What is something that is always around us? For some people, the answer might be nature, for others, it could be cats or for another person, it might be cards (definitely not me, though). However, it is language that is universally around us and an integral part of many building blocks of society.
Throughout history, language was not just limited to words, phrases, syllables or grammar but could be compared to water, taking up any shape or form. For poets, it was a means to express their feelings, for war veterans, it was a means to communicate secretly, and for the primitive people, it was a way to illustrate themselves and etch their lives into stone.
The part that intrigued me the most and piqued my interest was how language, finally being formed into a cohesive way of learning and communicating, was again broken down just to achieve specific results. These results being various mind bending codes, crypts and hieroglyphs. To put it in a nutshell, revolutionising ways of communication again. In this article, we will be talking about the various ways in which each of these are moulded into their parts.
If you’ve ever wondered how hieroglyphs work, then this part of the article might help to shed light on that question.
Mostly found on tombs or inside the walls of pyramids, hieroglyphs were basically a writing system of the ancient Egyptians. They were created for either worship or the afterlife. The way they worked was that each symbol would represent a real, tangible thing; for example this
could represent a house, or this
could represent an eye. Basically Modern day equivalents to emojis (we don’t talk about the movie). This usage of hieroglyphs was called ideogram. The script was also composed of logograms representing words and phonograms representing sounds. However, they still look better than emojis (can’t wait for the hieroglyphs keyboard now).
It wasn’t the first time language was weaved into images and doodles to represent specific things, since even the stone age caves were found filled with prehistoric images and paintings, depicting or telling a story. Modern day design, too, is somewhat influenced in the same way, using typography.
2) Morse code:
As most people might know, Morse code was invented by Samuel Morse back in the 1830s. Now what makes this code so special is not the fact that it was the first breakthrough in long distance communication, but the fact that the flexibility of the system allowed it to be transmitted via sounds and even light. To think that language can be weaved in through simple dots, dashes, sounds or even flashes of light is pretty impressive.
Each letter of the alphabet was given a dot or dash and the code was made decipherable through a guide like this:
Being especially vital in wars, World War II made use of the morse code through radios to communicate secret information. Even after the Titanic sank, the code S0S (dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot) was designated as the international distress signal. The most intriguing feat though, was when a war prisoner used blinking his eyes to, signal the word “torture” in a video interview. Definitely a good way to cheat during MCQs but you didn’t hear that in this article.
The study of enciphering and encoding (on the sending end), and deciphering and decoding (on the receiving end) is called cryptography. Although the distinction is a bit foggy, ciphers are different from codes. When you substitute one word for another word or sentence, like using a language dictionary, you are using a code. When you mix up or substitute existing letters, you are using a cipher. (Note from editor: I don’t get it but yes.)
Let’s take an analogy, you go home and open your locked door with a key, that key is the method to open the door. Now that door would only work if you have the proper key to stick into the lock or if you’re the resident of the house itself.
Cryptography is the epitome of breaking down language and using it for various specific purposes such as encryption or decryption, it reflects how language is so complex and can be used in almost any way.
Hopefully, after reading through the article you learned something new and view language in a different light than before. Let’s test your knowledge now and see if you can break a little code that I came up with:
That’s the code, a hint would be chemistry. Free milo/juice for whoever gets it first, good luck!