03 May 2008

"There is no Safety but by Flight" in points, lines and shapes

John Wilkins was a guy who worried about the stability of language -- its orthography, its pronunciation. In 1668, he designed an a priori universal language which tied both spelling and speech to a taxonomy of ideas, building upon his earlier work in secret writing systems, begun in 1641's Mercury, or, the Secret and Swift Messenger.

I would argue his concern over stabilizing language was less real than strategic -- a way of getting his work known amongst the aristocratic intellectuals of his day, who were increasingly obsessed with purifying the "national tongue." Regardless, he thought about it. A lot. I've been exploring his work for about a year now, and continue to unearth the most delightful, curious and inventive ideas about the relationship between sound and image in alphabetic writing systems. This morning I found another gem in Mercury: Wilkins's translation of the statement "There is no Safety but by Flight" into systems of writing using points, lines, shapes, and a mix of all three.

(A scan of Mercury in its entirety can be found here.)

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