Re: Ciphers (Was: Berber/Tifinagh)

From: John Cowan (
Date: Mon Nov 10 2003 - 17:01:12 EST

  • Next message: Peter Kirk: "Re: Ciphers (Was: Berber/Tifinagh)"

    John Hudson scripsit:

    > So I don't think I've missed the point of ciphers at
    > all: a cipher is a particular sign arrangement in which one set of
    > signifiers is substituted for another; the intent is irrelevant.

    Well, my definition of "cipher" may be too narrow (though it originates
    in the common use of the term, which definitely implies secrecy), but
    this one is clearly too broad: it would make Pinyin a cipher for Han,
    or an red octagon a cipher for "arret".

    People use scripts to reveal rather than to conceal their meaning in most
    cases. When they use an unusual script for their language, they are
    engaging in transliteration or transcription. When they use an unusual
    script, or an unusual set of conventions for the usual script, in order
    to conceal their meaning from the uninitiated, they are making use of a cipher.

    Can you cite a convention that you would call a cipher but that does not
    have secrecy as part of its intent, in actual rather than hypothetical use?

    "By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall
    have neither the Ring nor me!"  --Frodo

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