A lot of thought went into that word, and also into the bigger thing that it became.
I have no memory what the thought process was that led me to want to create an alphabet for the world in our books and stories, because it was not on our to-do list, and so many other things were. But I do remember the feeling. It was an “I reeeeally want to”. An “Oh goody! It’s Saturday and nothing else is pressing!” excitement. So I began.
Not long after that, I started to note that I was having some internal conflict about the people of our world of Ahzhvii having a written language. I’ve gathered information from many sources about the differences in thinking and perceiving the world when a culture has either no written language at all, or uses an image-based form of writing, such as Chinese or Egyptian hieroglyphics. Those with a phonetic alphabet, where the letters themselves have no meaning but rather are abstracted into mere sounds that form words, seem to be affected in profound and not altogether positive ways. I wanted to find a way for our Ahzvii people to be able to read and write without losing the sense of intimate connection with all the life in their world that strictly oral cultures seem to retain so beautifully.
There was a time when our own alphabet first began that the letters represented real things. There was a time when some alphabets were considered sacred. The Greek, the Hebrew, and the Arabic have each been considered such. Others, too, I am sure.
Here is one account of how the Greek (and then Latin) alphabet began:
“The Parcae, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters – A B H T I Y. Others say that Mercury invented them from the flight of cranes, which, when they fly, form letters. Palamedes, too, son of Nauplius, invented eleven letters; Simonides, too, invented four letters – Ó E Z PH; Epicharmus of Sicily, two – P and PS. The Greek letters Mercury is said to have brought to Egypt, and from Egypt Cadmus took them to Greece. Cadmus in exile from Arcadia, took them to Italy, and his mother Carmenta changed them to Latin to the number of 15. Apollo on the lyre added the rest.” Hyginus, Fabulae 277
I was clear that I wanted our language to be represented by an alphabet that might have been considered sacred, or more precisely, representative of the cycles and elements of life. And I also wanted the “letters” to be glyphs whose meaning might be discerned simply by what they looked like. So how to make a combination phonetic and image-based set of letters that were also somewhat quick and easy to write?
The first thing I had to do was to decide on the sounds of the letters themselves. I stuck with my own alphabet to represent these sounds to begin with, and spent a good many hours just seeing what my mouth could do. I spent some time with the International Phonetic Alphabet, but honestly, not much. I didn’t want something that complicated, I wanted far fewer letters to represent sounds, and most of all, it was more important to me to try and work as much from the ground up as possible, in an organic and innocent way, as if I was one of a group of people who had never in their lives seen letters and were only beginning to consider such a thing.
I wanted to make a letter for each sound my very American mouth could make – after all, I might have to read them out loud one day! – but I did not stick with my own alphabetic sounds alone. It grew to include four different “R” sounds, and a few others as well. This meant there were more than our familiar 21 consonants. What I ended up with were seven distinct vowel sounds (and five more that were combinations) and 26 consonants. I found that with each labial, dental, palatal and other positions of the mouth, often the letter-sounds were different depending on whether air was moving in, or moving outward, so I made these into “ebb and flow” letter pairs. D and T are one of these pairs.
Then I began to arrange the letters in terms of what I wanted each of their meanings to be. Some were predetermined based on the few proper names and words we’d already created for our stories. The ZH sound, for example, which is so important to the name of our world, Ahzhvii, had to hold the meaning of “knowing”, which could be represented by a simple image. I decided the image would be a head. Deciding which meanings, of the literally endless possibilities in the entire universe of meanings, was also a bit tricky. I’m sure I’ve left out some that might have been brilliant, and included some that might not be as useful, but overall I’m happy with the final decisions as to the symbolic imagery for each letter.
It is my hope that most any word we wish to create in that alien language can be represented by the meanings of a few letters, and that most words in English can be enriched with new meaning by using our amiinu letters in place of English/Latin ones. It is a lot of fun to write somebody’s name with the amiinu, for instance, and then see what it might mean using the amiinu letters. My name, Cecelia, which means “blind” in Latin, might be interpreted as “vision flight into darkness” when I use the symbolism of the amiinu. It means something similar, but much more interesting to me than blind!
Or here, this from some of my notes:
“For instance, the word “mahavma” is what we might translate into English, “unconditional love”. It is represented by the (English) letters M, H, V, and A. The simplest meanings of those letters in iv’Ahzhvii are Mother, Sound, Lattice and the zero-point vowels. Thus, when speaking (or spelling) the word mahavma, one is infused with the sensations of unconditional love, and beneath that, one can also contemplate the idea of the vessel which holds the beginning of life (M), the sound or song of the universe which has a voice (H) and the place where worlds intermingle (V)”
Once the letters had their meanings, then I began to place them into groups that seemed to fit together. It was important to me to partially follow the example of the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets and allow the progression of my letters to somewhat follow the process of creation in the way that a young culture might do. It took some time, but finally I was able to arrange the letters into some sort of cohesive and logical order – at least to me! Then I began to find a way to chart them on a circular graph. It was really important to me that our imaginary people would not learn the letters merely in linear fashion, but also see them as a living system, or multiple systems, which could be entered at any location and made sense of. I wanted circles, in other words, as well as lines.
Next came the arduous task of actually creating the symbols that would represent each sound.
After I’d been doodling potential letter shapes for hours on end, it was suggested that I simply use an online language generator or tutorial for creating alphabets. I did peruse a few, but they weren’t going to provide the parameters that were so important to me. They were just not what I was after.
I looked at various other made-up alphabets that might have been intended for sacred or intentional purpose, such as this one from Hildegard von Bingen:
This one from the mysterious Voynich Manuscript:
Of course, I love these ancient alphabets, too.
I tried my hand at letters from other “real” alphabets that I liked the look of, and then I just doodled. I tried making shapes that looked like real letters, and also just let my hand enjoy spontaneous “writing-like” movements to see if anything interesting came of that.
Eventually it was time to stop all my exploration and wait for the inspiration to arrive. One morning I woke up drooling on my bed sheet and knew just what I wanted for my symbols. It took a bit more fiddling to make sure they all worked together, looked beautiful, stayed simple, and were distinct enough to not be confusing, but I feel pretty pleased with the result.
And I haven’t even told you about the vowels! But this is quite enough for one article.
Honestly, if I were to go into all that the amiinu really holds, it would take a whole book – to describe my process, all the meanings of the letters, how to draw them, how they relate to one another, how we’ve used them to create some very important words in our language on this other world, and on and on.
So, yes, of course there will be a book! Could you imagine anything less?
A bit more alphabetic info, if you’re interested:
About our English alphabet
David Abram on language and alphabetic understanding
Meanings of the Hebrew letters
Some other very fun made up alphabets
The Alphabet Effect – book
Stan Tennen on sacred meaning and letters