Sable Basilisk

At Telemarq today we were discussing some of the rather good Open Source text-to-speech systems now available, and testing them with some difficult-to-pronounce words.  They did struggle a bit with some of them, but who can blame them?

British names can be challenging at the best of times; I knew, for example, that Menzies is not usually pronounced as it appears, but I must confess to being ignorant of the fact that the surname ‘Dalziel’ is actually pronounced ‘Dee-El’ (which sounds like a class of droid from Star Wars, don’t you think?  “That old DL-4 unit will do fine.  We’ll take that one.”)

While looking at the Wikipedia page, though, my colleague Nicholas noticed the Dalziel coat of arms, which is rather striking, and should eliminate any suggestion that the Dalziels are not thoroughly human. Take a look! (The page does explain the origin too.)

If you examine the expression on his face, it can be fun coming up with captions.

“Listen, laddie, if I’m willing to come into battle armed only wi’ this, are ye really ready to fight me?”

I think Robert Burns would approve, though. “Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine; // A Man’s a Man for a’ that:”

Heraldry, of course, has a language of its own.  Your family’s arms might be technically described as “azure a fess or between three mullets argent”, for example, and we are reminded by this Britannica article that ‘a bordure is an ordinary in England, but in Scotland it is never a charge, being reserved for cadency. Some count the roundel as a subordinary, while others consign it to the “others” category as a simple charge.’  

Actually, if you read the article, you’ll understand the above. (I had a splendid teacher at school who believed that a well-educated English gentleman ought to have at least a smattering of knowledge of a range of topics that weren’t in the normal curriculum, and would take the odd lesson out to tell us about them, so I gained some awareness of those who charge a field purpure or a bend sinister with a lion rampant, when I should technically have been learning about Thomas Hardy.  It’s wonderful stuff.)

There are rules to be followed too. The aforementioned article reminds me that “a colour is very rarely placed upon a colour, a metal upon a metal, or a fur upon a fur. “

All of which made me think this would be a fun body of material for training an AI system.  Could you create something which, given a coat of arms, would return the correct heraldic description, and vice versa? And then, phase 2: given somebody’s ancestry and history, could you create a coat of arms for them following the conventions and the rules?  I fancy doing another PhD, so if anybody could kindly come up with a source of funding for this, I propose to create such a system and name it ‘Sable Basilisk’, in honour of the character of that name immortalised by Ian Fleming.

The funder of my research would, of course, have a beautiful coat of arms generated just for them.  If they’re really lucky, it might resemble the Dalziel’s.

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© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser