New Perspectives on Digraphia

by Elena Berlanda

Abstract

This paper seeks to expand the notion of digraphia, a term which is often used to describe a situation where a language is written with two different scripts. This expansion of the concept shall be reached by taking a systematic look at the way language and scripts relate to each other.

Writing systems change, digraphia and orthography reforms have not been treated extensively in the literature published on scripts and writing systems. Furthermore, an all-encompassing view on the script-language relationships has not yet been undertaken.

In the field of linguistics, writing systems are generally not considered to be topics that have the same importance as other language contact phenomena such as bilinguialism & diglossia, language shift, language death, language attrition, language convergence and others. Inquiries about these phenomena are generally explored by taking into account the connection between the languages and the communities using them. While the choices societies make about languages are well documented, as well as being supported by sufficient theoretical foundations, this cannot be said to be the case of the relationship between scripts and socities.

This paper explores the question of a script-community relationship from a theoretical perspective with the goal in mind to lay the theoretical grounding for a serious inquiry into the choices made about writing systems. The framework presented here lists a number of possible choices which a community can take about writing and literacy in general. As it will become immediately clear this decision-making involves far more than simply choosing a script. It is argued that not only scripts are meaningful, as they acquire meaning through being used. Instead, a view is presented here which regards the kind of option a society chooses for its literacy as equally meaningful, since choices made about literacy can express the tensions within a community. This can give insights into the political and socio-cultural shifts and changes of a speech community and it can also be a way of indexing various aspects of identity.

Read the paper (Word, 1.1MB)
Appendix - part 1 (Word, 3.7MB)
Appendix - part 2 (Word, 3MB)
Appendix - part 3 (Word, 10MB)
Appendix - part 4 (Word, 690K)
Paper & appendix zipped together (17.6MB)

About the author

Elena Berlanda is originally from Austria but currently lives in Canada. She completed her Master's degree in linguistics at York University (Toronto, Canada) in 2006 and wrote this major research paper for her MA. You can reach her at marcella[at]berlanda[dot]ca

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