Shshi Writing

[The following excerpts from Chapter 1 of The War of the Stolen Mother were dictated by Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrance to his scribes Chi'mo'a'tu and Vai'pri'mo'tei]      

As for myself, I was never a Seer like Kwi’ga’ga’tei, but I too was given a gift – a gift for speaking words and remembering the past.  And so I was always interested in the strange manner in which the Star-Beings use language.  What did you say, Vai’prai’mo’tei?  You are right – they have no antennae.  Ru’a’ma’na’ta [Kaitrin Oliva] told me once that they speak by blowing air out of their mouths – what?  Yes, that is what I said.  I do not know how they do that – their mouths are somehow connected to their breathing apparatus.  Yes, it mystifies me, too, so shall we leave that subject?  No, Chi’mo’a’tu, I do not believe that we could learn to speak with our spiracles.  Please do not squat there, Vai’prai’mo’tei, trying to expel air from your crop – it is disgusting!  I do not want your regurgitation all over my floor!

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  This blowing out of air causes some kind of vibration that enters those petal-edged holes on the sides of their heads, and that is how they receive words.  Ru’a’ma’na’ta once let me place my antennae on her neck as she spoke, and I could feel a quiver that is an element of that vibration.  She said the Star-Beings have a sense that the Shshi lack – something like our detection of vibrations with the sensilla but yet not like it, and something like the signals that go out of our antennae, but yet not like them.  I do not believe any Shi will ever understand it fully.  ...
But they also write language in images.  I only understood that many years after Ru’a’ma’na’ta first came.  During one particular sleep-time when I was not sleepy, I was thinking about the knowledge boxes, or magic boxes, as some persist in calling them, that the Star-Beings have so many of, and I thought about the rows of markings that would appear on the surfaces of some of them as we spoke.  And it came to me that those markings were language and stood in place of the words that we had just spoken, and that it might be possible to do the same thing with Shshi words.  And it was a revelation – a revelation from the Nameless One, as sure as any vision comes to a Seer.

I immediately jumped up and pulled a large tho’sei| leaf from my bedding and scratched an image on it with my claw.  I tried to draw a tree.  Clearly, one would think of seip| when one saw that image.  And I tried to draw a river, with waving lines.  That clearly could be bu|.  And so I became obsessed and to everyone’s consternation I did little else for many days but scratch on leaves.  They all thought I had lost my wits.
It quickly became clear that my methodology was unworkable.  No two Shshi would draw a tree in quite the same way.  There had to be one quite simple form that all could use.  So I prescribed that seip| should be imaged by a vertical line topped by a circle, and that bu| was two vertical lines with one wavy line between. 
But clearly this was also inadequate.  How does one draw a simplified image of a fortress, for example, and distinguish it from a mountain?  And, while one might draw images of a Shi walking or eating, it becomes very complex; and it is impossible to make images of ideas like honor or fear or loyalty.  It did not seem to me that the Star-Beings’ word-images at all resembled the things they represented. 
So I pondered, and I realized that it could all be conventional.  For mu’zi| one might easily draw a claw, but for to walk one might draw that same claw and put two short vertical lines in front of it, imaging the word krio| [that is, an infinitive].  That was when I realized that our spoken language uses something similar.  When we speak a basic word of action, like to walk, we preface it with a marker that is not really a word, and yet it tells us what kind of word we are speaking.  My fervor to proceed grew stronger than before. ...
After a great deal more thought, I saw something that I had been missing.  There were similarities among the various words that the Shshi utter and it would be useful to build upon that fact.  For example, the sendings for krio| [to walk] and mu’zi| [claw] are not at all alike and yet I was using essentially the same image for them.  krino| [to wander or walk about aimlessly] is much more like krio| and it means something like to walk.  Similarly, mu’zi| is more like mugo| [to scratch] and has a related meaning.  It was more sensible to use the claw image and the action marker for mugo| than for krino|.

Then I spent much time contemplating our language, and I concluded that what I trying to do was to depict the ideas of the words when what I needed to do was to depict the forms of the sendings.  I observed that we often clump several words together to make other words and that we use other markers besides the one to denote action.  By assigning arbitrary images to sendings and markers and using them consistently, I could limit what threatened to become a much larger body of knowledge than anyone could comfortably memorize.  For example, the signal for the word pai| forms part of the words for Warrior, for a fight and to fight, for battle and for single combat.  To make five separate images would produce a confusing complexity.  One need only make an image for pai|, which happens to be crossed hooks, like a pair of mandibles.  Follow that image with a circle, which marks it as a person, and one has represented Warrior; place a dot before that word and it becomes more than one Warrior.  If crossed lines are placed after pai|, it becomes a thing – a fight.  Two vertical lines in front – to fight, an action word.  A fight among many is shown by writing the image for pai| twice and adding the marker for a thing.  Finally, pai’o’kwi’zi| can be explained as a shortened form of pai’zi| o| kwi’sho’zei| and one can utilize the images for …
What?  Why are you stamping about and flaring your wings?  I am well aware that you know all this already!  I suppose I am boring you!  But I am not finished analyzing my thought processes.  A Remembrancer should always finish what he has begun to tell – that is a cardinal rule!  That is the trouble these days – you young ones are in too much of a hurry, impatient to be finished.  You have never learned how to pay attention, and words do not have the fascination for you that they should.
Please do not display such indignation, Chi’mo’a’tu – I am well aware that you know how to pay attention.  Would I have chosen you as my principal scribe for this undertaking if I had thought you could not pay attention? ...
[pai| is the root for war; Warrior: pai’zei|; Warriors: shpai’zei|; fight (noun): pai’zi|; to fight: paio|; battle: pai’pai’zi| (literally, many fights); single combat: pai’o’kwi’zi| (literally, a fight with one).  pai’zi| o| kwi’sho’zei| is, literally, a fight with an individual.]

[The following occurs in a different portion of the text:]

I speak too fast?  You are probably correct!  I will stop and let you catch up – I realize you are new at this ...  I wish I could write it all myself, but my claw grips poorly these days, and it would not do to make a column of illegible word-images.  Humorous to think about – Alates in future generations pouring over these strips of bu’re| fiber, trying to decipher words written in haste …  We cannot make words by magic, you know, as the Star-Beings can, and so we tried different substances on which to mark the images – leaves woven together, the inner bark of the tho’sei| …  Leaves disintegrate and to strip so much bark killed our trees, and that would not do. 
But Yus’dei – you remember little Yus’dei, who died from the black fungus disease maybe three years ago? … Oh, of course, you do not – you were still in the nursery!  Yus’dei the little Worker who wove bu’re| curtains suggested beating together the inner pulp of that river grass, of which there is an endless supply everywhere in our land, to make a smooth-surfaced sheet that is practically indestructible.  It is easy to make long strips of this material that can easily be slid up and down between the claws.  So we can make a column of images downward and then run back up again – so, we read down, up, down, up, and so on – and then the strips can be rolled and stored in niches hollowed out between the wall stones of special chambers.
But the surface of the bu’re| sheets is not satisfactory for the scratching of characters – it is too fibrous.  So we tried chalk-stone, but it rubbed off, and we tried making dents, but they were too hard to see.  Then one of the Image Workers – that whole new Subcaste that has developed just to make writing materials and maintain the storage and so on – one of the Image Workers remembered being told that some plants produce juices that stain whatever they touch.  The Healers experimented and found that an indelible reddish-brown stain can be made from the husks of the fruit of the son’zhuf| bush; they are pounded and soaked in water for some period of time and then combined with ti’wa’zi| [honeydew] and a bit of fat for stickiness.  Shape up a sliver of leg chitin from the Charnel Hall for a marking tool, and one is ready to write …
Yes, yes, I know – slower …  Can someone perform a dance to entertain me while I wait?  Vai’prai’mo’tei, that was only a jest …

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