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What is an alphabet? Re: Optimum number of symbols

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Monday, May 27, 2002, 18:21
At 5:38 pm -0400 26/5/02, John Cowan wrote:
>Raymond Brown scripsit: > >> the term 'bopomofo' shouldn't be coined for an alphabet which has separate >> characters for each initial and each rhyme. > >Except it really isn't so: there are 36 rhymes, but only 16 non-initial >bopomofo letters.
Right - meaning there is no initial 'zero consonant'. I think I was getting it confused with the older Fan3qie4 method. [snip] Yes, I have a copy of the bopomofo before me right now :) I think it's because my copy divides the symbols up into 'consonants', 'terminals', and 'compound terminals' which has misled me. But even among the plain 'terminals' some denote sounds ending in /n/ and /N/, and the two diphthongs written "ao" and "ai" in Pinyin are included. The 'compound terminals' include triphthongs as well as diphthongs, i.e. some of the symbols are triphonemic. The system just 'feels' different from what one is used to with Roman, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets - but I'm probably being confused by two things: 1. the use of 'terminal' and 'compound terminal' 2. the notion that alphabetic scripts are approximately 'one character = one phoneme' (but that may be the result of recent threads).
> >This point may be contrasted with the use of "yi" and "wu" in Pinyin to >write monomorphemic /i/ and /u/.
If indeed they are monomorphemic. Personally, I would regard them so, but I understand there are those who give [j] and [w] phonemic status (as, indeed, the Pinyin script suggests). I should, perhaps, make it clear I do not have a position one way or the other whether the bopomofo is truly an alphabet or not. I'm just trying to get things clear in my own mind. In your reply on Saturday you gave helpful definitions to Philip Newton's query about abjads, abugidas & syllabaries. Could you, so to speak, finish the job and give a similar definition to 'alphabet' which, on the one hand distinguishe it from abjads, and on the other hand makes it clear to an old duffer like me that the bopomofo is truly alphabetic. I, at least, would find this very helpful. Sorry for be so obtuse. Ray. ======================================================= Speech is _poiesis_ and human linguistic articulation is centrally creative. GEORGE STEINER. =======================================================


John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>