Update: 2015-12-23 03:58 AM -0500


Introduction to Romabama

- a transcription-transliteration system
for BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Sanskrit) languages


by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.), Daw Khin Wutyi, B.Sc., and staff of Tun Institute of Learning (TIL). Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL Research Station, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , www.romabama.blogspot.com

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page

Circularly rounded shape of Myanmar akshara
Rule 01 - use of ASCII characters only, avoiding digraphs whenever possible.
- Consonants (Plosives-stops, Affricates, Fricatives, Nasals, Approximants)
- Vowels (Close or High, Mid, Open or Low)
Rule 02 - Differentiation of capital and small letters


UKT notes
Tenuis-voiceless consonant
Writing systems or scripts
 1. Abjad , 2. Abugida (akshara or {ak-hka.ra} ) ,
 3. Alphabet , 4. Syllabary ,
 5. Logogram , 6. Proto-Writing
 7. Unknown , 8. Ideographic


Contents of this page

Circularly rounded shape of Myanmar akshara

UKT 150408, 151220:

Unlike any other glyphs, there seems to be a well thought out reason for the circularly rounded shape. There are other rounded shapes such as those in southern India scripts, e.g. Tamil and Telugu. However, most of the shapes though rounded are not circularly-round. It is only the Myanmar akshara that almost exclusively use the circularly rounded shapes.

The Circle represents the idea of Whole or Perfection. The imperfections of the Whole, such as the imperfections of the attitudes such as Anger with rapid beatings of the heart is represented by dent in the Circle on the left, the imperfection of sexual attitude with a dent in the bottom, and the imperfection of mental attitudes with a dent on the top. Such a representations may be found in our Sa-Da-ba-wa In or Yantra.

However in other scripts such as the Hebrew, the first letter, "Aleph", from which we get the term "Alphabet" is associated with an "ox". The second letter "Bet" is associated with a "house". Both "ox" and "house" are forms in the material world. The Myanmar script, on the other hand, has association with the "idea of perfection" represented by a rounded Circle.

I am inclined to believe that as it is, the Myanmar akshara has been used since ancient-times to write "ideographs" probably stretching back to the ancient Indus-Saraswati civilization. The Swastika that has been used has circles or large dots which are similar to our Akshara, but blackened to hide the meaning. This ancient civilization was a Bronze Age civilization which has beginnings as far back as 3300 BCE, or about 2000 years before the birth of the Gautama Buddha. More more than 1,052 cities and settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Indus Rivers and their tributaries, and along the old Saraswati River which is now covered by the sands of the Thar desert. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_Civilization 150408

Contents of this page

Letters of Latin Alphabet used

Romabama Rule 01 :

Consonants (Plosive-stops, Affricates, Fricatives, Nasals, Approximants)
and Vowels (Close or High, Mid, Open or Low)

Use of ASCII letters only
(avoiding digraphs whenever possible)

- UKT latest-150403

Romabama was originally designed in 1995 for writing e-mails without using any special fonts and therefore only ASCII  (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) letters are used. I use four-numbered and three-numbered keystrokes after pressing down the Alt key, e.g. Alt+0241 for , and, Alt+529 for ◄ .

An added problem is due to the English (sic American) language lacking graphemes to represent the nasal sounds such as "Nyal" {a.}. The usual practice of using English digraphs (2 characters in tandem), such as <ny> for "Nyal" {a.}, and <th> for {a.}, is avoided as much as possible because they are a source of confusion in transcription-transliteration. An example of confusion is the digraph <th>. In Skt-Dev and Hindi, <th> stands for Bur-Myan {hta.}.

We find 8 nasals in Myanmar akshara, when Bur-Myan, Mon-Myan, and Pal-Myan are considered as a group. Since each can have 3 pitch-registers (erroneously called "tones") in Bur-Myan, there are over 20. These have to be represented by only 2 in English - <n> and <m>. Borrowing one, <>, from Spanish is a help but not enough. Since our method of writing or script is Abugida, with the canonical CV structure, instead of CVC of the Alphabet, we have to be careful of the nuclear vowel, V. Keep in mind that Abugida is phonemic with an almost one-to-one mapping of speech to script, and is more scientific than the Alphabet, exemplified by English in which there is no one-to-one relationship between speech and script. Never pronounce an English word from the way it is spelled. In Burmese, you will be understood when you pronounce according to the spelling. You will sound "bookish", but still correct.

Contents of this page

Rime and Rhyme

In learning pronunciation of words we have to keep track of rhyme. Word-parts that refer to spelling are known as rimes, and we say that "rimes will rhyme". Rimes begin with a vowel sound and end before the next vowel sound.

The nasal rimes in Myanmar are:
{n}, {ing}, {i}, {N}, {n}, {m}, {on}, {On}.

Each vowel, and nasal rime can have more than one register: differentiated by the vowel duration in eye-blinks.
  extra-short, {a:.}    = 1/2 blk
  creak or short {a.}  = 1 blk
  modal or long  {a}  = 2 blk 
  emphatic {a:} -----  = 2 blk + emphasis

From the above, you will see that one of difficulties in transliteration-transcription between BEPS languages is due to what I had formerly called the Two-Three tone problem. This is now resolved by taking vowel-durations in eye-blinks.

The nasal rimes becomes more complex when row #2 Palatal consonants are involved.

{.} {} {:}
{.} {} {:} , e.g. {} 'bent of mind' (MLC MED2006-155)
{.} {} {:} ,  e.g. {.ka-la.} 'night time' (BO-MLC1986-093)

Formerly, I had thought that Bur-Myan, {} should be included in the nasals, but since "Nyagyi" {a.} has been identified as a Palatal approximant, and {ya.} /j/ to be the Velar approximant, my position on killed-Nyagyi {} has changed. Killed-Nyagyi {}, and killed-ya'pak'lak {} are now treated to be similar. The syllable {} has the sound / i /.

{.} {} {:}
{.} {} {:} , e.g. {:} 'moan' (MLC MED2006-158)

I am now holding the view that the British-colonialist rendering of the name of the Myanmar-town {pr} as "Prome" to be an honest attempt of following the Bur-Myan spelling without realizing that the akshara Nyagyi {a.} has a sound unique to Bur-Myan, and that it is absent in both English and Hindi phonologies. I am finding that IPA transliteration-transcription for Bur-Myan to be woefully inadequate.

In the following IPA table, the Western phoneticians neglected our c2 and c4 consonants, thinking them to be just "aspirated" versions the basic consonants. They have given only c1, c3, and c5.

We have to expand the IPA as follows:


In the expanded tables, you will notice square brackets: [...], with 2 types of IPA symbols, e.g. for {sa.} [c], & for {hsa.} [cʰ]. These stand for Narrow transcription of the sound of the phoneme. The "Narrow transcription], captures as many aspects of a specific pronunciation as possible and ignores as few details as possible. Using the diacritics provided in the IPA, it is possible to make very subtle distinctions between sounds. However, it is an overkill in my work on BEPS because the languages involved belong to different linguistic groups.

Thus, I have to use what are called Broad transcription (or phonemic transcription): marked as /.../. It ignores as many details as possible, capturing only enough aspects of a pronunciation. The key factor in a broad transcription is meaning -- if a pronunciation detail can change the meaning of words in a language, it must be included in a broad transcription of that language. For a discussion of the difference between Narrow and Broad transcription, see Kevin Russell
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~krussll/phonetics/transcription/broad-narrow.html 150409

Contents of this page

Basic consonants

Representing basic consonants is relatively simple for there is a one-to-one correspondence between Bur-Myan (Burmese-Myanmar) and Skt-Dev (Sanskrit-Devanagari).

Since, English as it is spoken and written at present-time is non-phonetic, there is no one-to-one correspondence with Bur-Myan. This can be remedied if English is written in IPA.

The basic consonants can be divided into 2 sub-groups, the "Wag" {wag} 'classifiable', and the "Awag" {a.wag} 'un-classifiable'. The term 'classifiable' refers to the ease of grouping showing their vowel-quality, such as Tenuis-voiceless (c1), Voiceless (c2), Voiced (c3), Deep-H (c4), and Nasal (c5).

The Nasals, belonging to the basic consonants, are a sub sub-group. They form a class by themselves, and are found in c5 column. From the quality of the sound (sonority) they seem to occupy a position between the regular consonants and vowels.

Another sub sub-group, the Approximants, are what we have been calling the "Awag" {a.wag}. The Awag is best divided further into semi-consonants aka semivowels, and fricatives. The fricatives are widely misunderstood in the West. The Bur-Myan {a.} 'Old-English thorn-character', though a fricative, is Thibilant with the sound /θ/. It is found in regular English words such as <thin> /θɪn/ .

Now that Romabama is to be used for BEPS (Burmese-English-Pali-Sanskrit speeches), there is a need to invent new Myanmar graphemes to handle the labio-dental, /f/ and /v/, sounds: {pha.} & {bha.} . The most natural place for them is r5.

Sanskrit syllables do not start with r1c5 {nga.} ङ whereas it is common in Burmese syllables. I am looking at the possibility of using this as an indicator of the language-family to which a language belongs. There are a few words in Newarh language of the Kathmandu valley - the birth place of Gautama Buddha - that begins with {nga.}, i.e. onset of the syllable:

गोङ्ङ 'cock' --> {gaung:nga.}
फोङ्ङा 'pillow' --> {hpaung:nga}
ल्होङ (= ल ् ह ो ङ) 'fat' --> {l~hau:nga.}
  vs. गाइसी 'thin' --> {ga-I.i}
ङा 'fish' : {nga} (long vowel) cf. Bur-Myan {nga:} (emphatic)

In गोङ्ङ 'cock', and फोङ्ङा 'pillow' , {ng} ङ् coda of first syllable, and {nga.} ङ the onset of second.
Since Bur-Myan words tend to end with emphasis, I have given the emphatic instead of the long vowel.
[Rendering into Bur-Myan spelling is by UKT. It is to be checked by a Newar speaker.]

Though I am on very shaky ground, I must still note the "L-colouring" of the first syllable in {l~hau:nga.}. It is probably the reason why "Rahula" is "LaGula" in BHS.
See F. Edgerton, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary,
- BHS-indx.htm (link chk 151222),
and proceed to An 'original language' of Buddhism -- i02original.htm (link chk 151222)
and see passage 1.22 & footnote fn003-09 : [In] Lāghula  = Rāhula  (fn003-09); l  for r   does indeed agree with Māgadhī, ...

Since Newari is a Tibeto-Burman language, albeit under heavy influence of Indo-European Sanskrit, we should expect to see {nga.} ङ as the onset. This is what we found in the above words. Incidentally, the word for fish in Burmese is the most difficult for the Europeans and Hindi-speakers. It is almost the same in Newari and Burmese. -- UKT130116 .
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nepal_Bhasa 140511.

The Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newar_language#Ranjana_alphabet 150406, gives the orthography of the Newar vowels as follows:

It is interesting to find the 4 registers of "allophones" of a , to be similar to Myanmar:

{a.} अ / {a:.} अः / {a} आ / {a:} आः


Contents of this page

Conjuncts in Myanmar, and Devanagari scripts

Conjunction of two or more consonantal characters are quite common in both Myanmar and Devanagari scripts. There are two kinds: the vertical where the two characters are stacked one above the other, and the horizontal where the two are conjoined sideways.

The vertical conjunct is known as {paaHT-hsing.}, exemplified by {k~ka.} क्क . [Note the order of my display: Myanmar, Romabama, Devanagari]. The vertical conjuncts are generally used in old Skt-Dev texts and are found in Macdonell's A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary . These have been generally displaced in modern texts by horizontal conjuncts. Because of this, new students of Skt-Dev, like me, find it quite a hassle to remember the conjuncts.

An example of Bur-Myan horizontal conjunct is {~a.}. It is known as "Tha'gyi" {a.kri:}. There is no term in Bur-Myan for horizontal conjunct, and I propose to coin the word {paaHT-tw:}. The prefix {paaHT} stands for Pali, they are quite common in Bur-Myan.

There are unusual conjuncts (from Bur-Myan viewpoint) in Skt-Dev. At least two of them are quite important, and I propose to call them by the prefix "Pseudo-".

{k~Sa.} - Pseudo-Kha --> {kSa.}
{z~a.}  - Pseudo-Za  --> {za.}

Pseudo-Kha, {kSa.}, is present the words such as क्षत्रिय kṣatriya which in Bur-Myan is {hkt~ti.ya.} .

Pseudo-Za, {za.}, may be related to English words ending in -ism , such as "Communism", from which we get the informal word "ism".

ism n. Informal 1. A distinctive doctrine, system, or theory: Formalism, by being an ism, kills form by hugging it to death Peter Viereck [From -ism ] -- AHTD

UKT 150407: Taking together the Bur-Myan words, {Zaan} and {aaN} (MLC MED2006-155), and the First Jhana of Prince Siddhartha (who was still a child, and who would eventually became the Gautama Buddha), I believe that the word {Zaan} should be interpreted as an "intellectual theory" such as "Communism". The word {Zaan} need not be connected to "supernatural powers".

For the First Jhana of Prince Siddhartha, see Zen-Brain Horizons: Toward a Living Zen by James H. Austin*, p034, https://mitpress.mit.edu/authors/james-h-austin 150407
" On this memorable day, young Prince Siddhartha is attending that spring planting festival, and his own father's hands are performing this royal plowing ritual. Left to himself, Siddhartha sits off to one side. There he chooses the cool shade afforded by a rose-apple tree to shelter himself from the heat. Mindfully attentive to each breath in and out, secluded from sensual pleasures and unwholesome states, he enters spontaneously into the first (jhana) state of meditation. After emerging from this memorable state of rapture and bliss, he then goes on to carefully examine his thoughts in solitude."
[*James H. Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner for more than three decades, is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Courtesy Professor of Neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He is the author of Zen and the Brain, Chase, Chance, and Creativity, Zen-Brain Reflections, Selfless Insight, and Meditating Selflessly, all published by the MIT Press.]


Contents of this page


Representing vowels of BEPS is quite difficult because, first, both Bur-Myan and Skt-Dev has two sets of glyphs to represent the same vowel sound: vow-let (vowel letters) & vow-sign (vowel signs), whereas Eng-Lat has only one set.

Second, Eng-Lat has no way of differentiating a short vowel such as // {a.} or {aa.} from its allophone the long vowel // {a} or {aa}. The difference between the two is the length of pronouncing the vowel sound measured in eye-links: one eye-blink for a short vowel and two for a long vowel.

In comparing Bur-Myan vowels to IPA, we usually rely on two-dimensional diagrams:
1. the vowel quadrilateral of Daniel Jones
2. the tongue positions shown sideways,
3. sometimes on the lip openings.

However, these diagrams lead us to forget that pronouncing the vowels depend on the idiolect (person to person), the dialect (group of persons), the language, particularly the first language, L1 (living languages such as Burmese, English, Hindi, Mon, etc.), and the language group (such as IE (Indo-European), Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman), Austro-Asiatic.

We must also not forget that what a person articulate can be judged differently by foreign phoneticians. However, this last piece of uncertainty can now be taken care of by measuring the acoustic signals, the so-called formants F1 and F2 and giving a statistical model in three-dimensions as shown below.


We have to emphasize that there are overlap of the "same" vowel, say /i/, even in the same linguistic group. Thus in IE group, we find the Danish speakers, and the English speakers pronouncing the same vowel slightly differently. We should expect more difference when we compare the vowels of different linguistic groups, say those of English (belonging to IE), and Burmese (belonging to Tib-Bur).

I have to adopt a three-dimensional vowel diagrams to include the Skt-Dev vowels.

Contents of this page

Romabama Rule 02 

Differentiation of Capital and Small letters

-- UKT 111231, 150407

English-Latin alphabet : The 26 letters of the English-Latin alphabet are expanded to 52 letters by differentiating between the 26 small letters and 26 capital letters. Use of capital letters is rare in Romabama for every day use of Burmese-to-English. However, the situation changes when Pali (used for Theravada-Buddhism), and Sanskrit (Hinduism and Mahayana-Buddhism) are involved.

An instance is the need to kill c2 consonants, such as
- {hka.}/{Ka.} --> {K}/ {hk}
- {HTa.} --> {H}/ {HT}

To take a specific example, how are we to represent  for : {moaK} seems to be better than {moahk}. The rational for this is, English <k> is pronounced nearer to {hka.} (IPA /k/) than {ka.} (IPA /kʰ/). See Rule 03 for the use of capital letters of the extended Latin alphabet.

Finding ASCII characters for row 3 proves to be a challenge for Romabama. Since, I have used <t> /t/, <d> /d/, <n> /n/ for row 4, the only option left is to use capital letters for row 3: {Ta.} , {HTa.} , {a.}/{da.} , {a.}/{DDa.} , {Na.}. This has proved satisfactory for Bur-Myan. However, for Pal-Myan (Pali-Myanmar) where row #3 is used more frequently, it is not very convenient. Thus, how to represent the killed-{Hta.} {HT} (the use digraphs of in the coda position) has become a problem.

I have tried (as of 081019), using cap T underlined {T}. E.g. {paaT} , {T ning:} (Old spelling for 'king' - no longer listed in MLC dictionaries: modern form is {a.ning:} MED2010-487. - personal communication with U Tun Tint 110527. ). However, as I delved further into Pal-Myan, I am changing to using cap letters. Thus, {paaHT} & {HT-ning:}. As a rough rule, cap letters are used when r3 consonants and vowel letters are involved, e.g. {OAk~kT~HTa.} 'president', which on expansion becomes . [Remember {Ta.} and {HTa.} are r3 consonants, and, {U.} is the vowel-letter.]

Contents of this page

UKT notes

Tenuis-voiceless consonant

-- UKT 121121

In teaching Bur-Myan to children we always start with the phoneme {ka.} /k/. I used to think that this method is the most natural until I realize that English speakers cannot pronounce it unless preceded by /s/ as in <skate>.

Again it took me time -- until I take up Skt-Dev -- to realize that this /s/ is not the palatal-plosive-stop {sa.} & its killed-form {c} that we are used to. It is dental-fricative-sibilant {Sa.} & its killed-form {S}, and is not present in ordinary Bur-Myan phonology. Only then did I see why Skt-Dev has two graphemes, phonemes, च & ष . Then I realize that the second phoneme represented by ष was probably not present in Vedic or pre-classical-Sanskrit speakers, and that they had borrowed it from प and added a slanting line to it.

प pa + slanting-line --> ष ṣa {Sa.} which on killing gives {S}
e.g. <kiss> represented as {kiS}

There are three pairs in this category:

ड --> ङ ṅa {nga.} (<ng> is one digraph I could not avoid because I have used up all the n letters.
व --> ब ba {ba.}
प --> ष ṣa {Sa.}

U Hoke Sein's Pali Myan Dictionary, p.{za.}, gives Myanmar aksharas for Sanskrit transliterations, e.g.
{pa.} प  -->  { } ष ṣa

Bur-Myan speaker-writers and ethnics, know very well that the pronunciation of {pa.} /p/ has nothing to do with the hissing sound of dental-sibilant /s/. Because of this, I hold the view that the old Sanskrit speakers in Myanmarpr had simply followed what writers of Nagari script had done. They had not taken the phonologies of Sanskrit and Bur-Myan into consideration. It is probably why there is almost none who knows Sanskrit, particularly that written in Devanagari script, in the present-day Myanmarpr .

This is the basis of my grapheme-shape theory. This theory simply states is that when a written language-system realizes that a new grapheme is needed to handle a newly introduced phoneme, it borrows the grapheme representing a familiar sound, and add something - a dot or a line. Words with this newly introduced grapheme would be relatively rare in the corpus of the language.

So the English speakers are not used to the sound of row #1 {ka.} क !
Are there others? Yes. They are row # 2 {sa.} च, row # 3 {Ta.} ट, row #4 {ta.} त, and row #5 {pa.} प.
They are under column #1 of the akshara matrix.

UKT 150405: With row # 2 {sa.} च, I am beginning to suspect that there is a problem with Skt-Dev speakers in their articulation. They seem to be pronouncing it as an Affricate similar to English <ch> as in <church> /ʧɜːʧ/ (US) /ʧɝːʧ/.
The English starts with a dental /t/ and co-articulate with /ʃ/. It sounds just similar to our palatal {sa.}, but not quite! The Skt-Dev च sounds like our tenuis-voiceless {kya.}, and Eng-Lat like our voiceless {hkya.}. In other words, Bur-Myan {sa.} is Palatal-plosive, whereas Skt-Dev च ca is Palatal-affricate.

These are spoken by the English speakers not only voicelessly but very softly as if trying to hide them. Hide them, they did -- behind the hissing /s/ that they are used to. I looked for a suitable term to describe them and found that they belong to the class of tenuis. Now from another source:

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenuis_consonant 121120

In linguistics, a tenuis consonant  is a plosive or affricate consonant which is unvoiced, unaspirated, and unglottalized. That is, it has a "plain" phonation like [p, t, ts, tʃ, k], with a voice onset time close to zero, as in Spanish p, t, ch, k, or as in English p, t, k after s (spy, sty, sky).

In transcription, tenuis consonants are not normally marked explicitly, with voiceless IPA letters such as   p, t, ts, tʃ, k   assumed to be unaspirated unless indicated otherwise. However, there is an explicit diacritic for a lack of aspiration in the Extensions to the IPA, the superscript equal sign:  p= , t= , ts=, tʃ= , k= , and this is sometimes seen in phonetic descriptions of languages. [1]

The term tenuis comes from Latin translations of Ancient Greek grammar, which differentiated three series of consonants:
[UKT's additions within show the corresponding columns, c1, c2, c3, of the akshara matrix]

voiced    β /b/,  δ /d/, γ /ɡ/  - [corresponding to column #3 of akshara matrix]
aspirate φ /pʰ/, θ /tʰ/, χ /kʰ/ - [corresponding to column #2 of akshara matrix]
tenuis   π /p=/, τ /t=/, κ /k=/ - [corresponding to column #1 of akshara matrix]

These series have close parallels in other Indo-European languages, such as Armenian.

In Unicode, the symbol is encoded at U+02ED = modifier letter unaspirated (HTML: &#749;).

UKT: End of Wikipedia stub.

Go back tenuis-vl-note-b

Contents of this page

Writing systems or scripts

- UKT 151220

Principal sources:
- Lawrence Lo - http://www.ancientscripts.com/alphabet.html
- Izumi Suzuka, - http://mlcr.nagaokaut.ac.jp/main1/signs_of_syllables.htm
speaking at a student seminar in 2003 at The Laboratory of Professor Osatospoke on Writing Systems -- Signs of Syllables had classified writing systems into five types.

In this article, I will group the writing systems into seven groups:
1. Abjad | 2. Abugida (akshara or {ak-hka.ra} ) | 3. Alphabet |
4. Syllabary | 5. Logogram | 6. Proto-Writing | 7. Unknown

Each system may or may not have a clearly defined basic unit to differentiate script (recorded on paper, etc.), and the speech-sound (vibrational waves of air molecules) which is lost as soon as it is uttered by the speaker. Each speech-sound has two basic parts the vowel and the consonant, and their representation the marking or glyph is also differentiated as vowel and consonant. Our two systems of interest are different in their basic parts. The basic part of the Abugida system is the Akshara and that of the Alphabet is the Letter. Thus I write: Abugida-Akshara vs. Alphabet-Letter. The Letter, e.g. t is mute because it lacks a vowel whereas the Akshara {ak-hka.ra} {ta.} is pronounceable because of its inherent vowel. Thus the Georgian consonant t თ (consonant Letter Tan) and a ა (vowel Letter An) have Bur-Myan counter part {ta.} which already has the basic vowel part as its inherent vowel.

თ + ა --> {ta.}

It should be emphasised here that: the Akshara {ak~hka.ra} is neither an Alphabet nor a Letter. The definition given by MLC in Myanmar-English Dictionary MED2006-619 must be rejected.

A script is a set of markings (symbols or glyphs) arranged in a particular order to represent the sounds of the human speech (or language). A cluster of markings is not a script unless it can convey a human idea. Just as an animal or human making grunts and whines does not make sense, any cluster of characters is incapable of conveying ideas. Unless a human makes vocal sounds that convey an idea, we cannot say he is speaking or making the use of a language. Similarly, our group of markings must convey an idea before we can call it a script. We write (or make use of a script) to record the sounds of a language.

An example of a script is Egyptian hieroglyphics which is made up of little pictures, and we know a lot about the alphabetic system such as the Latin English script. We know that the Chinese and their neighbours write in scripts that are neither hieroglyphic nor alphabetic, though it was said they all had their beginnings in little pictures. In India and Myanmarpr, we write in characters that look alphabetic, but are not exactly so.

1 Abjad

Excrerpt from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjad

An abjad is a type of writing system where there is one symbol per consonantal phoneme. Abjads differ from alphabets in that they lack characters for vowels. Some abjads (such as the Arabic abjad) have characters for some vowels as well, but only use them in special contexts. However, many scripts derived from abjads have been extended with vowel symbols to become full alphabets. We cannot definitely say that vowels are more important than consonants, since "many non-Semitic languages such as English can be written without vowels and read with little difficulty".

"mny nn-Smtc lnggs sch `s `nglsh cn b wrttn wtht vwls `nd rd wth lttl dffclty".

In fact, omitting vowels from English orthography could serve to make it more phonetic without the problem of vowel representation, as the vowels differ greatly among the different dialects of English.

2. Abugida

Alternately: Alpha-syllabary, Syllabic alphabet, or Semi-syllabary, Syllabic alphabetic.

UKT: Abugida (or alphasyllabary) is a term coined by Peter T. Daniels in The Worlds' Writing Systems. The term is derived from the first four characters of an order of the Ethiopic script. From: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Abugida

An Abugida can become an Alphabet by use of a Virama {a.t} 'vowel-killer. Thus,

  {ta.} + viram --> თ 

Note that 'vowel-killer' is the inverse of ა 'vowel-giver'. The vowel a /a/ is the inherent vowel of the akshara.

South Asian scripts such as Asokan Brahmi and its descendents fit into both syllabary and alphabet. It is syllabic because the basic sign contains a consonant and a vowel. However, every sign has the same vowel, such as /a/ in Asokan, because of which every script of Asokan-derived languages can be transcribed into another, such as Skt-Dev --> Pal-Myan without having to rely on English transliterations. The basic unit is unchanging because of which it is called an Akshara {ak~hka.ra} 'unchangeable'. My system of inter-akshara change is known as Romabama {ro:ma.ba.ma}.

UKT: An example of an artificial abugida in the East:
During the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Kublai Khan (1215-1294) asked Phagspa (a Tibetan Lama called Matidhvaja Sribhadra (1239-1280)) to design a new character to be used by the whole empire. Phagspa in turn modified the traditional Tibetian alphabet and gave birth to a new character called Phagspa characters. These characters were not well accepted, but served only as a way for Mongolians to learn Chinese characters and came to an end with the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. Adapted from:  http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Mongolian-alphabet
Pagan (the Upper Burma kingdom) was invaded by the Chinese during the Yuan Dynasty, and my question is: Did the developers of the Myanmar script during the Pagan period knew about the script invented by Phagspa?

UKT: One of the differences between the Roman alphabet (script for writing English) and Myanmar abugida is the way in which the characters are arranged: abecedary (a list of the letters in an alphabet in the some kind of order). In English alphabet the first letter is a vowel, but the second is a consonant. The rest of vowels are imbedded randomly among the consonants. This is not so in an abugida where the vowels form a separate list, and the consonant letters are in a separate list. The consonant letters are arranged in an order based on phonetics.

UKT: An abugida like Myanmar is entirely suited to Bama (Burmese) in which the syllables are of CV type. In cases where a consonant is included in the coda (end position of the syllable), the inherent vowel of that consonant has to be killed. See Encoding Priciples. For easy reference, I have reproduced the relevant passages below.
Internet link: http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode4.0.0/ch09.pdf (page 219)

"The writing systems that employ Devanagari and other Indic scripts constitute abugidas -- a cross between syllabic writing systems and alphabetic writing systems. The effective unit of these writing systems is the orthographic syllable, consisting of a consonant and vowel (CV) core and, optionally, one or more preceding consonants, with a canonical structure of (((C)C)C)V. The orthographic syllable need not correspond exactly with a phonological syllable, especially when a consonant cluster is involved, but the writing system is built on phonological principles and tends to correspond quite closely to pronunciation."

Contents of this page

3. Alphabet

C and V Alphabetic

UKT: One source of confusion in collecting materials for these articles is because different authors use different terms for the same item. Please remember:
The character of an abugida is an akshara, whereas, the character of an alphabet is a letter.

A writing system, in which consonants (C) and vowels (V) are represented equally by separate letters. Greek and Roman alphabets, Cyrillic alphabet, and some artificial alphabets such as Armenian that was invented in 405 and still in use today belong to this category. (UKT: See an artificial abugida.)
from: http://mlcr.nagaokaut.ac.jp/main1/signs_of_syllables.htm

Nearly all the sounds in a language can be represented by an appropriate consonant and vowel glyph. (UKT: Lawrence Lo had used the word "alphabet" which I have changed to "glyph". Clicking on his link brought up a page (a section from which is given below) in which you can see what he had meant by the word "alphabet". It is unfortunate that he had used the word "alphabet" very loosely.) However, just take a look at English spelling and you can almost feel we're back to logographic systems!

UKT: The following is what Lawrence Lo had meant by his alphabet

"Believe it or not, the set of characters displayed before your eyes, the so-called Roman Alphabet, was the result of nearly 4000 years of transformation.

"While we can claim that it was ultimately the cuneiform script which in one way or another caused the appearance of writing systems around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East and in India, we choose a particular script, the Proto-Sinaitic, as the first recognizable form of the alphabet for reasons that will become evident later on.

"Also, notice that while we are most familiar with the Roman and Greek alphabets, there are many other alphabets and even "syllabaries" that belong in the same family of scripts. Therefore, I'll try to incorporate as much of these lesser known scripts as possible into this page."

You will notice that in presentation of an alphabet, we always follow a definite order. The same is true in abugida. However one of the differences between the Roman alphabet (script for writing English) and Myanmar abugida (akshara or {ak~hka.ra}) is the way in which the characters are grouped. English-script presents all the characters in a single group, whereas Myanmar-script presents the characters in two groups: the consonants and the vowels. The order within a group is known as abecedary (a list of the letters in an alphabet in the some kind of order). In English-abecedary, the first character is a vowel, but the second is a consonant. The rest of the vowels are imbedded randomly among the consonants. This is not so in an abugida. In the consonantal-abecedary, the characters are arranged in an order based on phonetics. The vowel-abecedary is also presented according to phonetics, however it is not as striking as the phonetical presentation of the consonants.

Contents of this page

4. Syllabary


Writing system in which each character represents a syllable, typically consisting either CV or V-type syllable: e.g. Japanese Katakana and Hiragana.
from: http://mlcr.nagaokaut.ac.jp/main1/signs_of_syllables.htm

In a syllabic writing system, the overwhelming number of signs are used solely for their phonetic values. A few non-phonetic are used for numbers, punctuation, and commonly used words.

Contents of this page

5. Logogram

Ideogram ?
Logographic and Logophonetic

A character in writing which represents complete word is called logogram. Examples are Chinese character, and early Egyptian hieroglyph and Sumerian cuneiform.
from: http://mlcr.nagaokaut.ac.jp/main1/signs_of_syllables.htm

A system of this kind uses a tremendous number of signs, each to represent a morpheme. A morpheme is the minimal unit in a language that carries some meaning. So, a logogram, a sign in a logographic system, may represent a word, or part of a word (like a suffix to denote a plural noun). Because of this, the number of signs could grow to staggering numbers like Chinese which has more than 10,000 signs (most of them unused in everyday usage).

(UKT: It seems that in some logographic systems, there are two types of signs, one denoting morphemes and the other denoting sound. As such, these should be called Logophonetic.)

This is sort of like stripped down versions of logographic systems. In essence, there are two types of signs, ones denoting morphemes and ones denoting sound. Most of the logo-phonetic are logo-syllabic, meaning that they denote syllables. An exception is Egyptian, whose phonetic signs denote consonants.

Contents of this page

6. Proto-Writing

This is the most rudimentary type of writing system. Examples of this type usually have small inventory of signs and large room for interpretation. They don't denote full running texts but instead serve more like mnemonic devices for the reader. However, they are writing systems because in some small way they do represent the underlying language, no matter how poorly.

Contents of this page

7. Unknown

Sometimes it is possible to infer what type a script is by counting the number of signs it has. However, sometimes it is impossible because there aren't enough textual evidence to establish what the type is. The most famous example of this is the Phaistos disc

UKT: Though we rarely pay attention to the order in which the glyphs (or characters of a writing system), it is very important in the study of scripts. The following passage is from http://www.ancientscripts.com/alphabet.html
   "The earliest example of an abecedary (a list of the letters in an alphabet in the some kind of order) was found in the city of Ugarit. This abecedary shows a total of 30 symbols used in the Ugaritic script. However, instead of being written in some kind of linear West Semitic, Proto-Sinaitic-derived form, the clay tablet that recorded this abecedary was written in some kind of cuneiform. While the letters in this script were made up of wedges and strokes, the forms of the characters were unrelated to any other cuneiform like Sumerian or Akkadian. There is some similarity, though, between the Ugaritic signs and linear West Semitic letters."
     The word abecedary is not listed in AHTD.

Contents of this page


From Lawrence K Lo - http://www.ancientscripts.com/ws_types.html

"You may have also encountered the term "ideographic". What it describes is a writing system whose symbols represent ideas. So, an ideographic writing system can be read by any person speaking any language given that they know which symbol in the system represents which idea. However, the concept of an "ideographic" writing system does not apply to any known writing system. Every writing system in the world replicates a language, so it encodes sounds and grammatical rules. Even at the most primitive level, in writing systems like Naxi or Mixtec, where extremely pictorial signs consist of the main bulk of the system, tricks to spell names using the rebus principle can still be detected.

"Furthermore, because of the nature of language, putting words together make more complex ideas. Since there is an infinite number of combination of words, there clearly cannot be sufficient signs to represent each idea in a language. So, the writing system must mimick the natural language by putting two signs together to form a compound that represents the more complex idea. However, when this happens, signs don't just get juxtaposed randomly, but instead in some predescribed way that follows the grammatical rule of the language. All of a sudden, this turns into a logographic system!

"(Lawrence Lo's) is that ideographic systems don't exist. It is a myth. Any writing system starts off as logographic and grows from there.

"This is, of course, just my opinion, but I feel that it rests relatively well on solid data from writing systems of the world."

Contents of this page


Footnote 01. For maps of script and language distribution in South Asia, and further documentation, see Joseph E. Schwartzberg (ed.), A Historical Atlas of South Asia (Chicago and London, 1978), p. 102 et passim. For a brief account of the evolution of Indian scripts, see Colin P. Masica, The Indo-Aryan Languages (Cambridge, 1991), chapter 6: Writing Systems.
Note Internet link 1 will take you to http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgadkw/members/transliteration/html/translit2.html
Go back.

Footnote 02. See W. Sidney Allen, Phonetics in Ancient India (London, 1953).
Note Internet link: 2 will take you to http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgadkw/members/transliteration/html/translit3.html
Go back.

Go back writing-script-note-b

Contents of this page

End of TIL file