anybody recognize this alphabet?
May 13, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

anyone familiar with the language/alphabet used in this WWII-era document from western China? my best guess is something related to the Yi language, but that could (of course) be totally wrong.
posted by garfy3 to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It IS the yi language.

Check out this signpost.

Notice the first symbol (from the left) on the 2nd signpost from the bottom.
Got it?

Now check out your document. 5th line from top, 2nd symbol from left. SAME THING.

I believe that is something like "mountain".

Hope I helped.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:47 PM on May 13, 2008

I think I'm secoding hal on this, but I don't know the name immediately. Basically it's one of the precursors to han Chinese.

Now that the name han came out yi sounds right.
posted by cmoj at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2008

Definitely looks like Yi, apparently AKA Lolo. (BTW, the Yi languages are Tibeto-Burman, and so only distantly related to Chinese, and not an ancestor of modern Chinese.)
posted by The Tensor at 4:30 PM on May 13, 2008

Yes, it's Yi. Look in a Unicode font from position A000 onward (you've got a Mac, right? Check the Character Palette under Edit > Special Characters...) and you'll find those characters. Obviously the handwritten nature of your document makes it somewhat different from the font, but perhaps the easiest character for you to visually ID is this one: ꎂ
posted by mumkin at 4:36 PM on May 13, 2008

Response by poster: damn, you guys are good. checking on the Mac unicode font now. thanks!
posted by garfy3 at 4:41 PM on May 13, 2008

Boy am I glad I bring my Chinese linguistics book to work...

Yes. John Defrancis includes an example of Yi writing in The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. The caption reads, "A syllabary standardized in 1975 from the thousands of centuries-old symbols used by the Yi or Lolo nationality in Southwest China."

(well, that and the samples look similar, but I hate saying languages are the same because they look similar. I mean, modern Vietnamese "looks" like French...)
posted by reebear at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2008

Agree with everyone it looks Yi. I used to work in Yi communities and all the government signs would be written in it and I even bought some kids first picture books, though I understand the modern alphabet is a post-1949 creation based on a script originally used almost exclusively for ritual purposes by shamans called bimou (scroll down a bit), which means a person who can read.
posted by Abiezer at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2008

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