All documented early Vulcan writing was logographic. Like Chinese characters or Egyptian hieroglyphs of Terra, individual words were originally represented by discrete symbols. This is the case for the ancestry of both of the two primary surviving traditions.
In modern usage it is quite common for socially prominent members of society to display a select subset of these ancient symbols on their clothing and they are used extensively on the robes, headdresses, and ceremonial objects associated with katric disciplines. Among the most common are rata, tapan, and tafar representing the intellectual ideals of concept, mental discipline, and cerebral process.
When seen in this fashion, these figures are understood by Vulcans in their historic context and thought of in their logographic or “full word” sense. With rata, tapan and tafar, three different symbols are abstracted to represent three different complete words much as a picture of a lightbulb might represent the abstract representation of the FSE word “idea”. Or, three self-referential arrows—the head of each pointing at the tail of the one preceding it—all in the single shape of a triangle might represent the Terran practice of “recycling”. They can be thought of as iconographic—a front-end visual simplicity representing a rich, more complex history and meaning in the background.
However, while visually attuned to its ancient past, modern calligraphy used for the common transfer of information is largely reformed into a phoneme-based glyph system that is essentially alphabetic. This is the case for both of the surviving traditions, which are called vanu-tanaf-kitaun (ceremonial calligraphy) and gotavlu-zukitan (standard script). This article will focus on the more ornate ceremonial calligraphy, of which comparisons to Terran musical notation are often made. Note that the name vanu-tanaf-kitaun references the act of doing calligraphy as a practice, while gotavlu-zukitan refers more to the figures of the script itself.
The sample at the head of this article is the name vanu-tanaf-kitaun written in the calligraphic script.
Vulcans take great pride in the origins and beauty of their orthographic traditions. Their systems have evolved over time to suit the needs of a highly logical and technologically sophisticated culture.
This illustration compares the two primary writing traditions of ancient Vulcan. Both examples are thousands of years old. On the left are the three classic words in the “musical” script, which even after modern reforms is still the most complex calligraphic style in contemporary Vulcan society. The examples on the right are from the grandparent logograms that—with few modifications—are still used today for writing the language. However, as mentioned previously, the modern usage when applied to everyday texts is phonetic, not iconic. Of course, there are still Vulcan scholars and calligraphers who are students of the ancient texts and who are skilled at both reading and writing the historic forms. And, these particular three words might easily be recognized by average Vulcans due to their legacy in everyday life. But, most ancient writing in this lefthand style (vanu-tanaf-kitaun) would be opaque to non-specialists. All Vulcans are familiar with the origins of the glyphs on the right because they have been recycled from logograms (bikuv-kitaun) into discrete letters (nuhm) for the modern script. The historic words have become the letter names of the modern sounds of the script. This system will be covered in a separate article. There is also a third system in common use for informal handwriting. It is considered purely utilitarian and rarely ever seen by non-Vulcans. It will also be addressed in a separate article.
Historically, Vulcan writing comes from purely vertical traditions. This is generally reflected in the letterforms themselves. However, in modern writing—influenced by modern logical standards—all Vulcan nuhm are positionally independent. Unlike the Roman alphabet of FSE, which distinguishes between b and p (when flipped vertically) or b and d (when flipped horizontally), no Vulcan nuhm can become ambiguous based on writing direction, and in fact, several of the consonant cluster glyphs that the reader will find below are intentionally designed using nuhm that are flipped and/or rotated in the process of compounding. Texts can be written vertically right to left (most traditional); vertically left to right (common in conjunction with Federation technology systems when blocks of text are involved); horizontally left to right (when words are mixed with FSE contexts); horizontally right to left (when mixed with scripts which are normally configured in that orientation). Decorative contexts are the only scenarios in which it appears vertically bottom to top, or in other patterns—such as circles. Longer blocks of text typically begin with a kharat-ulidar (direction marker), colloquially called the patam (head).
The patam orients the reader unambiguously as to the direction of the writing. It also sets a formal tone and imbues the text with a sense of propriety and respect. It is not incorrect to write a block of text without a patam because the shape of the nuhm themselves and the way they flow from one to the next in words also show this clearly, but it is often considered lazy to omit it. A proper announcement or letter would never begin without one. Computer displays or other non-formal contexts do not require following this historic protocol.
There are stylistic variations in patam. Calligraphy masters have their own original designs which are traditionally registered with the Shi’Oren t’Ek’Iyula-Visak’a T’Khasi (Vulcan Academy of Cultural Heritage, colloquially SHOTEIV). These serve as a signature or seal to identify the artist, and by reputation, the significance of the artwork. The patam used most commonly here is a generic one with no artistic attribution and is appropriate for any typical letter or manuscript written by anyone.
Vulcan nuhm in the tanaf-kitaun (calligraphy) style are oriented along a central line called the kitaun-zehl (writing line) or colloquially, plat (spine/backbone). The essence of the plat is designed into many of the nuhm overtly, either continuously or segmented across the height or width of the letter, depending on writing orientation. Vulcan children learn to write tanaf-kitaun on lined materials or learning tablets that display the plat as s guide. Adults must be able to write based on an imaginary line and this can be challenging, because a part of the beauty of this style is the asymmetry of many of the curves incorporated into the individual nuhm. More advanced calligraphers mavau (play) with the asymmetry effortlessly without disturbing the krilan-vo’ektaya (harmonious equilibrium) of the composition—colloquially referred to as sochya (peace). Here are some examples of nuhm which require great care to place properly on the plat while maintaining sufficient sochya.
Each part of the nuhm has a relationship to the plat. In this illustration, the vertical orange line is the plat. Other part names are called out on a case-by-case basis. All consonants have a tuf (chest), but this term is not used for vowels. In consonant clusters with a leading small consonant, the upper portion is called tarkiv (crown). In the nuhm that corresponds to the FSE h, the upper halo has a unique name, taik (hat). However, the harr (tail) that hangs down is common to many consonants and it is a wu-harr (long tail) that terminates complete phrases and sentences. The following (lower) smaller consonant in a cluster is referred to as ash’ya (foot). Any distinguishing motif within the tuf itself is called the tviyan (core). The equivalent of FSE t, does not have a tviyan because it is essentially empty. Notice that the tviyan (the inner oval) of sh is not centered perfectly on the plat. This is a part of the natural sochya of sh. It would be referred to as nuh’stegelik (excessively stiff) if the center oval were precisely alined on the plat. The same criticism would be made for the oval of the tuf of l if it were 50/50 to the left and right of the plat.
These are other common critiques that teachers might make of their students’ work regarding the overall balance of the nuhm.
Tarkiv nuh’suk | nuh’pi’. — The crown is too big/too small.
I’gal-tor tarkiv na’los’rak | na’gas’rak. — The crown is leaning to the left/to the right.
Ash’ya nuh’thelik | nuh’wonilik. — The foot is too fat/too thin.
Zehl-sebastak nuh’stegelik. — The line tension is too stiff (meaning that the line thickness variation is unnatural or forced; not flowing freely enough).
Provula’voh va’ashiv. — Try again, Sir/Ma’am (with ironic formality).
Wa’maf-tor Snovekh. — Snovek sobs.
Snovek was a contemporary of Surak and is generally regarded as the first great Vulcan calligrapher whose work and reputation have survived into modern times. He was renowned for his self-restraint and meditative approach to the art. It is an extremely critical claim that one’s work would be bad enough to cause Snovek to cry. A teacher would only say this to a student who is clearly putting little or no effort into his or her exercises. The converse of of this epithet, Wa’limatau Snovekh (Snovek grins.) implies that the work is excellent. It is the highest kind of praise ever said to a student who is succeeding. Naran and Punar-tor (meaning that the work is “acceptable”) are more common.
The act of writing a single nuhm (letter), zhit (word), pi-zhit-bal (phrase), zhit-bal (sentence) or nahptra (paragraph) is referred to metaphorically as ohalovaya (the honorable journey). The initial point where the writing implement is placed down is called the trashan (departure). The final destination is the kelek (home). If the quill or pen must pause, be lifted, and then begin again to reach kelek successfully, that point is a shom-sfek (resting point). The second departure is the dahr-trashan. A third lifting of the pen and restarting would be the rehr-trashan, etc. The overarching goal is to lift the pen as few times as possible and complete the path of the journey fluently and without stumbling.
In the example above the halovaya for zh should be completed in one fluid motion. Rr and kw each require a shom-sfek and dahr-trashan. It’s interesting to note that it is possible for an individual nuhm to have more than one yut (path) on the overall journey. Calligraphy masters often make their mark by imparting subtle differences to the letterforms by taking different paths along the way and teachers do not scold their pupils for experimentation as long as it does disturb the sochya of the composition. Kelek is always the ‘destination’. If writing an entire paragraph, the kelek is not reached until the calligrapher pauses at the end of the text that he or she originally intended to complete when the pen first departed on the journey.
If students struggle with the journey, teachers often quietly come by, reach in and annotate suggested paths. See rr and kw above. However, it is the student’s ultimate responsibility to find his or her own way and ovsoh ohalovaya k’sochya hiyet (complete the honorable journey with sufficient peace).
Vowels in this system, called ikatu’azun, have design characteristics that are unlike the consonants. In terms of the journey, it is necessary to pick up the writing implement much more often and add small strokes that readily define important differences between the 20 distinct sounds. Four diphthongs (ai, au, ei, oi) are treated like discrete vowels in the system and the shaya-ralash (break sound) that is commonly written between consonants as an apostrophe in the FSE alphabet (cf: T’Khasi) is categorized in this subset based both on its function and physical design.
The primary relationship of the vowels to their consonant siblings is through the yut (the path) that connects visually at the plat. In the case of the i-based and e-based vowels, the yut is simply a straight line. It does not curve at all, but is intentionally broken for e, eh, ee, ih, ii, and ei. Most ikatu’azun also contain one or more tuhs-yut (crossroads). These are horizontal lines that bisect the yut. They can only be added by a shom-sfek (a stopping and picking up of the pen). Finally, all of the vowels (with the exception of the shaya-ralash) contain glat-kov (sign stones/landmarks). These are rendered as small ovals or dots and they help the eye distinguish between the different vowels.
You may be asking yourself why does something as simple as an a or a u need to have so many pieces and parts? The answer is that this calligraphic style of writing is not about need or efficiency. It is about tradition and the goal of creating writing that is visually interesting and beautiful. The other two orthography systems are much more efficient than this one.
While this style of writing is clearly calligraphic and ornate, it can be read (though not written) by all educated Vulcans. And, even though the origins and most relevant contexts for this style of writing are artistic, it is in common use for the everyday transfer of information as well. Vulcan technology systems use advanced algorithms to determine in which orientation, density and resolution it should be rendered based on other textual and visual information presented in the relevant context, and users can typically verbally instruct most computer interfaces to adjust the text stylistically simply by saying the name of a SHOTEIV-registered Vulcan calligraphy master or the name along with a specific tradition. (NB: The style (which might be thought of as a hiktra (typeface/font)) displayed here is commonly referred to as Mazhiv t’Snovekh (Snovek’s Sands) and is based on writing in a cleanly raked, dry bed of sand with a stick featuring a rounded tip. The writer typically fashions the stick in an ad hoc fashion by burnishing the tip on any appropriate stone which happens to be available.
This overall style of calligraphy is also more common than the standard script in ornamental and other decorative contexts. It might even appear on the walls of an average Vulcan home or decorate the rim of a glass or edge of a round plate. However, it should never be written and displayed in a casual, haphazard, lazy fashion. That is considered disrespectful to the living and ancestral masters.
The Nuhm Inventory
The following tables document all nuhm from the vanu-tanaf-kitaun series. There are 113 in common usage (introduced here), but others for archaic terms and pronunciations appear from time to time. The large volume of glyphs is generated by consonant clusters that are often syllable-initial or final. In one case there are two variations of one compound, ks (also seen occasionally as represented by an FSE x). One is used for syllable-initial context and the other for syllable-final. Please note that clusters are not used across syllable boundaries. Example:
Kastra is a two-syllable word meaning “vegetation/flora”. The syllables break as kas.tra between the s and t. Strachau is a two syllable word meaning “to knit”. Its syllable break as stra.chau between the a and ch, which is a single nuhm. In the case of kastra the s sound belongs to the ka that comes before it so it is not compounded directly into the tra that follows. In the case of strachau, however, the s is a part of a complex consonant cluster. The s, t, and r all belong to the a that follows them, so they are one compound. It would be wrong to spell kastra as Ka.sTra. While legible, it would also be wrong to spell strachau as STra.CHau or STRa.CHau. (Note: there are no capital letters in the calligraphy, but proper nouns are marked. This will be discussed later in this article. Here the capitalization is used to mimic the size differences of the parts of the nuhm as properly conjoined in the calligraphy. This is a convention for those approaching the study of this writing via FSE and is generally not relevant to a purely Vulcan study experience.)
Note that the following order is that of FSE, not traditional Vulcan calligraphy. Also, the “o” that is used in the letter names is only to make them easily pronounceable. A teacher may instruct the pupil >I’kita’uh nuhm lo reh-wak.< (Now write the letter ‘l’ 3 times.) As ‘l’ is pronounced ‘el’ in FSE, the Vulcan nuhm for ‘l’ is pronounced lo in Golic Vulcan. If the instruction for the journey were to write the full sound ‘lo’, the teacher would more likely say >I’kita’uh zhit-shaya lo reh-wak.< (Now write the syllable ‘lo’ 3 times). None of the consonantal nuhm inherently contain any vowel sound. The vowel and diphthong names are simply the vowels or diphthongs pronounced as they sound.
Foreign words in Golic Vulcan (eg: hors from FSE “horse”) are often spelled without traditional ligatures. The calligrapher may decide to render this as HoRs (creating an ad hoc compound which is not a part of the formalized clusters) or HoRS. Either would be perfectly acceptable.
Names & Punctuation
There are no capital letters in vanu-tanaf-kitaun. Proper nouns (names of people and places) are marked with the ahm-glat () which means “name sign”. It precedes all the other nuhm in the word. There is no distinction between the ahm-glat for people vs. places, but different calligraphers do play with the proportions and often embellish the ahm-glat as a function of their individual style.
In the following 2 sentences these two words, a man’s name and horn/antler appear in context.
The text reads: Stal Stonn le-matya k’stonn ik tal-tor svi’mazhiv po’ta zeshal aushfa mal-nef-hinek t’sa-veh. Ish-wak svi-aru.
Translation: Stonn killed the le-matya with an antler that he found in the sand after the animal bit his kneecap. It was mid-afternoon.
The second sentence appears as the final line at the far right. The distinctive curves and swirls that extend across multiple nuhm are called tel (bond). They call out the compound words that are normally hyphenated when Golic Vulcan is written in the FSE alphabet.
Stal Stonn le(1)matya k’stonn ik tal(2)tor svi’mazhiv po’ta zeshal aushfa mal(3)nef(3)hinek t’sa(4)veh. Ish(5)wak svi(6)aru.
Of these, (2), (3), (5) and (6) deserve some special explanation. The (2)nd one is irregular because the word is split across two different lines. This is very unusual, especially in longer texts in a smaller size type, but can occur. (3) is the same, but additionally complex due to the fact that it is a 3-syllable word. Numbers (5) and (6) are interesting because they do not begin and end in the standard simple fashion, but have extra embellishments decided by the calligrapher. The only strict rule of of tel is that they must cross the plat where a pakh (stroke (hyphen)) would normally occur in the flow of text. Typically, in a two-word compound they are begun at the immediate right-hand side or from the center of the tuf (chest) of the first nuhm in the word and proceed in a smooth curve across the plat and terminate to the immediate left or in the center of the tuf of the last letter in the 2nd word. In a three-word compound the tel crosses the plat twice. In the 3rd example here a three-word compound crosses two lines of the text so the tel runs in an irregular flow up to the top of the 2nd line and then normalizes its flow. The extended run of the tel in (5) and (6) are more typical at the end of a text, but can be used in other contexts at the calligrapher’s discretion. Tel are not technically necessary for meaning, but are a part of the legacy of the tradition of vanu-tanaf-kitaun. Additional embellishments (such as horizontal ticks) along the tel are also acceptable, but generally not added by novices as they are generally a reflection of a deeper understanding of the ancient traditions and non-phonetic meanings of the original figures.
The triangles that point right at the bottom of many of the lines indicate that the line (sentence) continues. These are called glat t’fator’es (signs of continuation) or colloquially, kliton (arrows). They are often omitted in more artistic works.
With the exception of the first line that hangs from the patam, the subsequent lines that continue the same sentence hang from a mark colloquially called kik (hook). The style shown here is very standard, but many variations exist and this is one of the areas where calligraphers mavau (play). The mark that begins the final line indicates that this is a new sentence. It is colloquially referred to as a fo (shell). Like the kik, it comes in other shapes and sizes, but the one shown here is universally recognized and standard.
There is no period. Instead the final stroke of the journey of the sentence is extended into what is colloquially called a wu-harr (long tail). A wu-harr followed by a fo at the top of the next line unambiguously indicates the start of a new sentence.
Individual words are separated by a clean stroke which is roughly 3/4 the length of a typical single nuhm. Where a tel will cross the plat, a stroke of roughly 1/2 that length is inserted—the calligrapher knowing that the tel will come later. Vanu-tanaf-kitaunsu (calligraphers) must not only be able to produce beautiful forms, but they have to be in a constant state of visualizing how their writing will progress 2 to 3 lines ahead on the path of the journey. Only thorough this prescient approach to composition can they achieve optimal sochya.
The most common mathematical paradigm in Vulcan science is base 10 as it is in FSE for humans. The numerals (su’us-nuhm) share certain traits with the alphabetic nuhm, but each is unique.
There are other punctuation conventions used of the FSE equivalent of commas, direct quotation, and other norms. They will be covered as an addendum to this article or in a separate one in the future.
Click the image below to access a glyph overview of all traditional Vulcan writing letters in the traditional order.
Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged below.