So far, I’ve established that there is at least one kind of writing on Andala. Tani just so happens to be her village’s teacher. As Marie describes the experience of learning alongside Tani’s little sister:
Aia let me play with her writing squares, which I found more intricately detailed than I imagined.
“ra” she said as I picked one up, and “ni” as I pointed to another.
“Spell my name, Aia. Spell Marie.”
Little Aia grabbed two squares and righted them, then read them out to me. “Ai-a!” She said with pride.
“Oh, okay, well done.” In just that moment, she had taught me these weren’t letters but sounds. Each square was a syllable. Or at least what the Ana considered one to be. I figured she’d need another pair for me. “Now spell my name, Ma-Ree, Marie!”
She grabbed three more squares, and slid them around the first half of her name.
“No. That can’t be it.”
Aia grabbed my finger and brought it down the line she’d made. Reading aloud, “ta-kai-yeen”.
“Ah, I should have guessed!”
That’s a syllabary. A writing system similar to an alphabet, but with more symbols as it chooses the next larger unit for its sounds. The Ana use the Azu script, developed by their neighbours for themselves. Anatara is a little awkward when put into written words, as it doesn’t work quite the same way as Azu; a clumsiness Marie hints at above. Nothing quite as bad, I imagine, as the English language’s maddening flights from all reason in the Roman writing you and I share here; but not quite as clean as the Azu’s own tongue for which it evolved.
Speaking of which, I’ve found myself questioning my assumptions given where I’ve just been. So writes Jared Diamond:
To us today, it is tempting to ask why societies with early writing systems accepted the ambiguities that restricted writing to a few functions and a few scribes. But even to pose that question is to illustrate the gap between ancient perspectives and our own expectations of mass literacy. The intended restricted uses of early writing provided a positive disincentive for devising less ambiguous writing systems. The kings and priests of ancient Sumer wanted writing to be used by professional scribes to record numbers of sheep owed in taxes, not by the masses to write poetry and hatch plots. As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss put it, ancient writing’s main function was “to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings.” Personal uses of writing by nonprofessionals came only much later, as writing systems grew simpler and more expressive.
Guns, Germs and Steel, p.235
Sumerian cuneiform was indeed born a dirty mess. Writing, the handful of times we invented it from scratch here on Earth, was not a thunderbolt of inspiration, fully formed in one shot. It evolved. I knew this, but I overlooked it in the interest of clean and shiny simplicity and design. That’s what happens when you read more about Sumerian than you read the stuff for yourself, with the old master as a guide.
You can either invent writing the long and messy way, for yourself, or you can steal it. Actually, it’s not always just that. Sometimes, if you hear someone else has a way to scribble down their language, you rush to its conclusion and invent your own way. Diamond describes this as carbon copying versus diffusion. A good example of the latter is Cherokee. Its inventor, an ingenious fellow by the name of Sequoyah, borrowed some printed English that he couldn’t read, and devised his own syllabary around symbols from our alphabet. He didn’t invent writing, but he didn’t just copy the Romans as we did, either. He didn’t know that the characters he saw worked the way they did as he invented his alternate system, closer to the what the Minoans used than us. Funny what’s possible, when you know it can be done.
Perhaps Andala’s true first writing is dead and buried come Marie’s day. And so the Azu script is a descendant, more like Sequoyah’s, created anew without the telltale cruft?
The Andala that I’m writing, come the time of our discovery, is one in transition from illiteracy into its modern age. We weren’t a necessary trigger, but happened to arrive coincidentally to see it. Or the way it could have been.
I’m not about to kluge up the pretty little writing system I’ve long had squiggling through my mind in the interest of looking the original. Not yet. But this research is leading me to consider the whole geography and history of Andala in new light. The Azu are my world’s oldest people, its first empire and the most populous. Azuya, their continent along with the Ana, is clearly my Old World. What went on there, long before Proteus showed up? And what have I already created, in my unwitting assumptions, that could well be for the better in any case? This is what I’m working on. While I can.