Dr. Piers Kelly
My research focuses on language, writing systems and creative agency. In particular I am interested in the varied ways in which speakers invent or manipulate symbolic systems to adapt to changed circumstances, or to solve specific problems.
At the Mint research group I am exploring a number of recent writing systems invented by notionally 'non-literate' small-scale societies in West Africa and the Asia Pacific. Such a project is necessarily crossdisciplinary, demanding a linguistic account of how writing relates to human communication as well as an appreciation of how humans relate to writing. Of special interest to our project is the question of what these unique scripts might reveal about the evolution of writing, and the relationship between literacy transmission and social organisation.
Semasiographic writing systems are expressive graphic codes that are typically complemented by an oral channel. Such codes may convey semantic information but do not model linguistic features such as word order, morphology or phonology. Australian message sticks represent a rich but under-analysed example of semasiography. These will be treated as an empirical starting point for understanding how non-linguistic graphic systems express meaning, their interdependence on oral communication and how they contrast with writing.
With Olivier Morin I will be constructing phylogenetic trees of major script families and attempting represent and reconcile competing models of descent relationships. Such a dataset would help to ground and contextualise the findings of semiotic experiments bringing us closer to understanding how writing evolves.