Writing system beauty

The place to discuss alphabets and other writing systems.

Re: Writing system beauty

Postby kwami » Thu 10 Sep 2009 12:53 am

Sobekhotep wrote:If only they (Arabic, too) would use the sukūn! I can deal with no short vowels but please give me the sukūn :lol:

That's only a problem for foreigners, at least in the case of Arabic. It's actually easier to read without all the vowels, since they're mostly predictable anyway. Same for Hebrew. But I agree, as a foreigner, lack of pointing is a real pain, at least until you start getting a feel for the language. But Persian may be different, I don't know--Swahili certainly was; it was almost unintelligible sometimes without vowel marking, and AFAIK there isn't the nostalgia for the old script you sometimes find for Turkish.

If you pine for the sukun, be glad that consonant pointing is now almost universal. It wasn't always that way. The Quran was unpointed, and not just for vowels, one reason there are still three variants of the Quran in use today (there were once 13 official interpretations). Inscriptions in Turkey are often missing consonant pointing as well, which would be a huge barrier to literacy.

But for me part of the beauty of a script is its ease of use, of learning, reading, and writing. Medieval Latin was a vast improvement over the script the Romans used, an improvement that Greek and Cyrillic only partially followed (no real cursive form in the first case, basically all small caps in the second).
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby Stosis » Thu 10 Sep 2009 4:22 am

Personally, I absolutely love Egyptian hieroglyphs. Its the only writing system (that I know of) that was regularly painted. The colours just add so much more to the beauty of it. On top of that they are so perfectly carved, it just amazes me!
I also like Japanese (with all three writing style) the simpler looking kana (that refers to both syllabic systems, right?) breaking up the complex Chinese characters makes it look complicated, but not to busy like Chinese does.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby Talib » Thu 10 Sep 2009 5:23 am

kwami wrote:That's only a problem for foreigners, at least in the case of Arabic. It's actually easier to read without all the vowels, since they're mostly predictable anyway. Same for Hebrew. But I agree, as a foreigner, lack of pointing is a real pain, at least until you start getting a feel for the language. But Persian may be different, I don't know--Swahili certainly was; it was almost unintelligible sometimes without vowel marking, and AFAIK there isn't the nostalgia for the old script you sometimes find for Turkish.
Well Persian isn't based on the consonantal root system that the Semitic languages are, which means vowels are indeed unpredictable.

As for Turkish, the old script carries historical and religious significance which as far as I know doesn't exist for speakers of Swahili.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby kwami » Thu 10 Sep 2009 7:59 am

Talib wrote:
kwami wrote:As for Turkish, the old script carries historical and religious significance which as far as I know doesn't exist for speakers of Swahili.

You'd have the same religious significance for the Swahili. But in Turkish, once you've figured one vowel out, the rest are often reduced to a 2-way choice, due to vowel harmony. So the identities of the vowels aren't as critical as they are in Persian or Swahili, though getting that first one right could sometimes be tricky. My impression is that the main problem with the Ottoman script was that the language was half Persian, including grammatical constructions that were backwards for Turkish, making the language rather inaccessible to all but the well educated. Simultaneously a problem for a republic and a source of identity for an aristocracy. With Swahili it was more a problem of reading it at all, since the Arabic vocab was (and to a lesser extent still is) used in the speech of commoners.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby imbecilica » Thu 10 Sep 2009 5:36 pm

Vietnamese has used at least 4 different scripts (including Classical Chinese) but the actual language has used at least 3 different scripts listed below:

Chữ Khoa Đẩu
At first, it seems to resemble that of the Tai-Dam script but on closer inspection is actually different. There have been many findings such as artefacts, stone and even paper inscriptions with evidence of this particular writing suggesting Vietnam was a relatively developed society at the time. This script meaning the "tadpole" script is believed to be the ancient script of the Vietnamese language used before the year 0 before the annexation of Vietnam by China in the first century BCE. As Vietnamese is believed to have not yet developed tones at the time in addition to having more clusters of consonants, inflectional morphology etc. the script seems to represent the ancient Vietnamese language.

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Chữ Nôm
With the annexation of Vietnam into the Chinese empire, classical Chinese was made the official writing for governmental and scholarly uses whereas Vietnamese seemed to bear no writing system of its own although there is evidence suggesting otherwise (see above). As Vietnamese began importing rapidly Chinese words and ideas, a new script based on Chinese was developed called Chữ Nôm or Chữ Hán Nôm which used a combination of native Chinese characters with the addition of several thousand newly invented characters formed in various ways in order to record native Vietnamese words as 60-70% of words could be traced back to Chinese and hence written using the original Chinese characters. At its zenith, it was made an official form of writing for a brief period and many of the most prominent poets used this script to write their works. With the French colonisation of Vietnam, Chinese characters began to fade in importance giving way to the script which comes to predominate these days.

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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby imbecilica » Thu 10 Sep 2009 5:53 pm

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Chữ Quốc Ngữ
When European missionaries starting to arrive in Vietnam (Annam) during the 16th and 17th centuries, they needed a much more "easier" script in order to more effectively convert the population into Catholics. The man accredited with the creation of the Chữ Quốc Ngữ or "National" script was ironically a Frenchman named Alexandre de Rhodes who went on to Publish the first Latin-Portuguese-Annamese (Vietnamese) dictionary using the newly developed script for Vietnamese. At first, it was barely used and nationalists preferred to stick to the existing Chinese style script. However, with the growing rebellions against the French, it became an effective tool for the spreading of information as it was much easier to learn than Chinese characters and later became a symbol of national identity. At the time, the majority of Vietnamese were farmers and largely illiterate. Despite the current version of it being based on the standard Northern dialect of Vietnamese, it was actually the Southern Vietnamese who were the first to adopt the script for official usage. Since then, the script has been tweaked here and there but there still remain certain orthographic issues such as the usage of i vs y.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby Talib » Thu 10 Sep 2009 6:40 pm

kwami wrote:You'd have the same religious significance for the Swahili.
Are most speakers of Swahili Muslims? The language has become a lingua franca of the region, extending far beyond its original Urheimat.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby imbecilica » Fri 11 Sep 2009 2:30 am

Are there any languages out there that use(d) at least 3 different types of scripts? eg. Vietnamese has been through a syllabic alphabet, a semanto-phonetic and an alphabetic script.

I think when it comes to writing beauty it depends on several factors:

Aesthetics - The script is bearable to the eyes. eg. The modern day Vietnamese script with its crazy diacritical markings seems to be a horror to the eyes of one who glances upon it.
Culture/Religion - The script has a cultural value to it. eg. The Arabic script is culturally as well as religiously connected to the Quran and Arabic peoples.
Complexity - The script seems rather complex but is quite functionable. eg. Chinese characters are often considered amongst the most complex of scripts stiil in use.
Efficiency - The script is efficient in regards to the recording of the target language. eg. (korean) Hangul is very efficient in recording the Korean language.

The superficial beauty of a script may depend on the writer. eg. My terrible Chinese characters vs a master Chinese calligrapher.
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1. Chữ Khoa Đẩu - Aesthetically it doesn't look all too bad except maybe for the fact the examples shown seem to show a certain repetitiveness of the individual letter. Culturally, it is quite important to the Vietnamese as it is believed to be the script of the ancient language and also bears linguistic value as it helps examine the language at the time. It's as complex as English's alphabet as you just need to learn the individual letters to be able to read it and the efficiency seems to be quite mediocre, not too hard.

2. Chữ Hán Nồm - Aesthetically again it doesn't look that bad except for maybe the awkward looking character here and there. It is culturally significant as it was used to record as much as 900 years of Vietnamese history, literature, medicine etc. It was also a sign of sovereignty from China although it was based on Chinese characters. Complexity-wise, had it continued to be used here into the present, it would probably have to be one of the hardest scripts to learn (even moreso than Chinese itself). However, is it efficient? Not if you consider it would take anywhere between several years to a dozen years to learn 4-5000 characters.

3. Chữ Quốc Ngữ - Aesthetically you might say it is unpleasing and to an extent I agree. The seemingly endless usage of diacritical markings here and there make it look like hair on a bad hair day. Although not as complex as Chữ (Hán) Nồm, it does have some irregularities orthographically speaking. Culturally, although ironically it was created by European missionaries bent on Catholicising the region, it was eventually adopted and adapted and just as Chữ (Hán) Nồm was many centuries ago a symbol of resistance and independence, Chữ Quốc Ngữ was adopted as the "national" script. Efficiency-wise it is much more efficient than the Chinese styled script, but in terms of the apparent overuse of markings, I don't see any other way the tones can be shown without the result being a change in the base word.
Last edited by imbecilica on Fri 11 Sep 2009 2:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby Sobekhotep » Fri 11 Sep 2009 4:57 am

Talib wrote:
Sobekhotep wrote:For some reason, I really like the look of printed Cyrillic. I think it just looks "cool"; I don;t know why. :D
It has that "Soviet chic" appeal, I think.

I think you may be right. But, I hate the Soviet Union! :P

kwami wrote:Swahili certainly was; it was almost unintelligible sometimes without vowel marking

Wait a minute, Swahili uses Latin! :?

Talib wrote:Are most speakers of Swahili Muslims?

For Tanzania, religious leaders & sociologists estimate that the Christian and Muslim communities are approximately equal in size, each accounting for 30 to 40% of the population, with the remainder consisting of practitioners of other faiths, indigenous religions, & atheists.
As for Kenya, over 70% of the population are Christian while around 7% are Muslims.

imbecilica wrote:Are there any languages out there that use(d) at least 3 different types of scripts?

Mongolian. It has been written with alphabets (Mongolian script, 'Phags-pa script, Latin, Cyrillic), an abugida (Soyombo script), an abjad (Perso-Arabic) & logograms (Chinese).
So many scripts because the Mongol empire was so huge.
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Re: Writing system beauty

Postby imbecilica » Fri 11 Sep 2009 5:23 am

Didn't Talib post something or is it my imagination?

Anyway, I've just come up with a new way to write Vietnamese using Cyrillic letters. I haven't got a name for it yet but here's an overview:

Consonants
Б б /ɓ/ (b)
К к /k/ (c, k)
Ч ч /tʂ/ (ch)
Й й (d)
Д д /ɗ/ (đ)
X x /ɣ/ (g, gh)
J j /j/ (gi)
Һ һ /h/ (h)
Қ қ /k~x/ (kh)
Л л /l/ (l)
М м /m/ (m)
Н н /n/ (n)
Њ њ /ɲ/ (nh)
Ң, ң /ŋ/ (ng, ngh)
П п /p/ (p)
Ф ф /f/ (ph)
Гу гу /kw/ (qu)
Р р /ʐ, ɹ/ (r)
С с /s, ʂ/ (s)
Т т /t/ (t)
Ҭ ҭ /tʰ/ (th)
Џ џ /~dʒ/ (tr)
В в /v, j/ (v)
З з /s/ (x)

Vowels
A a /aː/ (a)
Ӑ ӑ /a/ (ă)
Ә ә /ə, ɜ/ (â)
E e /ɛ/ (e)
Є є /e/ (ê)
I i /i/ (i)
O o /ɔ/ (o)
Ө ө /o/ (ô)
Э э /əː, ɜː/ (ơ)
У у /u/ (u)
Ү ү /ɯ/ (ư)
И и /i/ (y)

Certain foreign letters
Ф ф / Г г (f) * (Г г used for /f/ in foreign words)
Ч ч (j) * (the same as Vietnamese 'ch')
Ў ў (w)
Ӡ ӡ (z)
Ҙ ҙ /ð/ (th)
Þ þ /θ/ (th) * (Old English thorn)

Tone markings
˧ [-] (a) = no marking
˧˥ (s) (á) = c
˨˩ (f) (à) = г
˧˩˧ (r) (ả) = р
˧ˀ˥ (x) (ã) = з
˧ˀ˨ (j) (ạ) = ч

instead of placing diacritical markings on vowels, the way to mark tones is by assigning a certain letter to equal the tone and place it at the end of the word. Fortunately, none of the following letters can act as a final in Vietnamese so here they are: (nothing for 1st tone), s [с] (2nd tone), f [г](3rd tone), r [р] (4th tone), x [з] (5th tone), j [ч] (6th tone).

NB: Note that 'г' by itself is only used to represent /f/ in foreign words, but paired up with 'у' becomes /kw/ (qu) and used at the end of a word makes the word 3rd tone. Just a little dash of irregularity to make things fun!

Here's an example:

Hôm nay là ngày kỷ niệm tám năm của vụ khủng bố tại Nữu Ước.
Һөм нaи лaг ңaиг кир нiємч тaмс нӑм куaр вуч қчңр бөс тaiч нүуз үэкс
[Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrorist incident in New York (9/11)]

Or if written polysyllabically as suggested by http://www.vny2k.com/vny2k/CaitoCachVie ... nicode.htm
Һөмнaи лaг ңaигкирнiємч тaмснӑм куaр вучқчңрбөс тaiч нүузүэкс

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