Proposal for encoding the 'kaida' writing of the Yaeyama islands

From: ll077003 (
Date: Wed Feb 09 2011 - 15:16:22 CST

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    Hello, fellow Unicode scholars! I've been reading for a while, but this is my first post on this list.
    As a PhD candidate in liguistics at the University of Tokyo, I've been working on native writing systems in Okinawa. One of them, I think, is worthy of inclusion in Plane 1 of Unicode, and, if possible, I'd like to share it with you and get some opinions on how to get it included.
    Okinawan writing, just about obsolete now, isn't very well known even in Japan. They had used knotted ropes, similar to the "quipu" in Peru, since ancient times, but there are also two systems of writing that are mostly unknown to the world. One, called "suchuma" (probably after Chinese 蘇州碼 or 蘇州花碼 "Suzhou numerals", from which the idea may have been transmitted) is made from tally marks on sticks and is mostly limited to counting people and items.
    The more recent one, which is what I propose to encode, is called "kaida" writing and was developed during the period of the Satsuma clan's subjugation of Okinawa. In the 19th century, when tax burdens on the islanders (and duplicity from the overseers) increased significantly, the islanders devised a means of record-keeping that incorporated symbols for family names, pictographs for various animals and foodstuffs, numerals for dates and amounts, and various other symbols.
    There are about 80 pictographs; numerals from 1-10 plus special symbols for 20, 30, 100, and 1000 (some of these are identical to Japanese kanji, but not all); a series of six symbols for units of volume (which might not need to be encoded as they are all basic shapes: circle, cross, horizontal line, square, triangle, vertical line); and several other measurements.
    This script began to fall out of active use when the first Japanese-language schools were instituted in the late 1800s, and then lost more ground in 1903, when the capitation tax was abolished. In the following decades it hung on in the form of private records and postal packages, but has now given way to Japanese entirely, with only a few elderly people born in the 1910s and 1920s remembering its use. (The spoken languages are also undergoing this process, though fortunately there are, in comparison, still many living speakers.)
    It seems like this kind of script would belong in Plane 1 (Supplementary Multilingual Plane) along with other now-obsolete scripts, and should fit easily in one block (1xx00 - 1xxFF).
    I've made a font for it, still somewhat incomplete, and assigned the characters in it to ordinary 8-bit codepoints for now, just to make them easy to type. Also I've saved photographs of what few sample texts have survived on Flickr and Facebook and have collected many references for a bibliography; mostly Japanese authors in the first half of the 20th century. There is a gap between 1915, when a mathematics teacher dispatched to Yonaguni talks about kaida writing as an active script, and the early 1940s, when Tadao Kawamura refers to it as something that isn't used regularly anymore. A complete bibliography would also include several papers I've written myself -- I'm the only English speaker to work on this script in over a century!
    How can I get started with a formal proposal to get this script encoded? Can I start preparing one based on what's in and, save it somewhere on the internet, and then ask the rest of you for helpful comments and criticism?

    Mark Rosa
    PhD Candidate, Linguistics
    The University of Tokyo

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