Dashing off a Letter

Episode 151 March 12, 2024 00:12:31
Dashing off a Letter
Localization Today
Dashing off a Letter

Mar 12 2024 | 00:12:31


Hosted By

Marjolein Groot Nibbelink Nico Palomo Eddie Arrieta

Show Notes

Dwindling numbers of people in the Western world write in cursive. Using his own signature as an example, Tim Brookes makes the case for this flowing, letter-to-letter writing to enable speed, comfort, and even grace.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Speaker A: This is localization today, a podcast from multilingual media covering the most relevant daily news in the language industry. [00:00:15] Speaker B: Dashing off a letter by Tim Brooks you may not know this, my linguistic friends, but we're undergoing a linguistic train wreck. Are, I mean that more literally than you might think. [00:00:27] Speaker C: You know how when a train derails. [00:00:29] Speaker B: At speed, the carriages or cars remain coupled for an instant, losing their clean. [00:00:34] Speaker C: Straight ahead line and concertinaring and zigzagging. [00:00:37] Speaker B: Against each other before breaking into smaller groups? [00:00:40] Speaker C: That's the image I have in mind. [00:00:42] Speaker B: Linguistically, every day, all over the Latinosphere. [00:00:45] Speaker C: Regions using the Latin Alphabet. It's a train wreck, not of spoken. [00:00:50] Speaker B: Language, but of writing. [00:00:51] Speaker C: And it's happening because we're at a specific point in the history of writing. [00:00:56] Speaker B: And especially of cursive writing. Here's the strange thing about cursive. Most scripts don't use it, that flowing. [00:01:03] Speaker C: Letter to letter line that those of. [00:01:05] Speaker B: My generation were taught, often with threats, in elementary school. Most cultures don't do that. [00:01:11] Speaker C: Their writing consists of individual letters without. [00:01:14] Speaker B: Ligatures, as if letters were, say, numbers. [00:01:17] Speaker C: And the reason I bring up this. [00:01:18] Speaker B: Point in history is, of course, because. [00:01:21] Speaker C: Dwindling numbers in the western world write incursive. Most people under 30 essentially print their letters. [00:01:28] Speaker B: Even those who, like me, were taught cursive. [00:01:31] Speaker C: No longer use formal cursive for every. [00:01:33] Speaker B: Kind of writing all the time. The question is, what happens when you want to write quickly? If you're in a hurry printing out individual letters, noncursive letters without connecting ligatures gets clumsy. [00:01:47] Speaker C: Cursive makes more sense. [00:01:48] Speaker B: The faster you try to write, the. [00:01:50] Speaker C: Less sense it makes to lift the. [00:01:52] Speaker B: Pen, to interrupt that lateral rush across the page. But if you never learned cursive script. [00:01:58] Speaker C: And you try to write quickly in. [00:01:59] Speaker B: An involuntary cursive, what back in elementary. [00:02:02] Speaker C: School we called joined upwriting. [00:02:04] Speaker B: The result is that train wreck. Thus I offer you two little words. [00:02:09] Speaker C: That illustrate the non cursive cursive crisis. [00:02:12] Speaker B: The downfall of writing as a hasty manual act. [00:02:15] Speaker C: Here's the context. Every time I sell a copy of. [00:02:18] Speaker B: One of my books, I sign it. [00:02:20] Speaker C: Before I get to my signature, though in most cases I write an apparently. [00:02:24] Speaker B: Simple two word phrase, best wishes. Trust me, when I open the front cover of the book to sign it, that sentiment is genuine. [00:02:33] Speaker C: I have not sold enough books in. [00:02:35] Speaker B: My life to take a single sale for granted. [00:02:38] Speaker C: So as my hand heads towards the. [00:02:40] Speaker B: Page, I have the best intention of. [00:02:42] Speaker C: Showing the buyer how grateful I am, by the way, that I write this dedication on the title page. [00:02:47] Speaker B: Immediately, though, something weird, and I think important, happens to those good intentions and. [00:02:53] Speaker C: To my hand, I almost never continue. [00:02:55] Speaker B: In that calm, intentional spirit of gratitude. Instead, my mind is seized with this. [00:03:01] Speaker C: Irrational and baseless belief that I can. [00:03:03] Speaker B: Sign those two words. That is, I can write those two. [00:03:07] Speaker C: Words as fluently as and as rapidly. [00:03:09] Speaker B: As I sign my signature, as if the whole thing, greeting and signature, could be just a single flourish. At first, it seems possible the initial B is big, bold, and declarative. It's the headline, the marquee, and easy to form of a unit. I feel no obligation to make it. [00:03:27] Speaker C: Connect to whatever comes next. Consequently, it's often the only decipherable letter. [00:03:32] Speaker B: In the entire phrase. [00:03:34] Speaker C: Next is also something I form with. [00:03:36] Speaker B: Relish, the E, but in my case a Greek e. I love that letter, partly because it's somewhat unusual and partly. [00:03:44] Speaker C: Because I adopted it in high school. It stands alone, retro on a millennial scale, having never been a part of angloamerican cursive. That's one reason why cursive began to decline roughly half a century ago. [00:03:57] Speaker B: The attraction of cursive writing is that it creates such a lovely musical impression. The individual letters, though, get subsumed into that impression. Once we lose the ligatures, the individual. [00:04:09] Speaker C: Letters acquire their own particular shapes and statures. Maybe this change we're seeing from unified. [00:04:14] Speaker B: To individual letters is part of a broader social change, a desire to stand. [00:04:19] Speaker C: Out rather than to make an impression. [00:04:21] Speaker B: More humbly as part of a crowd. The trouble is, precisely because the greek. [00:04:26] Speaker C: E is not a cursive letter, this is the first tremor in the motion. [00:04:30] Speaker B: That indicates the coming train wreck. It doesn't join to the B before it. [00:04:34] Speaker C: And it's not like the standard loopy. [00:04:36] Speaker B: That, like a slinky, can be repeated countless times without the pen leaving the page. Oh. Conversely, the greek E middle arm is. [00:04:45] Speaker C: A nice, inviting horizontal, moving from left. [00:04:48] Speaker B: To right, ready for the next letter, a natural, artificial ligature to the s. [00:04:53] Speaker C: The only problem with that is I'm. [00:04:55] Speaker B: Already getting impatient, wanting to move on. [00:04:57] Speaker C: To the next letter. Consequently, S's last curve just dives down and makes a half hearted attempt to recurve before shooting up toward the top. [00:05:06] Speaker B: Of the T. The T likewise has its agenda, and I have my agenda. The downward stroke is fine, except that. [00:05:14] Speaker C: Already I'm thinking I have to get up to the horizontal stroke. And so, instead of completing a nice. [00:05:19] Speaker B: Hockey stick shaped curve, the bottom of. [00:05:21] Speaker C: The t is truncated and shoots up to the midpoint prematurely, leaving something that. [00:05:26] Speaker B: Looks like a badly formed f. Then. [00:05:28] Speaker C: We come to the space between the. [00:05:30] Speaker B: Two words, the negative white space that will paradoxically unite best with wishes. In the act of writing, the space is not only a relief but also. [00:05:40] Speaker C: An opportunity to reset. So I begin the W at exactly. [00:05:44] Speaker B: The right height, technically the x height. [00:05:47] Speaker C: Based on the admittedly erratic letters of best. [00:05:50] Speaker B: The first letter is once again the best part of the word, though in. [00:05:54] Speaker C: This case my haste is already catching up with me. And the second descending loop of the W is not the same depth as. [00:06:01] Speaker B: The first, bracing itself for the leap up and across to the start of the I. And here I find myself remembering my father signing a check in his cooperative. [00:06:10] Speaker C: Savings bank book half a century ago. My father's handwriting was emphatic and expressive. [00:06:16] Speaker B: And, unlike my mother's, had no investment. [00:06:18] Speaker C: Or interest in coherence or consistency. He wrote in a series of twists. [00:06:23] Speaker B: And flicks, letter clusters, word fragments that each had its own connective logic but. [00:06:28] Speaker C: Bore only a neighborly relationship to the. [00:06:31] Speaker B: Rest of the word. [00:06:32] Speaker C: I remember him writing the connected double. [00:06:34] Speaker B: O of Brooks, the two o's height inconsistent, then pausing a fraction, the pen leaving the page before moving to the k, which he gave its full graphic. [00:06:43] Speaker C: Value by not connecting it to the. [00:06:45] Speaker B: Letter on either side, and then the final es, a closure, a caboose. [00:06:51] Speaker C: We don't seem to have english terms that describe this process, or these fascinating. [00:06:55] Speaker B: Little letter clusters or verbal subunits. Scribe beams. We all use them, but nobody notices. [00:07:03] Speaker C: Nor do we have eager graduate students going after naughty essay questions like is writing fundamentally continuous or discontinuous? [00:07:11] Speaker B: Writing consists of symbols, and a symbol may be clear, distinctive, and delightful and. [00:07:16] Speaker C: Yet unfriendly to the hand and at best on nodding terms with its neighbors. It's increasingly common, as the world's typographers create fonts that look great but don't join up. [00:07:27] Speaker B: Back at the page, the top of. [00:07:28] Speaker C: The w swings over to the I. [00:07:30] Speaker B: And then things collapse. The eye comes down. But if it were a cursive eye, it would come down, swoop around, and. [00:07:38] Speaker C: Head up to the top of the. [00:07:39] Speaker B: S. All would be well. Instead, in my hands, this linkage is a mess. The eye comes down, but then where does it go? [00:07:47] Speaker C: It has to go up and dot itself, as if grabbing the wallet it. [00:07:51] Speaker B: Left on the kitchen counter. The S starts with a dot above. [00:07:55] Speaker C: The I and heads off in the. [00:07:56] Speaker B: Right direction, but then everything crumbles like a badly damaged pretzel. [00:08:00] Speaker C: The pen abandons the s and pants. [00:08:03] Speaker B: Uphill to start the h. Here, at least, we have a possible downstroke. The problem comes afterward, where the line. [00:08:10] Speaker C: Should retrace its steps back upwards for. [00:08:12] Speaker B: A little while and then curve over to the right. [00:08:15] Speaker C: But there's no retracing if you're in a hurry. [00:08:18] Speaker B: Instead, what happens? [00:08:20] Speaker C: It comes down and then loops around. [00:08:22] Speaker B: And shoots up again, more like a B. [00:08:24] Speaker C: And already my hand is trying to. [00:08:26] Speaker B: Sprint to the finish to kill this thing off. But again, a greek e is not a cursive letter. Nothing for it. We have to leave the page, leave that ghastly four letter carnage for dead. [00:08:37] Speaker C: And at least come up with something. [00:08:39] Speaker B: For the E and the S. At first, there is just the possibility of grace. [00:08:43] Speaker C: Because the C curve of the greek. [00:08:45] Speaker B: E is a lovely swoosh, full of. [00:08:47] Speaker C: Acceleration and play, married perfectly to the. [00:08:50] Speaker B: Turn of wrist and elbow. [00:08:52] Speaker C: And the horizontal starts on the left with a flourish. And curves up towards the s. As. [00:08:57] Speaker B: If to say, yes, we can be distinct letters, but we can still also unite. We can join hands. There will be a dance. [00:09:04] Speaker C: There will be grace. [00:09:06] Speaker B: But again, the S is a problem. A letter utterly inimical to haste. [00:09:10] Speaker C: It is unsafe to operate an S at speed. [00:09:13] Speaker B: Its hairpin curves demand attentive driving. And worst of all, the S is a lousy final letter. [00:09:20] Speaker C: It essentially turns itself inside out and. [00:09:22] Speaker B: Then heads backwards like an in growing toenail. It's a design flaw. [00:09:27] Speaker C: How can you end a word with a letter whose final motion is backwards and inwards? In the mongolian script, every letter has a distinct form. For when it appears at the end of the word. A form much more elaborate and final than the form it adopts when it. [00:09:41] Speaker B: Sits in the middle of the word. [00:09:43] Speaker C: Mongolian finals are the conception of a calligraphic culture. [00:09:47] Speaker B: Everyone swooping left or right, signing off. [00:09:50] Speaker C: Turning each word into a wrought and. [00:09:52] Speaker B: Finished filigree of script. In short, what I write is a. [00:09:56] Speaker C: Demonstration of anything but best wishes. It's a demonstration of confusion and conflict, of haste and momentary demonstrations of the desire for beauty. [00:10:05] Speaker B: That are pulled apart like a great. [00:10:07] Speaker C: Jungle cat running through a fawn. [00:10:09] Speaker B: Boosh. [00:10:09] Speaker C: And the reason why the end of. [00:10:11] Speaker B: Best wishes is such a catastrophe. [00:10:13] Speaker C: Is that instinctively I know I'm heading for the one part of this exercise. [00:10:17] Speaker B: That I know how to do well. [00:10:19] Speaker C: Which is the signature. A signature is a fascinating piece of writing. It's the only piece of writing most. [00:10:25] Speaker B: Of us practice by hand, perhaps even on a daily basis, until it's laid down in our muscle memory like a carpet. Moreover, it doesn't matter if nobody can read it. [00:10:35] Speaker C: A signature has nothing to do with clarity or even with the constituent symbols. [00:10:40] Speaker B: Of one's script, a signature is built. [00:10:42] Speaker C: For comfort and speed. [00:10:44] Speaker B: I'm proud of my signature. [00:10:46] Speaker C: It fits within the flexible bounds of what we view as signatures, and it's like nobody else's. At least the t is strong and clear and proud. The rest a series of obedient and. [00:10:56] Speaker B: Faithful echoes, like the train of a wedding dress on a windy day. [00:11:01] Speaker C: For somebody who believes so strongly in. [00:11:03] Speaker B: The importance of handwriting and in writing as a manual art, I'm ashamed of my own writing. [00:11:09] Speaker C: There are times when I take the. [00:11:10] Speaker B: Calligraphy pen and work a graceful, clear. [00:11:13] Speaker C: Word or a letter. There are times I use the calligraphy pen to write an address on an outgoing package. The only problem is that the more pleased I am with my calligraphic handwriting. [00:11:23] Speaker B: The more likely Alyssa, the counter clerk, is to say, what's that word here? And is that a six or an eight? [00:11:30] Speaker C: Writing is the creation of specialists and leisure. It is in harmonious with haste and mechanization. [00:11:37] Speaker B: It's hardly surprising, then, that we've invented. [00:11:40] Speaker C: Devices that allow my daughter's generation to. [00:11:42] Speaker B: Write at superhuman speed with their thumbs. [00:11:47] Speaker C: This article was written by Tim Brooks, the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project. [00:11:52] Speaker B: And author of Endangered Alphabets. His current project is to create a. [00:11:57] Speaker C: Red list of the world's writing systems, identifying every script currently at use in. [00:12:02] Speaker B: The world and assessing its degree of health or vulnerability. Originally published in multilingual magazine, issue 225, March 7, 2024. [00:12:14] Speaker A: Thank you for listening to localization today. To subscribe to multilingual magazine, go to multilingual.com. Subscribe.

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