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The Annex of Universal Languages

Contributed by Edgar Walthert on May 8th, 2019. Artwork published in
April 2019
.
    The Annex of Universal Languages 1
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Welcome to The Palace of Typographic Masonry, somewhere between the Departments of Sign and Symbol, in ‘The Annex of Universal Languages’. Here you will find a small display of attempts to design a visual language that can be universally read, from ideographic systems to all-connecting lingua franca, from utopian alphabets to iconic sign languages.

    According to the Bible, the multitude of human languages is a curse. Since the Tower of Babel, there has been division in the world, which led to disagreement, conflicts and war. The language barrier is a sign of human imperfection. To keep man humble, God created scattering. But man did not accept this: for almost 2,000 years, people have tried to undo this curse. If a perfect language, which everyone can understand is invented, perhaps nothing stands in the way of world peace.

    Up to the 18th century people searched for a universal language primarily in the past, trying to find the language that Adam spoke, such as Francis van Helmont’s ‘Alphabet of Nature’. Since the Enlightenment people searched for that language by looking into the future. A universal language was not meant to arise from an early language form, but could be constructed as an artefact of the human genius. This motivation, for instance, led Charles K. Bliss to make it his life’s work.

    Modernism created a stream of rationalized pictogram systems, designed primarily by men with an obsession with the grid. In the digital age, more playful approaches followed, like the expanding symbol language of emojis. Edgar Walthert, the curator of this ‘Annex of Universal Languages’, collected these sources, the result of a deep enthusiasm for visual languages. This personal interest became more public with the release of Logical, a font that contains a rich set of pictograms that can automatically replace words.

    The unattainable ideal of the perfect universal language turns out to be primarily a catalyst for even newer forms with which the diversity and richness of the existing patchwork of imperfect languages only grows: that may not be a curse but a blessing.

    Richard Niessen

    01 Lingua Igonota by Hildegard von Bingen, sample uses Litterae Ignotae, digitised by WurdBendur.

02 Utopian Alphabet by Thomas More, sample uses XY-Utopian, a part of the Kanji Stroke Order font by Timothy Eyre.
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.

    01 Lingua Igonota by Hildegard von Bingen, sample uses Litterae Ignotae, digitised by WurdBendur.

    02 Utopian Alphabet by Thomas More, sample uses XY-Utopian, a part of the Kanji Stroke Order font by Timothy Eyre.

    01 Lingua Igonota by Hildegard von Bingen, sample uses Litterae Ignotae, digitised by WurdBendur.

02 Utopian Alphabet by Thomas More, sample uses XY-Utopian, a part of the Kanji Stroke Order font by Timothy Eyre.
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.

    09 Semantography by Charles K. Bliss, sample uses Blissymbolics by Accipiter Media.

    11 International SignWriting by Valerie Sutton, sample uses SignWriting by Steven E Slevinski Jr.

    17 Emoji by Shigetaka Kurita, sample uses EmojiOne – meanwhile known as JoyPixels.

    01 Lingua Igonota by Hildegard von Bingen, sample uses Litterae Ignotae, digitised by WurdBendur.

02 Utopian Alphabet by Thomas More, sample uses XY-Utopian, a part of the Kanji Stroke Order font by Timothy Eyre.
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.

    The backside of the poster is mapping a selection of the most basic symbols to their different meanings. This unveils the fact, that most of these universal symbols are biased towards their creators’ social and historical background.

    The Annex of Universal Languages 5
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.
    The Annex of Universal Languages 6
    Photo: Edgar Walthert. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Typefaces

    • Logical
    • Litterae Ignotae
    • ZX-Utopian
    • Blissymbolics
    • SingWriting 2010
    • EmojiOne

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    Designers/Agencies

    Artwork location

    2 Comments on “The Annex of Universal Languages

    1. May 11th, 2019  9:33 pm

      This looks great, Edgar! Can this publication be purchased? We’d love to have it in the collection at Letterform Archive.

    2. Jul 2nd, 2019  7:47 pm

      Dear Stephen Coles, thanks for your interest, I feel honoured and sorry for my late response.

      The publication can be ordered at info(a)palaceoftypographicmasonry.nl for € 7,50

      I will be in San Francisco from 13.-16. August, maybe I can visit the Letterform Archive and bring one with me?

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