It is commonplace, in dialogical practice, for divergences to occur between what is said and what is interpreted. This is true of modern forms of communication, which give spoken language the primacy that it has deservedly earned along the course of human history. This study reports dialogical divergences of a rather unexpected kind, arising from two sets of documents of Grecian origin, which appear instead to compromise the essence of dialog itself as a cooperative endeavor.
Both sets of documents consist of small, irregularly shaped pieces of papyrus, printed with characters whose painstaking decryption is ongoing. Each set is watermarked and comprises a specific papyrus size, one larger for lengthier messages and one very small, allowing no more than three characters altogether in exchanges limited to two participants. The watermarks read, in loose translations from the original Ancient Greek, CountenanceScroll and Chirper, respectively, the latter with a verbal form spelt Cheerp, whose rationale remains obscure.
Communication through these messaging systems proceeded with astounding speed amid the exuberant bustle of a shopping agora or, at a somewhat more leisurely pace, when bumping into someone that one would rather have bumped into in the quietude of a claustro.1 Whether meeting for the first time or finding themselves among old acquaintances, interactants forwent the use of speech to slip into one another’s hands scribbled notes that, to all appearances, were composed on the spot on papyrus ripped to measure. To this purpose, users dashed around physically burdened with inkwell, quill and appropriate quantities of easily rippable papyri. A few of the notes contain some form of identification of the writer, though not necessarily of the reader. The following data illustrate a sample from each set of documents:
IM UR: OMG!!! QT juss barft!! yewwwwwwww > . < 2 alea: me?? =p jacta: LOL!! est: heheeee... told ya, pets r pests jacta: & est knows best HAHAHA!!! CarpeDM: rat? fish? bone? alea? alii? InVinoV: alot? est: its a lott, nickanpoop3 Εύφημη Ευχαριστώ: Methinks your felis catus perchance ingested a less appropriate concoction, which may, understandably, have discomposed its entrails. Would you agree?4 jacta: huh?!!!??!!? CarpeDM: *-* est: say wat??? alea: O.o IM UR: ... InVinoV: qt got yr tongue? alea: :D CarpeDM: ROFL!!!5 IMU: helo. i want be youre freind. want see pixture me very freindly? i show. IM UR: WTH??? est: sth phishys goin on... jacta: ;-) CarpeDM: looks like u, im est: duh Εύφημη Ευχαριστώ: Pardon me, pray? IM UR: OMG!!! im L8!!!!! GTG!!! jacta: y? alea: CU est: UR? Carpe DM: luv ya InVinoV: bibi est: by-by, u more on6 IM UR: xoxo!!!
RU? [ʘ] no! 2B hi! ATR ok ??7 yep or? lo ooh
Barring translation glitches, one difficulty in the analysis of these surviving fragments relates to what the exchanges actually represent. Even assuming that printed forms of language reflect spoken forms, and knowing that printed representations of speech fall painfully short of accommodating prosodomic inflections, we have no way of recovering the spoken forms to which most of these texts may have corresponded. One alternative interpretation is that this form of interaction might have been created specifically for printed use, which suggests an unorthodox conception of human communicative abilities whose exploration, as the saying goes, lies beyond the scope of this papyrus. Nevertheless, the data do show a number of regularities, captured in four maxomes which, as their name indicates, maxomize the fluency of the exchanges:
B Sc xprss yrslf Scntly; B Ed be Edit- free; do not write that for which you lack spontaneity; B A be as Arbitrary as possible; B Mus beMuse your recipients with light- speed comments on their light- speed musings.
Obedience to maxomes further results in two effects. One, intra-
The second effect, intra-
Finally, maxomatic effects are cathartic to civilized communicators too: they arouse both horror (from the harrowing shortcomings evinced by this means of expression) and compassion (ditto). We thus hope to have demonstrated the irremediably primitive nature of the B set of maxomes and, thereby, the reason why the unwieldy form of interaction that they describe quickly became obsolete.
2 Our analysis disregards non-
3 Most of the turns immediately preceding this one appear to have changed hands simultaneously.
4 Careful examination of the orthographia, grammatika and lexicae of this contribution shows that its author is a non-
5 See footnote 3.
6 See footnote 5.
7 This participant appears to share our difficulty interpreting non-
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