(Roughly) Daily

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*…

 

A crescent-shaped, wooden neck ornament from Easter Island made some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. The artifact, decorated with two bearded male heads on either end, contains a line of rongorongo glyphs along its bottom edge. Courtesy: British Museum

Of all the literatures in the world, the smallest and most enigmatic belongs without question to the people of Easter Island. It is written in a script—rongorongo—that no one can decipher. Experts cannot even agree whether it is an alphabet, a syllabary, a mnemonic, or a rebus. Its entire corpus consists of two dozen texts. The longest, consisting of a few thousand signs, winds its way around a magnificent ceremonial staff. The shortest texts—if they can even be called that—consist of barely more than a single sign. One took the form of a tattoo on a man’s back. Another was carved onto a human skull…

Rongorongo is the only script native to the Pacific. Like so much else, it makes Easter Island unique….  Where did the rongorongo script come from? What do its texts communicate?…

The full, fascinating story at “Language at the End of the World.”

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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As we dedicate ourselves to de-cyphering, we might spare a thought for Edward Sapir; he died on this date in 1939.  One of the foremost anthropologists and linguists of his time, Sapir was a founder of ethnolinguistics– the consideration of  the relationship of culture to language– and he was a principal developer of the American (descriptive) school of structural linguistics.  Even more than the specifics of the cultures he studied, Sapir was interested in the more abstract connections between personality, linguistic expression, and socially-determined behavior.

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