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A transcription of Mandarin based on Basque

From:Benct Philip Jonsson <melroch@...>
Date:Wednesday, October 24, 2007, 9:28
I just (again) got this idea about a transcription of
Mandarin based on Basque. It's only a small departure from
OTL if in some ATL a Basque Jesuit Matia Arriaga had reached
the court of Kangxi (or Kangsi) instead of the Italian
Matteo Ricci.

In the following I'll use {braces} around Pinyin 'values'
and _underscores_ around Vascoid spellings.

The main difference would of course be that the three
sibilants would be written _z_ {s} _x_ {sh} and _s_ {x}. The
plain voiceless stops {b d g} would be written _p t k_, the
aspirates {p t k} _ph th kh_ and the affricates {z c zh ch j
q} accordingly _tz tzh tx txh ts tsh_.

It is true that a 17th century Basque would have been likely
to use _ch_ instead of _tx_ and _c/ç_ instead of _tz_ or
_z_, but given the fact that _h_ would be needed to mark
aspiration, which would make _ch_ highly ambiguous (_tx txh_
or _kh_?), Arriaga may decide to avoid _ch_ and _c/ç_ in
favor of _tx_ and _tz_ or _z_, which spellings were AFAIK
not entirely unused in the unstandardized basque of the
time. Given time such warts may be evened out. although the
rather erratic Lusism of Vietnamese spelling is an appaling

One virtue of this system would be that _g_ would not be
used outside the digraph _ng_.

_R_ between vowels would likely be doubled _rr_ to a Basque
ear. I don't know what happens in actual Mandarin phonetics
when a fina {-r} amd an initial {r-} come together, however.

I guess the oldstyle values of _j v_ as mere graphic
variants of _i u_ would apply, so {y} would be spelled _y_}
and perhaps {w} may get spelled _v_, with _b_ as a variant,
although there is a distinct possibility that {h} would get
spelled _j_, and so {w} may become _hu_! However the glottal
stop at the end words which ended in a stop (Ru tone) in
Middle Chinese would be preservwed at the time, and so
likely be noted by Arriaga and perhaps spelled _h_, so that
{w} would become _v/b_ anyway. Probably the criteria for
using _i_ or _y_ would be different too for Arriaga,
including that possibly both sequences {yi} and {iy} would
be rendered by _y_ (seen as a shorthand for _ii_). I guess
Arriaga would see no reason not to spell {ui} as _uey_ and
{iu} as _iou_.

The other big problem is how {ü} would be rendered, but
given that {ü} is distinct from {u} only in the
combinations {lü} and {nü} it is not unlikely that Arriaga
would spell them _llu_ {lü} and _ñu_ {nü}.

This leaves the problem of tones. One may alas not be so
bold to assume that Arriaga was familiar with the macron and
breve from his Latin dictionary -- they wouldn't be used in
a 17th cebtury Latin dictionary! -- and write the tones _mā
má mă mà_. Instead Arriaga may have started with what he
was familiar with and had types for in his printshop, coming
up with _ma má mâ mà_ and never mind the neutral tone! As
for using the circumflex for the third tone, it may be
justified on the grounds that its name {shàngshēng},
literally means 'up tone'. More likely however may be _mâ
má mả mà_, seeing how those whe created the Vietnamese
Latin alphabet (1) didn't shun away from new diacritics (2)
choose rather iconic tone marks and (3) likened the low
falling rising tone of Vietnamese to the question intonation
of Romance languages and so used a small question mark for
that tone.

At last an example text:

Rénrén xêng ér tzyóu, tzày tzûnián jé
tshuánlìxàng illù phíngtẻng. Thâmen fùyỏu
lỉsìng jé liánsîn, pìng îng ỉ siôngti quânsì te
tsîngxén jùsiâng tuèitày.

/王金寶 -- Váng Tsînpảu (Don't ask! 8^)>
Benct Philip Jonsson -- melroch atte melroch dotte se
   "C'est en vain que nos Josués littéraires crient
   à la langue de s'arrêter; les langues ni le soleil
   ne s'arrêtent plus. Le jour où elles se *fixent*,
   c'est qu'elles meurent."           (Victor Hugo)