Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Asemic Writing in the Classroom

I've been digesting some of the asemic writing that Andrei and others have point me towards.

Recently, I had the students look at Shaun Tan's book The Arrival, which helps the students understand how it feels to be in a new place and have no understanding of the language.

The students planned out their own asemic alphabet using this sheet and are currently adopting it into a movable type project.

I'll try to post an update when the project is complete.


  1. Hey Grant--

    that project sounds really cool, especially with fourth-graders!

    (But, psst, if I may, I'll slip in and tell you this before Tim does--if each new sign stands for a letter, it's not really asemic at all... It's just a different alphabet!)

  2. Love this project. I am a big fan of the low budget program (well, relatively speaking) "Font Creator." It would allow you to import these as computer fonts, with a little bit of labor on your part.

    And yeah, it isn't asemic writing if it is a decodable cypher. But it still highlights the play of letters in written language as an aesthetic relationship, and that's pretty cool!

  3. I left a comment earlier, which appears to have gotten eaten.

    I thought about having the kids do a truly asemic alphabet, but I was afraid that they would just simply scribble and rush through it. I wanted them to create something that had the rhythm and cadences of true language, so I opted to have them make a "code" alphabet.

  4. I'd be careful about making the distinction between code/cipher and asemic writing too firm. Arguably, any substitution "alphabet" (whether scribbles or not) will potentially default to code/cipher. On the other hand, in a given work, if a substitution cipher is used sparingly, it doesn't encourage decoding and so might as well be asemic writing. (If only the author/artist knows whether it is a cipher or asemic writing and there isn't sufficient text to decode, does it matter? It's still asemic to the viewer.)

    What I like about this assignment is that it asks the students (potentially) to attend to the aesthetics of letter combinations in their language. Sure, most probably start in isolation just creating substitution designs for each letter. But the activity opens up interesting areas for development and further exploration as they consider, aesthetically, what it means that a vowel will appear in each word. What are the common consonant blends? How might an "r" or an "h" be designed so that they interact with the letters they are most often combined with? Which letters have more distinctions between upper and lower case than just size? Etc.

    And once they attend to these relationships, I think it is quite possible that they could produce asemic writing that is more complicated than scribbles. (Not that there's anything wrong or even "simple" about scribbles.)

    What age students are you working with?

  5. I was thinking of talking to them about the interaction of letters as you mentioned after seeing this little video:

    These are 4th graders, so I'm getting them into asemic writing in baby steps.

  6. That's a great video! And that's a great age to work with.


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