By Cory Doctorow at 6:00 am Thu, Jan 5, 2012
Omniglot is an intimidatingly complete site devoted to cataloging every writing system that ever existed. As JoshP says, "If you ever need to transliterate Punic... this is the place."
Omniglot - the guide to languages, alphabets and other writing systems
And the perfect place to find out how to pronounce “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
Great site. The blog has a recurring game where he posts a sound clip in a random language and a bunch of people are all like “well the lack of velar aspiration tells me its NOT dravidian” and you will feel really dumb.
The most complete and academically vetted modern work on writing systems would still be Peter T. Daniels’ “The World’s Writing Systems.” Not totally error-free but pretty darn impressive. Rather expensive but probably available at a (university) library near you.
Edit: forgot to mention, this is the very man that coined the terms “abjad” and “abugida” (two types of scripts).
I got that book at a steep discount during one of OUP’s sales, but after getting my hands on it I think I would have paid full price for it eventually if there was no other way. It’s a magnificent (and beautiful) book for anyone who has a deep interest in orthography.
I believe that it’s often used as a source on Omniglot. The site is not as academic, but it is more comprehensive than the Daniels book. Omniglot tries to list the writing system of each language, even if they are very similar, so you will have an entry for each Slavic language for example. Since it’s a website there is no need to streamline.
Over the years Omniglot has grown and improved in accuracy (because the owner wants your info, at least according to the last time I emailed him), and it’s very well-known among the linguist/conlanger internet set.
Agreed. One thing I’d add is that this site, like many resources published by self-described polyglots, suffers a bit from the “Jack of all trades, master of none” phenomenon. While it is generally useful, there are several outright mistakes and minor but important omissions in the entries about (the few) languages and scripts that I have an intimate knowledge of. So don’t cite it without double-checking. (Same goes for Daniels’ book, but to a much lesser degree since he relied on “correspondents,” i.e. experts for a certain language or script to assemble his book.)
But don’t let that keep you from browsing the site; it’s great fun and immensely informative!
Peter T. Daniels’ “The World’s Writing Systems.”— http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Daniels%2C+Peter+T.%22
Yea, good luck trying to translate Akkadian (logographic) or even Ugaritic (actual alphabet) without knowing the grammar and verb morphology. Akkadian is bad enough but throw in the Sumarian LW that you see in a lot of contracts and the hairiness level rises to another level. Plus, trying to decipher old Babylonian cursive cuneiform is like attempting to read your doctors handwriting that he wrote while drunk and tripping on acid.
Well, they said “transliterate” which may be more feasible for a bunch of cuneiform scripts (I have no idea though).
Wouldn’t work for, say, Japanese though where there are too many ambiguities to transliterate a text if you don’t know the language.
If they can translate the Codex Seraphinianus, I will bequeath them my life’s savings.
This really is a great site; I’ve used it repeatedly over the years to check out this or that, and was on it only a couple days ago. My son was wondering what one of the fonts in his TuxPaint program was for, and within a couple minutes on Omniglot I was able to match up the letter forms and identify it as components of Tibetan, a syllabic alphabet. (Of course we ended up poking around to compare the Tengwar with Tibetan and other scripts such as Georgian to see where Tolkein may have gotten some of the different letter-forms from.)
Am a fan of Tifinagh, the orthography of Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg. It’s an ancient orthography (as old as Phoenician, something like 2300 years old, I gather), and it has this very rational, austere geometry to it:
Originally I was simply interested in finding out more about the background and culture of Tinariwen, a few years ago, when I first saw Tifinagh. Beautiful.
OMG. I was literally JUST reading OminGlot last night, to find out what the heck the writing was in the wedding scene from the film Days of Heaven. And there it is. Blackfoot!
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