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Cherokee and--Re: Optimum number of symbols

From:Clint Jackson Baker <litrex1@...>
Date:Monday, May 20, 2002, 15:00
Sequoyah started with something like 260 symbols for
his syllabary, trying to take into account every sound
he heard in Cherokee.  Then he took things like
regional accents into account and was able to trim it
all the way down to the current 85.


--- Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...> wrote:
> We've recently been arguing whether an optimum > number of root morphemes > might be something like Dublex's 400 or Duton's 491 > (I don't recall if > Javier given a number for Futurese or not). But > what about the optimum > number of _symbols_? > > Futurese, like most con-IALs, adopts the modern > Roman alphabet (so do both > current versions of BrSc); and there's been some > argument whether that > compromises Javier's aim of being culturally neutral > or not. But obviously > the main reason for both Javier & myself adopting > the Roman alphabet for > our conlangs is pragmatic: that's what the majority > of keyboards provide > and we're still often restricted by ASCII. > > But nearly 40 years ago in "Language and Symbolic > Systems", Yuen Ren Chao > called the number of letters in the Roman alphabet > 'paltry'. In one place > in the book, he wrote: > "I often speculate whether an ideal system of > writing would not be some > golden mean between the unwieldy thousands of > arbitrary units [of the > Chinese characters] and the paltry few letters of > the Latin alphabet. To > make a wild guess at an optimum number of symbols, > if we take say the > geometric mean between the number of letters of the > Latin alphabet and the > number of one of the sets of basic characters of > 1000 or 1100, it will come > out to a list of roughly 170 symbols, which seems to > be a list of > manageable size." > > Later in the book, in a chapter discussing the "10 > requirements for good > symbols", he writes: > "Ideally, in the quest for a universal system of > symbols, be it for the > natural languages or for an artificial international > language, we are bound > to be pulled in various directions by the partially > conflicting > requirements, as we have been considering. If > vested interest could be > discounted in favour of end efficiency, my guess for > an ideal system of > visual and auditory symbols for general purposes of > speech and thought will > involve neither the extreme paucity in elementary > units nor the extreme > luxury of thousands of them, but probably about 200 > monosyllabic symbols, > such that a string of "seven plus or minus two" of > them can be easily > grasped in one span of attention." > > I do not BTW understand the "200 monosyllabic > symbols" to be the same as > '200 monosyllabic root morphemes'. In neither of > these passage does he > mention morphemes. But the second paragraph quoted > would seem to me to > suggest a phonology of 200 basic monosyllables. > > Obviously, 200 simple symbols would make for greater > compactness than the > 26 letters of the Roman alphabet [or the approx. 70 > symbols used by Lin] > :) > > Most westerners seem to take it for granted that a > script where each > grapheme = 1 phoneme is best, i.e. an alphabet of a > some 'paltry few' 20 to > 30+ symbols. That view is clearly not universal. > It would interesting to > know if Hanuman Zhang regards our Roman/Latin script > as paltry; and Mathias > has shown a healthy questioning of western > assumptions. > > So: > 1. What is the optimum number of symbols? > 2. If the optimum number is in the hundreds (or > thousands!), what would > each symbol represent? > > I know some artlangers have devised their own > scripts. > 3. Have such scripts been alphabetic (like JRRT's > Tengawr and Dwarvish > runes), or have you used some other system? > 4. Were you motivated by any thoughts of > 'optimality' or just doing it for > the fun of creating? > > Finally: > 5. Have any designers of auxlangs and/or engelangs > devised a special set of > symbols for their languages? If so, why? > > Ray (in questioning mode) > > > > > > >
> Speech is _poiesis_ and human linguistic > articulation > is centrally creative. > GEORGE STEINER. >
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