Uriovakiro Uriovakiro

The Uriovakiro script was designed exclusively for a dialect of the Rotokas language (Central Rotokas), spoken by about 4,000 people in Papua New Guinea. Incidentally, the name "Uriova-kiro" comes from the Rotokas words for "bug" and "writing" respectively. This refers to the fact that many of the symbols resemble insects.

The first of its kind, Uriovakiro is herein labelled a "polysyllabary." A polysyllabary is an original type of writing system conceived of in 2013 and 2014 by Sheldon Ebbeler, a linguist and analyst of verbal behavior. For more information on polysyllabaries, or other scripts constructed by Sheldon Ebbeler, please contact the author at sheldonebbeler@yahoo.com. The primary intent of this new writing system was to explore the possibility of extending the classification of writing systems. That is, the traditional broad classes of phonetic writing systems (essentially, "featural," "alphabet," and "syllabary") do not strictly apply to this conscript.

How is a polysyllabary (and, in particular, Uriovakiro) different from conventional writing systems?

Featural scripts, alphabets, and syllabaries capture more and more phonological material within any given written form, to a degree that increases along a phonetic writing system continuum. Expanding this continuum, we could imagine a further level of poly-phonemic writing classification. Such a system would employ symbols uniquely corresponding to sound groupings above the level of the syllable (e.g, symbols for combinations of 2 syllables). Although such systems* are not known to exist naturally, Uriovakiro is an attempt at a script systematically constructed to explore this possibility: a polysyllabary. That is, Uriovakiro has symbols for not only Rotokas monosyllables (i.e, "monosyllabograms") but also disyllables (i.e, "disyllabograms").

*Note: There are writing systems that encode semantic information instead of (or in addition to) phonetic information (e.g, logographic systems, like Chinese). However, this is not what we are referring to here.

Notable features

How does it work?

Uriovakiro does not have separate arbitrary symbols for the full range of over 1,200 possible syllables combinations. Rather, a form that represents a particular disyllable is systematically related to other forms representing associated disyllables. This is achieved via compositionality and two universally-applicable rules of symmetry.

1) Compositionality: Technically speaking, Uriovakiro is not a "pure" syllabic writing system, since its syllabograms are systematically related. That syllabograms are compositional means that they can be decoded into their spoken segments. In particular, every syllabogram is divided into 4 quadrants. These quadrants are filled with particular quadrant forms depending upon (1) the specific type of monosyllable or disyllable being represented (cv.cv, v.cv (or cv.v), v.v, cv, or v, where the period indicates a syllable boundary), and (2) the sounds within the syllable(s). Each of the 5 types of syllable combinations gets assigned its own template. Into these templates, the following 8 basic quadrant forms combine in different ways to produce every completed syllabogram.

The 8 Basic Quadrant Forms

Uriovakiro - the 8 Basic Quadrant Forms

2) Rotation & Reflection Operations: In addition to being systematically constructed from syllabogram templates and quadrant forms, each syllabogram is read differently depending upon its orientation. As such, any given unique form can represent up to 8 different disyllables. From about 200 unique composite syllabograms, two simple rules of symmetry yield over 1,200 total possible syllable combinations.

How rotation and reflection can generate different forms

Uriovakiro -hHow rotation and reflection can generate different forms

What it was modelled after

  1. The use of symmetry: The idea of symmetry relations was modelled after syllabaries like James Evans’ syllabary for Cree, for which rotation of a syllabogram helps to generate vowel contrasts.
  2. Organic, fluid writing: The idea of built-in connections between component forms was originally inspired by something comparable that takes place with the conscript Funnish. Similarly, the fluid nature of these connections between Uriovakiro components parallels the system devised for The Knot Alphabet.
  3. Vowel monosyllabograms: In general, the vowel monosyllabograms were loosely based upon the cymatic patterns that Sanskrit or Hebrew vowel shapes are sometimes imagined to be modelled after.

Alphabet Chart

Here are the 195 basic syllabograms. Each of these unique forms can represent up 8 disyllable combinations, which result from the operations of reflection and/or rotation. These operations lead us to over 1,200 possible symbols, though only the unique ones are illustrated here.

The 195 Basic Uriovakiro Syllabograms

Uriovakiro - the 195 Basic Uriovakiro Syllabograms

Sample Text in Central Rotokas using Uriovakiro

Sample Text in Central Rotokas using Uriovakiro


In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. The earth was formless and empty, The spirit of God was hovering over the water and darkness covered the deep water. Then God said, "Let there be light!" So there was light.

More information about Uriovakiro (PDF)

Con-scripts by Sheldon Ebbeler

Funnish, Knot alphabet, Tengwarpt, Uriovakiro

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