Aloïse Corbaz, “Materdolorosa” (1922), graphite, ink, and colored pencil on card stock, 3.7 x 5.6 inches (photo by Sarah Baehler, Atelier de numérisation, Ville de Lausanne, courtesy Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne)
GENEVA — Chicken scratch. Senseless doodles. Back-of-the-envelope scribbles. Illegible jottings of all kinds.
Ever since prehistoric cave dwellers first used mineral pigments to craft images of their hands and rudimentary pictographs on their interior walls, humans have been compelled to make and leave their marks.
If the phenomenon of spoken and written language, with its capacity for telling stories and conveying complex ideas, distinguishes humans from other animals, then what are we to make of writing systems that are unrelated to any known language and that, even to informed specialists, make no sense at all? Do such transcribed “tongues” exist?