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Before I jump headlong into constructing a language, I'd like to do some research and see what others have done before me and learn from their experiences/mistakes. The keywords I'm currently using are sub-optimal, so I need help tightening them up.

The "communication method" I am thinking of:

  • is purely for reading and writing
  • has no need to be spoken and is thus not based upon letters/phonemes
  • uses symbols to represent concepts
  • each symbol/concept corresponds to something like an English word or sentence (e.g. 'a cat', 'the sound made by flying bees', 'the feeling that results from being beaten by a lesser foe', 'move quickly', 'why?')
  • symbols are arranged relative to each other (in 2D space) to communicate more complex concepts and provide context
  • symbols are highly domain-specific and exclusive — mining, carpentry, fishing, etc. would have exclusive symbols that only have meaning in their contexts
  • is not meant to be signed, hummed, whistled, grunted, tapped or transmitted in any other way except for being printed on, and read from, a two-dimensional surface
  • is not based on any existing language
  • would permit deaf people, and people with no common language, to collaborate on very specific tasks

Wikipedia defines pasigraphy as 'a writing system where each written symbol represents a concept (rather than a word or sound or series of sounds in a spoken language)' but also defines a writing system as "any conventional method of visually representing verbal communication". That seems a bit contradictory and confusing.

What are some good/accurate keywords that describe this 'thing' I am trying to develop?

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I think you're overthinking this a little. While what you're considering is unusual, I can't see any reason why it wouldn't just be a written language in a logographic script.

  • is purely for reading and writing
  • has no need to be spoken and is thus not based upon letters/phonemes
  • is not meant to be signed, hummed, whistled, grunted, tapped or transmitted in any other way except for being printed on, and read from, a two-dimensional surface

It has no need to be, sure. But if humans or human-like beings are there they would most likely develop an oral way of "reading" it eventually.

  • uses symbols to represent concepts
  • each symbol/concept corresponds to something like an English word or sentence (e.g. 'a cat', 'the sound made by flying bees', 'the feeling that results from being beaten by a lesser foe', 'move quickly', 'why?')
  • symbols are highly domain-specific and exclusive — mining, carpentry, fishing, etc. would have exclusive symbols that only have meaning in their contexts

Sounds like a logographic writing system. Now it's not clear if the symbols for phrases are made up of component symbols for the things they represent or are unique singular symbols. Building symbols from other symbols would make sense, otherwise the number of symbols would grow exponentially.

  • symbols are arranged relative to each other (in 2D space) to communicate more complex concepts and provide context

This is on the surface the biggest difference between your proposal and human languages, which for both spoken and written language are linear.

However consider that some branches of linguistics believe that all language is representable by binary trees alone. If your language has a syntax (and if it doesn't it really couldn't be considered language) then we'd expect that it would be possible to develop a tree-based representation of it, perhaps using multiple levels of deep structure below the surface. And a non-binary tree could be converted to a binary tree.

I just spent some time looking at 2D languages, both conlangs and programming languages, and all the ones I found consisted of linear paths to follow or a tree structure. Conlangger Sai has explained their ideas for a non-linear fully 2D writing system, but they don't give an example of such a writing system. But they do say that their version of non-linearity is distinguished from linear design systems only by inelegance or convolution. I'd take this to mean that actually it is serialisable (and therefore could in theory be spoken) if not by humans then by some being of great intelligence. The essay is worth reading anyway if this topic continues to interest you.

In fact, I believe I can say that it is not possible, short of crippled or very simple specialty cases, to directly convert a linear writing to a non-linear one without either loosing a lot of meaning (NLàL), being extremely inelegant by virtue of failing to take advantage of better design (LàNL), or becoming functionally incomprehensible (e.g. the list format in which an Nth-degree array is stored in the C programming language).

So, what is non-linearity?

At its core, NL has to do with how concepts are arranged, both on physical paper and in their more abstract form. A NL system is a multigraph; its components are, or can be, extremely interconnected. There is no single traversal method, though there may be some conventional ones. There may not be a ‘traversal’ method at all, as such;

  • I'm not concerned if it can be expressed orally — I just want to expressly exclude phonetics from the design process — see what doors a 'clean break' opens up. "logographic writing system" — thanks, I'll investigate that. Yes, building symbols from other symbols is allowed — desirable, even. – Tim May 9 at 12:30
  • @Tim It would be worth looking at the natural language logographic scripts to see what they wrote phonetically. At the very least names would be hard. Maybe your language wouldn't have any true names, but you'd still need a way to distinguish symbols used as an identifier from their normal meanings. – curiousdannii May 9 at 12:36
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    Just finished reading Sai's article — it's a gold-mine! Very dense, though. I'll have to do more research and read it a few more times to fully understand it. Modern logographic systems are too heavily influenced by alphabets/phonetics — they just confuse me with minutae; Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, however, are getting closer to what I had in mind. Personal identifiers are already sorted. Haven't gotten to the point of considering data structures for it yet. – Tim May 9 at 14:17
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    @Tim It's worth noting that that article is quite old now and Sai has gone on to develop a non-linear writing system like you are describing called Unker Non-Linear Writing System. – Mike Nichols May 10 at 20:46
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I have a lot to say on this subject, as I've been working on such a project for 30 years.

The terms vary, but "pasigraphy" is one of the terms, as you mentioned. "Ideographic writing" or "ideography" is another term; and "realle carracter" (various spellings) is a 1600's term. LaVan Martineau claimed that Native American rock-writing was a non-sound-based writing; he used the term "pictography" for this. And don't forget "hieroglyphic writing".

I was initially inspired by Francis Lodwick's (various spellings) A Common Writing..." of 1647. Blissymbols (mentioned above) is one of the more fleshed-out projects; but there are others. John Wilkins' Essay Towards a Real Character... was a classificatory system, similar to the Dewey Decimal System, with abstract symbols assigned to the classifiers. Other projects: Pictopen by Juan Garay, Locos by Yukio Ota, Unideo by Eric Cattelain, Book from the Ground by Bing Xu, IRC (International Realle Carracter) by me.

  • Good stuff! The IRC link from your webpage (paulnew.com/1.html) seems to be broken, unfortunately. – Tim May 22 at 19:01
  • Thanks, Tim. I just updated the broken link. I appreciate you reminding me of that. Let me know if the new link doesn't work. (You may have to download, depending on which browser you use.) -- Paul – Paul L New Jr May 23 at 21:02
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There is such a natural written language. Chinese. One reason that Chinese is not based on pronunciation is that there are a lot of local dialects that sounds very different from the official mandarin. The Chinese characters are pronounced in a certain way in mandardin but totally different in say cantonese.

Complex characters are built from smaller radicals, and make use of 2d arrangements. (Forest = three tree radicals spread out).

Written Chinese fulfills basically all your points, except perhaps that it is based on an existing language (mandardin, but perhaps one might say that mandarin is based on the written language, or that these co-evolved).

  • Chinese is not purely logographic however. Which is fine! It's just not what the OP was after. – curiousdannii May 12 at 13:55
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    I read the very few Chinese words, that I know how to write, in English. There's nothing about them that demands they be pronounced a certain way. Japanese and Korean demonstrate this by having integrated Chinese characters into their writings (with on- and kun- pronunciations). However, Ancient or Classical Chinese would be a closer fit because modern Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese, likely the others as well) have many multi-syllable words that don't make sense when broken down into individual characters. – xiota May 15 at 9:10
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    Each language that has adopted Chinese writing has adapted it for their own purposes as well. It's most obvious with languages that are totally unrelated to Chinese, like Japanese. But it is also seen with Chinese languages, such as Mandarin and Cantonese. These changes are inevitable in any actively used language, written or spoken. Suppose OP's hypothetical writing system exists. If it were adopted for use by real people with different spoken languages and cultures, it would change, much as Chinese has. – xiota May 15 at 9:13
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Perhaps you are looking for Blissymbols. According to Wikipedia:

Blissymbols or Blissymbolics was conceived as an ideographic writing system called Semantography consisting of several hundred basic symbols, each representing a concept, which can be composed together to generate new symbols that represent new concepts. Blissymbols differ from most of the world's major writing systems in that the characters do not correspond at all to the sounds of any spoken language.

Blissymbols was invented by Charles K. Bliss (1897–1985) ... [who] wanted to create an easy-to-learn international auxiliary language to allow communication between different linguistic communities. He was inspired by Chinese characters, with which he became familiar at Shanghai.

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Your "2D" system sounds rather like old-fashioned sentence diagramming or Frege's Begriffschrift, using specific types of connectors for specific relationships. I should think just running out of room to put more words in the correct spatial relationships to express complex ideas would be a problem.

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To add a completely different answer, which certainly is constructed, but might not really be classified as a language as such, but it still conveys meaning in a non-verbal fashion: formulas in mathematics.

Equations, and logical statements can be conveyed in this fashion. I think for example proofs in Euclidean geometry can be presented entirely without English words, and be perfectly understandable by a mathematician. Proofs are "pictorial" (using symbols for rather abstract concepts), and the figures used to present related ideas are 2-dimensional.

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