2020)

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. Here are the dedicated courses on writing that I’m aware of. Please let me know if there are any others.

  • The University of Toronto runs a course JAL328H1: Writing Systems. The JAL stands for Joint Anthropology and Linguistics
  • Daniel Harbour teaches writing systems at Queen Mary University of London
  • David Holm at the National Cheng Chi University in Taipei teaches a PhD level course on writing systems

(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)