03:
The Singapore Stone

The varied nature and transformation of the Singapore society over the past century, is also reflected in the varied ways that have since becoming a symbol for communicating in Singapore and a daily way of life. Working in a chronological fashion, I begun my research with the earliest specimen of scripture found in Singapore – The Singapore Stone (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2).

By the time the East India Company had arrived, the inscriptions of the Singapore Stone was already a mystery. Many attempts were made to decipher and study the Singapore Stone since, including the founder of modern Singapore Sir Stanford Raffles and most recently by local archeologist John N. Miksic who publishing his findings in his book — ‘Archaeological Research on the Forbidden Hill of Singapore’. There a was a clear desire to deduce the language of the inscription everytime it was studied, hypothesis ranged from early Ceylonese, to Tamil to Old Javanese and to Sanskrit. Each a surviving ancient language with some recognition to various parts of the inscription of the Singapore Stone, but none could be ventured to be put together and connected in sentences or even words. Ultimately, Miksic believes that the inscriptions has a closer affinity to the Sumatran writing style and therefore was probably commissioned by someone who was culturally Sumatran, but he also notes that the script will probably never be fully deciphered.

I visited the Singapore stone at the National Museum of Singapore several times, and studied the lithograph copies of the Singapore Stone, in my own way trying to decipher and make meaning out of these ancient inscriptions like so many others before me. Perhaps because I was already working within the confines of a typeface for the alphabetic system, the approach gave me a different perspective in handling the inscriptions of the Singapore Stone. Unlike the researchers before me, I did not have to prove linguistic accuracy or interpret the meaning of the inscription. I searched solely for forms that visually corresponded to the various alphabets and in turn making my own meaning out of the inscriptions on the Singapore Stone.

The Singapore Stone was the earliest writing system found and documented in Singapore, now an extinct language. I found the inscription incredibly graphic in its appeal that was also reminiscent of prehistoric Chinese pictograms, that seem add to a sense of history in its existing forms.

 

Figure 1:

J.W. Laidlay. 1848. A black and white photo of the Singapore Stone as published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal

Figure 2:

An artist's rendering of the inscriptions on the fragment of the Stone as published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal

Figure 3:

Dr William Bland. 1837. Inscription of the Singapore Stone as published as Plate XXXVII in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal [Lithograph]