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orion-list Orion-list: Yadi (5 screens)
Content is important in that it determines format, size, and script,
but of peripheral importance when examining the writing system itself.
We are looking at the writing system, not the content. (Although this
is most certainly is not "polished" prose, I am going to copyright it
so people can cite it, if they want to...)
Limit Systems and the Phoenician/Paleo-Hebraic Writing System
(c) R.I.S. Altman, August 1999
Limit systems are the framework, the structural skeleton, of a writing
system. They are designed to distinguish semantic units and follow
naturally from the decision to concatenate graphic symbols to create
clusters of expressions. No matter the direction of writing (horizontally,
vertically, left-to-right, right-to-left), all writing systems assign limits.
The outer framework of Western writing systems consists of two horizontal
lines: an upper and a lower limit. This structural foundation confines the
writing zone (the area where the graphic symbols are placed) to two possible
1) A central area with vertical and horizontal movement
within the zone,
2) an entirely filled zone.
Bilinear limit systems FILL the entire space between the upper and lower
limits (Fig. 1a) (Our modern capitals use bilinear limits.) As the symbols
fill the entire space, bilinear limits are necessarily _static_. The main
purpose of a bilinear limit system is to confine and constrain the written
word. Such limit systems intentionally "freeze" the words into an unchanging
form to preserve the magical power of the word and to control people and
things. (Naming is a means of control.) Bilinear limit systems are preferred
by magical-mystical oriented societies. The Egyptian writing system was
totally bilinear. Formal documents in Etruscan, Offical Roman Imperial, and
Offical Neo-Babylonian also used bilinear limits.
Trilinear limits are _dynamic_; the words are written WITHIN the two limits.
Such systems have a central writing zone with three positions: outer upper
limit, upper limit of the central zone, and outer lower limit (Fig. 1b).
This permits the symbols to move up and down and from side to side in
imitation of the rhythms of speech. Speech itself is dynamic; duration,
stress, and phone (quality) change as words are vocalized. The main purpose
of trilinear systems is to record speech - words as-spoken. (Modern Western
limits are quattrolinear, which is merely trilinear limits moved downwards
to accommodate ascenders (the "high" part of symbols such as b, d, l). In
quattrolinear limit systems the symbols are written BETWEEN the four lines.)
Upper ___________________ ___________________
------------------- } Central
___________________ ___________________ } Zone
Fig. 1: (a) Bilinear Limits (b) Trilinear Limits
In trilinear systems, the symbols hang from the two upper limits. The
amount of vertical movement is constrained by the proportion of the
central zone to the upper and lower limits. These limit systems allow
symbols to move around within the limits.
A minimum of three levels of stress notation are necessary to record
speech: average (or normal) stress, medial (or secondary) stress, and
primary stress. Durational notation, that is, the length of time a sound
should be held, is recorded by the amount of movement from side-to-side,
that is, expansions and contractions of the space between graphic forms.
(This accounts for the seemingly odd clumping and spacing of words in texts
written or carved in trilinear limit systems.)
In the West, we are conditioned to the Roman inscription system, that is,
totally bilinear. As inscriptions from late 6th century BCE, such as those
commissioned by Darius I (Fig.2), are totally bilinear, when confronted by
inscribed documents, such as the Yadi or Meshe stelae, the assumption has
been that these 9th century inscriptions are "primitive" and that the
carvers were still "learning."*
II III XI I<- -IX <II \ <<II <<II III
Fig. 2 The limit system on the Darius inscription from the late 6th BCE
Stelae inscribed in the Phoenician system are hardly primitive: even if
the Yadi stele had not been commissioned by a king, we merely need look
at the very carefully carved _round_ point word dividers to know this.
The Phoenician-Paleo-Hebraic writing systems use a _different_ writing
The examples in the box on the scan are for orientation purposes. The
first example isolates the three 'aleph' phone graphs<1>. Please note that
the graphs all have the same basis, but are actually quite different. The
first symbol, the tilted aleph with a "standard" minim (the leg) running
from the outer limit to the upper edge of the central zone, is the "standard"
'aleph'. The middle graph, (which is dropped down for stress notation) has
an upright minim and the legs of the "lobe" (the round part of an 'a' or 'b'
in "Latin" symbols) are close together. The third 'aleph' is short, somewhat
rounded (quite rounded in cursive) and, unlike the other two forms, the
"lobe" is almost nonexistant while the legs are clearly delineated.
Example 2 shows two "standard" alephs (line 9) with a point word divider
between them. The leg on the right-hand 'aleph' has been extended all
the way down to the lower limit - indicating primary stress.
Example 3 shows an unstressed standard aleph and a stressed 2nd form.
Example 4, from line 10, directly under Kilamu's feet, gives a clear
example of stress notation.
If we now look at the stele commissioned by Kilamu King of Yadi<2>, we
can see the Phoenician trilinear limit system in action. The majority of
the symbols hang from the outer upper limit - which is to be expected:
normal stress predominates in most stress languages. Look carefully, and
we can see that, even in line 1 where the outer limit is not inscribed,
the carved symbols vary in the amount of "drop" from an imaginery outer
limit. This type of "drop," movement up and down from the outer upper
limit, can be seen on every line of the stele. We can also see that the
amount of kerning (the space between symbols) varies as well. Again, this
is to be expected, as someone "orating" does not speak in evenly spaced
utterances, (unless he or she wishes to put people to sleep). Durational
variation shows in the clumping and spacing of the letter symbols and
occurs on every line.
The above statements may be verified for him or herself by anybody who
wishes simply by following the guidelines given and examining the Yadi
stele. The writing system used on the Yadi stele is the same one used in
the Paleo-Hebraic texts from Qumran. The trilinear limit system, including
numerous variant forms, is also used in the texts written in Square Aramaic.
<1> There are also variant forms of 'heh', 'vav', etc.
<2> The scan of "The Stele of Kilamu King of Yadi" is Fig. 45, on page
55 in the English version of Naveh's _Introduction_ (on the bibliography).
It was chosen for two reasons: 1) it is quite clear, and (2) Naveh's
book should be available in large Public libraries so that people can
look at the illustration (and hopefully read the text <G>) for themselves.
* If there be someone who thinks that an inscription carver would be
careless on a royal stele, please contact me: I have this bridge for sale.
Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L firstname.lastname@example.org
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