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Pictish writing?

Like the ancestors of Indians, the ancestors of Scots also left a sequence of symbols. For example, “One symbol looks like a dog’s head, for example, while others look like horses, trumpets, mirrors, combs, stags, weapons and crosses.” Like the Harappan symbols these ancient Scottish symbols — known as Pictish — has not be deciphered. The questions are the same? Do they even encode a language? If they don’t encode a language what were they trying to convey?

To analyze the script, the researchers applied Shannon entropy “to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.”

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese texts and written Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Ancient Irish, Old Irish and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

Although Lee and his team have not yet deciphered the Pictish language, some of the symbols provide intriguing clues. [New Written Language of Ancient Scotland Discovered]

Now does having order, direction and non-randomness indicate that it is a language? Last year there was a paper which calculated the conditional entropy of the Indus script

The new study compared a well-known compilation of Indus texts with linguistic and nonlinguistic samples. The researchers performed calculations on present-day texts of English; texts of the Sumerian language spoken in Mesopotamia during the time of the Indus civilization; texts in Old Tamil, a Dravidian language originating in southern India that some scholars have hypothesized is related to the Indus script; and ancient Sanskrit, one of the earliest members of the Indo-European language family. In each case the authors calculated the conditional entropy, or randomness, of the symbols’ order.

They then repeated the calculations for samples of symbols that are not spoken languages: one in which the placement of symbols was completely random; another in which the placement of symbols followed a strict hierarchy; DNA sequences from the human genome; bacterial protein sequences; and an artificially created linguistic system, the computer programming language Fortran.

Results showed that the Indus inscriptions fell in the middle of the spoken languages and differed from any of the nonlinguistic systems[Indus Script Encodes Language, Reveals New Study Of Ancient Symbols]

Statistical analysis can only show that the symbols had an order. But can this be assumed to be a spoken language? This methodology has been questioned.

The trouble with this form of argument is that it’s heavily dependent on the particular combination of statistical measure and comparison sets that we choose. And the argument becomes especially unconvincing when there’s an obvious alternative choice of comparison set — generated by a simple random process — that would fall squarely on the side of the line that allegedly identifies “written language”. [Pictish writing?]

It could represent a language or a set of ordered symbols to represent a personal seal or something to mark the goods. Since it was created by humans it probably meant something to the person who created it and the person who saw it. While we know the Indus seals were used in an economic context in some cases, it is not clear what the Pictish seals convey.

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