As part of the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Association held this year in Washington D.C., the panel brought together papers examining how letters were conceived by a range of nineteenth-century thinkers, from the Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion, best known for his decipherment of the Rosetta Stone (1822), to Louis Descemet and David Boilat, Senegalese authors of some of the earliest Wolof grammars for readers of French. Alternately symbolic, hieroglyphic, phonetic, and even “colored,” the letters brought under consideration lay bare the many competing conceptions of what language itself was for thinkers of various nineteenth-century disciplines. The panel included papers by Yamaguchi (“Bright Vowels: Archaeology of a Metaphor”), Doyle Calhoun (“Les moindres nuances de la prononciation des indigènes”: Latin-based Scripts, Colonial Orthographies & Native Speakers in Nineteenth-Century Senegal”) and Renée Altergott (“Je tiens l’affaire! Jean-François Champollion and the Alphabet of Phonetic Hieroglyphs”).
CALLIOPE Research Affiliate Liesl Yamaguchi’s panel, “Conceptions of the Alphabet,” explored the politics, poetics, and phonetics of mid-nineteenth century alphabets in France, Egypt, and Senegal.