We tend to be quite alert to glean from the Internet things referring to Nubia and Sudan, Sai Island, our projects. But it seems that some things always escape our attention, even if the agents of the things we’d like to report about are friends and colleagues and could have informed us themselves. This is the case of a book edited by Alex de Voogt and Joachim Friedrich Quack that came out in Brill in 2012 and about which only now we got to know about thanks to Robin Seignobos…
The publication by Brill is titles “The Idea of Writing” and it is described by the publishers as:
an exploration of the versatility of writing systems. This volume, the second in a series, is specifically concerned with the problems and possibilities of adapting a writing system to another language. Writing is studied as it is used across linguistic and cultural borders from ancient Egyptian, Cuneiform and Korean writing to Japanese, Kharosthi and Near Eastern scripts. This collection of articles aims to highlight the complexity of writing systems rather than to provide a first introduction. The different academic traditions in which these writing systems have been studied use linguistic, socio-historical and philological approaches that give complementary insights of the complex phenomena.
The topic could have been of interest per se for Alexandros. But the interest becomes more profound for our blog when one looks closer to the contents of the edited volume: the second contribution after the introduction is an article by Alex de Voogt and Hans-Jörg Döhla titled: “Nubian Graffiti Messages and the History of Writing in the Sudanese Nile Basin“.
The case study of this paper is the result from fieldwork that Alex conducted on Sai in winter 2010 about the use of Arabic script to write the Nubian language on the island and in the surrounding areas. This custom concerns mainly popular expressions written on the pick-ups, which is the type of car the majority of the locals who can own a vehicle would have, as well as slogans against the dams, a sample of photos of which have also appeared in this blog.
De Voogt and Döhla show the advantages of using Arabic to express the threatened Nubian language, both on the linguistic and on the social level and illustrate their arguments with four colour photos, the last of which is the trilingual sign (in English, Arabic, and Nubian) the Greek-Norwegian Archaeological Mission put up on the entrance of the archaeological site of the so-called Cathedral of Sai!
The purpose of course of putting up this sign using the Nubian language in both the Arabic and the Old Nubian scripts was to remind the two main alternatives that exist for the Nubians, before they forget completely their language or just decide to continue not writing it at all (the other two options proposed by De Voogt and Döhla). And when GNM decided to act so, we hoped that this would function as a reminder of a past from which one need not retain the religious appurtenance, but from which one can draw pride for the traditional life of the present as well as hopes for better conditions in the future – but conditions offered through humane development…
The authors decided not to talk more about our sign – or about the vivid discussions between Alex and Alexandros on Sai Island in 2010 that animated the afternoons at the dig house after lunches and dinners!
But he honored us with putting a drawing of the sign as the front cover of the book and we thank him for this!