Scripts in Contact. Interactions and Practices First yearly international conference of the IRIS program “Scripta-PSL. History and practices of writing” Institut d’études avancées, Hôtel de Lauzun, Paris 28 February – 1st March 2019

Like languages, scripts are naturally in contact, not only at the confines between cultural areas, but also internally to most societies past and present. In a great many cases of written communication and performance, several writing systems, or graphic styles of one writing system, are used. In a community of users, or on the same document or inscription, these are distributed in relation to shared registers of expression determined by cultural codes and/or as a function of punctual expressive needs. The co-presence of various scripts can be expressive of hierarchies in the information conveyed, of broader cultural hierarchies and authority, as well as having aesthetic and playful dimensions. Like languages, writings systems and graphic styles in contact interfere with one another. On a formal plane, scribes educated in one script can, when writing in another script, present a “graphic accent”, reflecting a gestural memory. Contact is also a potent factor of graphic change, in relation to cultural hierarchies and the social distribution of the scripts in contact.


While linguistic contact has long developed into a thriving field within general linguistics, the contact of scripts has attracted much less attention. Issues that have been addressed include phenomena of biscriptality, heterography, or linguistic contact as reflected in writing systems.[1][2] At present, the study of “graphic contact” is therefore an emerging field, even though the phenomenon is omnipresent, extremely diverse, and central to the practices of writing in general.


As a sequel to the fourth study day of the Groupe de Recherche Transversal en Paléographie devoted to the theme “Polygraphisme : Écritures en coexistence et en interférence” (Collège de France, 6 April 2018)[3] and echoing various contributions relative to digraphia and multigraphism presented in the seminar “Diglossia, intralingual translation, rewriting, commentary” (EPHE, 2016–2018)[4], the Iris program  “Scripta-PSL. History and practices of writing” (see below) will devote its first yearly international conference to the theme of scripts in contacts.


In an exploratory spirit, contributors will be asked to illustrate the great diversity of practices and configurations across a broad area ranging from East Asia to the Mediterranean worlds, with more punctual openings to Africa and Central America. The objects will be the contact and co-presence of diverse paleographic styles of one writing system, the contact and copresence of multiple writing systems in one environment, and phenomena of graphic cosmopolis. These objects should be addressed at the level of a cultural community, a scribal community, and/or at the level of the production of individual scribes. In relation to the general problematic of scripts in contact, contributors are invited to discuss the following dimensions, individually or in their inter-relation:


  • functions of authority and ideologies associated with writing systems and graphic styles in contact
  • “socio-graphic” dimensions, such as education, transmission, and control
  • cognitive dimensions, such as reflected, for example, in “graphic accents” of scribes educated in one script and writing in another


  • scribal practices, and the materiality of writing
  • hierarchies of information expressed through multiples scripts on a document or inscription
  • aesthetic dimensions
  • manuscript and print, and their reciprocal interactions and influences


  • the relation to languages, including vernaculars and the graphic correlates of vernacularization
  • graphic cosmopoleis


  • possible effects of graphic contact on the evolution of scripts (styles and systems) in their formal, material, and cognitive dimensions
  • derived scripts



The IRIS program “Scripta-PSL. History and practices of writing”


The present horizon witnesses a major inflection in the civilization of writing in relation, notably, to a globalization of writing and the digital revolution. Writing is thereby affected in its materiality, circulation, and effects, motivating an inquiry into these same dimensions in their historical depth beginning with the first civilizations of writing, and over a broad geographical area. In 2017, the University Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) has thus launched a “Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Initiative” (IRIS) “Scripta-PSL”. This brings together researchers from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, the École normale supérieure, the École Nationale des Chartes, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, the Collège de France, and the Institut de Recherches et Histoire des Textes (CNRS). The program aims to integrate research in the fundamental sciences of writing (paleography, codicology, epigraphy, history of the book, etc.), other human and social sciences (linguistics, history, anthropology), and the digital humanities around the study of writing. Research is structured along six axes: “Scripts and languages, linguistics of writing”; “ ‘Pages’, visual fields for reading”; “Exposed writing, inscribing space”; “Documentary practices, ancient and modern”; “Circulation of writing, processes of canonization”; “Challenges for digital scholarly edition”. The digital and computational component of the program is set to develop tools for computer vision of scripts and documents and for digital paleography.





[1] E.g., Biscriptality: A sociolinguistic typology (ed. D. Bunčić, S. L. Lippert, A. Rabus), Akademiekonferenzen

[2] , Heidelberg, Winter, 2016; Scripts Beyond Borders A Survey of Allographic Traditions in the EuroMediterranean World (ed. J. Den Heijer, A. Schmidt, T. Pataridze), Publications de l’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain 62, Leuven, Peeters, 2014; The Idea of Writing II. Writing Across Borders (ed. Joachim F. Quack, Alex de Voogt), Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2011; various studies in Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures (ed. Seth Sanders), Oriental Insitute Studies 2, Chicago, Oriental Institute, 2006.




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