Alphabet, Abjad and so forth

Benjamin Fortson fortson at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Mar 18 14:28:08 UTC 2002

> It was not until around the fourth century BC that stunningly modern
> phonetic analysis made possible a reordering of the consonants into neat
> rows and columns according where the sound was made in the mouth (the rows)
> and whether it was voiced or unvoiced, aspirated or unaspirated, continuant,
> and the like (the columns).  Unfortunately for us, that intellectual
> achievement occurred in India, too far away and too late to influence the
> order of the Greek alphabet.  So we are stuck with an alphabet that is
> pretty much in random order (except in a historical sense), but at least it
> includes letters for the vowels; South and Southeast Asian alphabets derived
> from the Indic offshoot of the original Semitic writing systems have neatly
> organized alphabets based upon scientific phonetic principles, but generally
> lack full-fledged letters for the vowels sounds.

All true except for the end--these alphabets *do* have full-fledged signs
for the vowels (and diphthongs). But because the consonant signs "include"
in their pronunciation a following vowel "a", which can be modified by the
addition of superscript, subscript, preceding, or following marks, the
vowel letters are only needed word-initially, or word-internally following
another vowel sound.


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