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Let us assume we have our prototypical European dragon representative over here, George. He has four ground-limbs with four clawed digits including an opposable digit on the forelimbs, normally is quadrupedal when walking around, and has forelimbs somewhat longer than the hind limbs, in addition to the traditional scales and toasty-breath. The big fellow has a big brain to match, too -- easily on par with an intelligent human.

However, how would he write anything down? Dragon limbs and digits are big and chunky with serious pointy ends, designed for walking, pushing off for takeoff, and assisting with feeding -- despite having grasping capabilities, they certainly are not designed for fine motor skills.

You can come up with any sort of instrument you wish to assist the dragon in his goals, but modifying the dragon for improved fine motor skills is out of the question.

Furthermore, what sort of script/writing system would lend itself to being used by such a large and clumsy creature? Would they be stuck with large-print on their clay tablets? Or would a different type of writing system be better for the application?

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  • $\begingroup$ Need an explicit question. Are you asking how such a dragon might write OR how to change the dragon so it can write? $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 16 '16 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM the former -- hopefully that clarifies it $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Dec 16 '16 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ the prototypical european dragon has four limbs ind is no brighter than an animal. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 16 '16 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, George is not a popular name among dragons, especially European dragons. St. George isn't exactly a popular figure in dragon lore, though he is accorded some grudging respect. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Dec 16 '16 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ Most dragons in Germanic and Slavic mythology are intelligent. These were the base for typical European dragon. Even the dragon that fought St.George tried to intimidate him. $\endgroup$ – Nuloen The Seeker Feb 28 '18 at 9:54
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Claws

According to Skyrim's Dragon Language lore,

The Dragon Alphabet is the alphabet used for the Dragon Language. Text written in the Dragon Alphabet is found on walls in ancient dungeons and on burial grounds in the form of Word Walls. The alphabet consists of 34 symbols: 25 that map directly to letters in the Latin alphabet, and nine that represent pairs of letters. There is a symbol for every letter in the Latin alphabet except for "C".

The shape of the letters is constrained by their need to be written using three large talons and a vestigial fourth digit called the dewclaw. Thus, all of the character symbols consist of a maximum of three scratches occasionally punctuated with a dot from the dewclaw.

enter image description here

This would be ideal for large scale inscribing on stone, metal, etc.

Magic

Perhaps if George is an enterprising dragon, he can come up with a magical shout for writing, if he wants to add some flair to his style. Or, if he is a non-Elder-Scrolls type of dragon, perhaps his kin have another system of magic sufficient for replacing the tedious scratching Skyrim dragons must deal with.

This could enable George to pen elegant greeting cards and birthday cards in any size, since it could be a variable-sized font (because magic.)

Typing

Thankfully, Skyrim's Dragon Alphabet has been committed to many fonts, including high quality True Type Fonts.

Obviously, though, George may need to invest in a custom external keyboard, sized to suit his needs. Monster Piano could perhaps be enticed (or threatened) into producing a dragon-sized keyboard:

enter image description here

I've tested this true type font and it works quite well:

enter image description here

You can test your dragon script reading skills if you want--the above text says:

Dragons are cool

Enjoy!

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    $\begingroup$ Why am I not surprised someone has created a font for the dragon language? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Dec 16 '16 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ Ikr?!? God only knows how many people are fluent in it by now XD. youtube.com/watch?v=r7dMnP4QbhU $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Dec 16 '16 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ I never liked that language it looks to much like cuneiform which is based around a triangular stylus making impression in clay. carved language should look more like runic writing, all straight even width lines. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 16 '16 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ I completely agree with @John - the idea of scratching is sound but etching into hard stone produces less pretty shapes and more jagged edges; lines should not vary in width either $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 16 '16 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for adding Dragon Language. That was the first thing I thought of, and if you hadn't put it, I would've. Great answer, by the way. ^-^ $\endgroup$ – Pleiades Dec 16 '16 at 3:51
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Whistling

George can purse his lips and 'whistle', forming a thin, short ranged, but plenty hot jet of incandescent plasma. By getting close to a suitable surface (rock wall, field of grass, tree, corpse) George can carefully etch messages in a manner similar to this, only a bit larger.

True practitioners of the art have even taken to thermocalligraphy, altering the jet of plasma as they write to create lithographic wonders both rare and beautiful. Others have learnt the skill of permanently marking the scales of other dragons, creating wonderful iridescent tattoos using nothing but carefully controlled fire breath.

Obviously George has to be careful, and teaching dragonlings their ABC's is best done away from any inhabited villages.

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George has built a partnership with Humans

George is indeed incapable of writing himself, because his claws lack the needed precision. However, his strength, his fire, and his benevolence can prove extremely useful to a tiny race, called Humans. George's intelligence is, as you mentioned, easily on par with human intelligence, so he can understand bartering, and human language would not be a challenge for him to learn.

George accepts to not eat any human, and he even occasionally helps them. In exchange, the community sends a writing expert, who is tasked with writing down everything George wants him to write. George has a good pair of eyes, so the small letters are not bothering him.

That's how Georgetown was built, incidently - it's the town of people who live happily with George... as long as they hold their part of the deal.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this one. Any literate dragon worth his scales would never be caught WRITING, that's clearly a job for the scribe! Though I'm not so sure the scribe is 100% willing, that chain around his ankle isn't to keep him from falling off the pile of gold in the corner :) $\endgroup$ – Jason K Dec 16 '16 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ That's another way to see it. I like the idea of a symbiotic cooperation, but it can also look like "write or die". $\endgroup$ – Thalantas Dec 16 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Especially if the human scribe is transcribing sensitive information, like who the dragon wants to attack, where his treasure is buried, or which king's daughter is too ugly to make for a good sacrifice :) Abducting these scribes would be the wikileaks of the dragon world, so they would have to be kept close. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Dec 16 '16 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ That explains why they would want to kidnap noble princesses. Unlike peasants they are literate and wont try to fight back or escape as much as their male counterparts. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Jul 21 '17 at 23:13
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Gouging holes with the claws. Your dragons have claws designed for scratching things, so why not use that for the intended purpose. It would, obviously, be more awkward than a human writing, but it works fine for a dragon. The characters can also be big, to allow for the lack of fine motor skills (like how little kids tend to write with larger letters).

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Some dragons use pen and parchment, though their writing tools are custom, to fit a dragon's front talons. Not all dragons are literate, but most acquire basic proficiency in local written languages. (The five-fingered, Black/Imperial dragons of the far East are masters of calligraphy, and their brushworks are eagerly sought by more than just Mages.)

Most dragons that write more than casually use dragon-sized implements when writing in non-dragon scripts. Usually, quill pens, but pencils are used by some steam-punkish dragons. Although many dragons have surplus sheep hides with which to make parchment, long letters and manuscripts can quickly become bulky. So some prolix/tech-friendly dragons are beginning to make use of a pantograph mechanism to write more compactly. (Rumors are that the dwarves finally accepted the contract, after much wrangling.) Some dragons are resisting (as effete) the lenses needed to read such small lettering, but others are adopting the style with a will.

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Ogham

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogham

Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language (in the "orthodox" inscriptions, 1st to 6th centuries AD), and later the Old Irish language (scholastic ogham, 6th to 9th centuries). There are roughly 400 surviving orthodox inscriptions on stone monuments throughout Ireland and western Britain; the bulk of which are in southern Munster. The largest number outside Ireland are in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

enter image description here enter image description here

Note the very simple line structure of this script, it's entirely suitable for a dragon to carve in a rock with a claw rather than messing about with delicate matters like pen and paper. In fact much of the existing ogham script is found carved in rock.

Not to be confused with Oggham.

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Stamp kit

Your dragon owns a series of metal stamps, which he can heat up and then burn the symbol on a wooden surface.

The dragon alphabet works like old chinese scripts, so stamps that are used over one another can form another character.

So if we were to take characters for AEIOU and then combine them in pairs, to get different characters. We could get 5^2=25 characters total. If we combine 3 stamps then we get 5^3=125 characters total, which is an overkill for any alphabet.

There are 26 letters in english alphabet and 33 in russian. So if we take 6 stamps we get 6^2=36 characters, plenty, and then on the side of every stamp we could have special characters like +-=*:% and the basic 6 stamps in their single form could be '!?,.-

You could even go further and rotate the stamps, so for a + and = you would need to use a minus stamp twice. With a "." and a "," you can make : ; ' " etc.

Printed chars would also need a separator character like a space or _ to separate words. The dragon can heat up the handle of his stamp and make a simple dot (medieval scripts used dots to separate words, because it was all in capital letters)

5 stamps for simple alphabet with a character missing (dragons can't pronounce it)

6 stamps for complex aphabet.

Or just give him a metal rod and with /-|\<>. he can make most characters from our aphabet (AWETIFHKLZXVNM). Now give him a horseshoe and he can print curves. (QRUOPSDGCB)

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Seeing this question pop to the top again, I was reminded of ClaWrite, a font "For Dragons, By Dragons."

ClawWrite

The letters are all formed by horizontal or vertical slashes, something a dragon could swipe with his claws with ease. There's not a whole lot else, numbers and punctuation were never designed.

The vowels are either 1 or 2 slashes, alternating vertically and horizontally. The first symbol in the top left (Latin `) is noted as being used to indicate that the next letter is capitalized.

I'm not entirely sure who created it in the first case, but Tad Ramspott (Baxil) mantains the Tomorrowlands website and might've been the creator, the page is not entirely clear about it. Also given the page's last update date of 1997, ClaWrite might even be the oldest dragon-specific typeface.

The top answer (and Skyrim's typeface) use similar rational about the design of the characters (created with claws, causing scratches in a material). ClaWrite was intended to be readable (with a little effort) by English speakers, whereas Skyrim didn't want players to immediately recognize letters, so the individual symbols are intentionally arcane.

I will also admit that Skyrim's greater sub-letter stroke library is much greater, leading to increased freedom in designing letterforms (dots, short slashes, long slashes vs. horizontal/vertical), a feature that ClaWrite could desperately use, but ClaWrite's intent was to use a 3x3 grid as the base structure. Both approaches have their benefits.

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