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Portingale: Dice & Dots

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 07.03.12


Appears first in the Herald's Roll, an English armorial from the end of the 13th century, showing some interesting aspects for the parophonic methodology used with heraldic semiotics. These attributed arms represented the respective sovereigns only in fantasy and there was some relaxation of the usual rules, rather using more convenient or easier solutions. One of these simplifications is the adoption of a local language for parophony. Our method works usually with a recurring sequence (↓) that transforms words into images: Referent (R), Referent's Metonym (M), Verbalization (V), Accommodation (A), Sematization (S), Specification (E), Heraldic Trace (H) and Complementation (C), as shown in the table that follows.


The starting point for the visual symbology in each attribution is simplified through a metonymy, almost always associated with the territory's denomination, nevertheless keeping the heraldic practice regarding the referent. Portingal or Portingale, is the denominant, a word used since the 12th century to describe Portugal by influence of languages akin to French, namely Anglo-Norman. We used the X-SAMPA code for the phonetic correspondences between denominant and designant, so as to enforce legibility without compromising accuracy. Both sets of phonemes to compare are the same - Portingale ~ porte ingal - resulting in a null discretion index. Therefore, we may classify these arms as perfectly canting.


The designant porte ingal is sematicized with the idea of carry equal, that is, show the same quantities. A simple metonymy transforms the comprehensive concept, quantities, into a restrict exemplification: the value of the spots in the three visible faces. Moreover, equal doesn't typify explicitly a qualification, although understandable as such; the change into a numeric specification is surely meaningful in heraldry. Two or more units of the same will be implicit, and appear later in blazoning: each with. Another solution using aleae (Lat. dice) seems unreasonable and in any case Latin is rarely used with parophonies of attributed arms. It would also create additional difficulties, seemingly insurmountable, in order to explain the first half of the designant.


The tacit action in carry may be interpreted as the vocation of the shield to display figurations inside its borders, a mere redundancy, with no discernible effect in the heraldic trace. As a second reading the figurations themselves, the dice, carry others, the spots.  Finally, this last meaning carry articulates with equal in a compound metonymy, as the corresponding representation of the same faces and spots reinforce their imagetic meaning when together.


But the data do not transmit the sole idea expressed by the designant. The white tincture, the presence, disposition and colour of the spots, all are immanent elements we can guess, deriving from the nature of the object. The reason to use three of them maybe was linked with the effort to guarantee a simpler drawing occupying the whole available area. However, we cannot underestimate the eventual role played by a popular game or the aesthetic and conventional preferences of the author of the manuscript, as for the King of Castile.


Blazoning normally regulates heraldic traces, except when the practice of the art or the nature of things agrees upon those characteristics understood by omission. In such a way, it is acceptable to align the faces of the dice by the upper border of the shield, even if this wasn't expressly referred. Alternatively exposing only one face of the die implied the description of the contents - each with five dots - without mentioning the other faces. The Llibre dels Privilegis de Mallorca from the beginning of the 14th century shows five dice 2-1-2, in synchrony with the five Portuguese escutcheons, or so it seems. But the Grimaldi's Roll, contemporary to the latter, shows the field in azure with six, five and four spots on the three visible faces of each cube. If we refuse a possible corruption of older attributed arms it may lead us to consider the similarity of this shield and the blue escutcheons of Portugal.


Choosing the number of dots could be associated with the efficient use of space. Six is the admissible maximum for one die and, besides, this armorial was made well before the adoption of the five plates in saltire within the national shield of Portugal. The older disposition alternating the eleven plates in quincunx still recalls their simplest form, the quina. If ever influenced by the Portuguese coat of arms, they would satisfy simultaneously their own logic along with the logic of the artefact.


Another question is to know why the true arms of the King of Portugal weren't used. Could the Portuguese arms be unknown to the author? We can't guarantee but the answer seems affirmative, at least regarding the knowledge of their precise details. Other examples of absolute divergence may be found in the Roll: the kings of Denmark and Norway. Besides, for the King of Castile we may find three castles instead of one. Incidentally there was no state of war that would arise the suspicion of a purported distortion.


The red field helps to organize and complement the composition. A gambling table in wood could be a suitable background for the scene knowing that the three dice are seen from the top. Several examples in our corpus represent this material in yellow or red tones, not too far from nature, the brown colour being uncommon in blazoning. Excluding the first tincture due to the poor contrast with white, the second remains.


Complementation, the last phenomenon in this arrangement, arises in many ways. They fill the blanks left by semantic heraldic traces and blazoning but, ordinarily, hides under an implicit form. We may find contrast, imitation, props, immanence, symmetry, filling, centrality, simplification and redundancy. The last is not even referred in blazoning, for unnecessary. See about this subject:


ANOH - The Anglo-Norman On-Line Hub - Visited 13th of December 2011 available in: <>.


TIMMS, B. - Heraldry - 2011 : Visited 13th of December 2011 available in: <>.



Attributed Arms R King of Portugal
Territorial M Portugal
Imaginary language V Portingale (Anglo-Norman)
Denominant A Portingale
Graphemization A PORTINGALE 
Phonemization A pORtGal 
Pairing A pORtGal   
A pORtGal   
Coefficient of transposition A   
Coefficient of character A   
Coefficient of position A   
Addends A   
Discretion index A 0.0   
Phonemization A pORtGal
Graphemization A PORTE_INGAL
Designant A porte   ingal
Simple monosemy S carry equal
S show the same quantities
Action + Quantity E show + equal
Redundancy C carry = emblazon
Tincture H reddish Gules
Contrast C argent
Prop C gambling table
Number H 3 three
Figuration H diedice
Simplification C = result's face
Tincture H whitish argent
Immanence C die
Orientation H horizontal(straight)
Simplification C = top edge
Disposition H 2, 1(two and one)
Filling C shield's area
Symmetry C shield's axis
Centrality C fess point
Compound metonymy 1/2 S carries > area > face > die
Placement H dots at the faces each with
Compound metonymy 2/2 S equal > faces > dots
Number H 5 five
Simple metonymy S quantity > points > die > dots
Figuration H dot dots
Immanence C die
Tincture H dark(sable)
Contrast C argent
Immanence C die
Disposition H 2, 1, 2(in saltire)
Filling C (quincunx)
Imitation C (roundels)
Immanence C die


(next analysis in this blog is here)

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Published at 18:12

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Março 2012