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Re: Divergent Scripts

From:Barbara Barrett <barbarabarrett@...>
Date:Monday, September 2, 2002, 13:31
> Arthaey Asked; > I'd like to know how believable/likely it would be for them to develop two > totally different scripts that were both originally based on an alphabetic > script. I want one of the scripts to remain alphabetic, but I want the > second script to be like Chinese (what's this called? logographic?).
Barbara Babbles; I'm an amateur scriptologist (someone who studies the nuts and bolts of writing systems and their development) and historically it'd be very unlikly that an alphabetic script would develop first in either case unless the idea of an alphabetic script was introduced to them from elsewhere The alphabet has only been invented twice in human history. Once in mesoptania (which died along with cuneiform) and once by the Egyptians as a part of the hieroglphic system - all the world's alphabets are decendents, direct and indirect of the hieroglyphic alphabet. Alphabets *could* develop from two main basics, the rebus principle or the syllabic principle, - a third is the conceptual principle (ie one culture adapts the *idea* of writing from another culture and simplifys it creating an alphabet, or the idea of an alphabet is adapted from another language which already uses one). The most plausable scenario would be for there to be two isolated groups of speakers of your conlang, for convinience call them A and B, one of whom developed a mixed syllabic/logographic script like Minoan Linear B (lets say A did this) and when B came in contact with them they took away the *idea* of writing and created their own uniquie alphabet. Later when the cultures melded the two systems could become mixed with the main writing being alphabetic but the logorgaphs retained for convinience. The outcome would be similar to modern Text messaging in which the need to reduce the number of letters has meant that even numeric ideographs and capitolised letters have been utilised as logographs. A short sentence such as "what for?" can be written "? 4" or "are you going too" as " R U going 2? or a word like "hatstand" becomes "h@st&". It is possible for a logographic script to include an alphabet (eg; Ancient Egyptian) or a syllabary (eg; Mayan) and develop a mixed script. Or for a syllabic script to include a large number of logographs (eg Minoan Linear B). When "phonetic" systems are independently invented - ie in isolation - syllabic scripts come first. This stems from the difficulty in pronouncing consonants in isolation (ie without a vowel) so the first instinct is to intellectually conect consonants with a vowel and think of sounds like ta, te, tee, tih, toh, toe, tuh, tou, too, as requiring seperate graphic representation. As vowels can be pronounced in isolation they get their own symbols and are used at the begining of words or after a syllabic like "ta" + "I" = /taI/ to make diphthongs. No alphabet has ever been independently invented, they have always either evolved from logographic/syllabic scripts, or some genius having been exposed to these forms of writing has concieved the idea of representing each phoneme independently (eg Phonician, and Protosinatic were born from Ancient Egyptian, Phonician inspired the Greeks (who developed the idea of representing vowels as well as consonants), and the Later Egyptians (Copts) were inspired by Greek to an alphabetic system (although they borrowed some characters from anicent egyptian demotic for phonemes greek didn't have). Greek inspire the Etruscans, who in turn inspired the Romans, and the rest as they say is history. The ancient inhabitants of India came closest to independently inventing an alphabet, but end up with a compromise. There are seperate signs for vowels, but each "letter" has an inherent "a" vowel unless either changed to another vowel by a diacritic or ommited by ligature (the so called conjunct consonants of Devangari for example - of which there are several hundred) or by a "null" diacritic (usually used in the final position). Ethiopian had a similar solution for their syllabary; all "t" syllables for example have a similarity - the same basic shape - the vowel indicated by a ligatured "tag" shape. These are not "true" syllabaries (ie where every "letter" is different and unrelated in shape to any other) and are called "syllabets" by scriptologists. In the Egyptian case only consonants were written and this led to an over abundance of written homophones, and as vowels determined case, tense, etc so an extra character was added to the end of a word called a determinative; thus [wns] which in written form could mean Open, Hurry, Mistake, Hermopolis (as so called by the greeks), to become Bald, or Light; were sorted out by thier determinatives (which in "stand alone mode" were logographs) for A Door, Walking Legs, A Wren (associated with evil), Crossroads within a wall (inhabited place), Hair, and The Sun. When the egyptians wanted to use the Determinative as a Logograph they placed a single stroke beneath it which told the reader to read it as a logograph and not an unpronounced determinative (this type of graphic signaling is part of a script's orthography). In the case of the Chinese language's script Tones (which changed a syllable's meaning) prevented the development of an alphabetic script. Originally Logographs represented each word, however to have a logograph for every word would be cumbersome and almost impossible to hold in memory. The solution was to use two characters together, the first character told the reader the syllable using the rebus principle - but without a tone it could have several possible meanings, thus the second character (called the "classifier") told the reader the rough "sense" of the first by determining which "class" of words the first character belonged to (eg flat things, animals, humans, wooden things, etc etc) and thus the reader was informed which tone to use to properly pronounce the first character. This system worked well and could travel across the chinese regionolects even when the other regionolect used different tones. Over 80% of written chinese uses [syllable/meaning] pairs. This ability to represent more than one language was why no simple system for tones was developed; because while [syllable/meaning] would cross linguistic barriers [syllable/fall-rise tone] could not. No Tone Language has ever *independently* developed an alphabet. In all cases where a Tone language has an alphabet the idea of an alphabet was introduced or taken from elsewhere and then adapted to represent tones as well as phonemes. However, having said that, there is no such thing as a "pure" writing system. English for example uses a number of logographs and ideographs. In the ideographic catagory we have most of our punctuation marks . = end of sentence, Between " " = spoken words, ? = sentence was a question, etc and all of our mathmatical notation which is universal across all languages. In the logographic catagory we have, & = and, @ = (at, each, or per), and % = "per centage".
> I don't know the history of how/when/why the Chinese characters got a > Latin-alphabet tranliteration equivalent... could someone fill me in?
Missionaries developed ways of representing Chinese alphabetically so as it could be taught to other missionaries - there were many systems - the communist government of china decided that all offical latinization would be in pinyin, which is based on a german alphabetization system.
> Do I need to have two geographically separated groups of Asha'illens for > one of them to create a logographic script from an alphabetic one?
As we've looked at already the evolution would have to be the other way around, that is; alphabetic from logographic/syllabic. However, even although I used geography in my example geographical seperation is not esential, but some form of seperation is; cultural or religious. Many religions develop their own script in an effort to help foster an independent group identity; Mormon script is a modern example and Manichaean an ancient one as examples of "created scripts"; Mohammed's insitance that the Koran was only written in the Arabic script and language had a similar effect, even if that was not the declared intention. The Copts of Egypt (who are christians) adopted and adapted the greek alphabet in order to dispose of hieroglyphic writing (and its derivitives of hieratic and demotic) because that system was intimately connected to the regligious beliefs of the Pagan Egyptians. So when paganism was ousted entirly in Egypt by christianity the knowlege of how to read "pagan" heiroglyphs was lost too.
> Also, I really like having fonts for my conscripts. With an alphabetic > script it's very simple for me to make a font, but I don't know where to > start with a logographic one. Seems that however computers deal with > Chinese would work for me. How do you type Chinese characters? What are > the fonts like?
To alter and use a chinese font, because you'd be substituting one of your character for a chinese one, you'd need to learn how to type chinese, and memorise your substitution code! A much simplier solution is to use more than one alphabetic font. You must have played with fonts and found you can change fonts mid-word. If you take for example the "Times" typeface versions of Roman, Cyrillic, and Greek you can expand the "latin" alphabet (if you include the scandanavian charater set too) by another 38 unique characters giving you a 64 character alphabet, which you can double if the Capitols represent different sounds to 128. The standard keyboard (including capitols and symbols) has 94 characters, using four different fonts in the same "typeface" and point size in the manner described above would give you 376 characters to play with, four keyboard cue sheets, and no need to learn chinese before you could type in your conlang ;-) To invent a logographic script from scratch, and to do that convincingly, would be no easy task. I'd advise you study some books relevent to the subject first; The Story of Writing, by Andrew Robinson Lost Languages, by Andrew Robinsn Understanding Chinese Characters, by Edoardo Fazzioli Reading the Maya Glyphs, by Micheal Coe and Mark Van Stone and Decoding Egyptian Hieroglyphs, by Bridget McDermott. The first two will help you understand how scripts evolve, and the other three will help you understand how logographs are concieved and created and the "logic" behind them - which is intimatly tied to both language and culture and not in the least "obvious". Another book wich will give you an idea of the sheer variety in which language can be written is; Writing Systems of the World, by Akira Nakanishi. Have fun! ;-) Barbara


John Cowan <jcowan@...>