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The Briefscript Project


Classical Briefscript (a.k.a. BrScA)

Introduction

This page describes the phonology and orthography of the language also formerly called 'briefscript', BrSc and BrScA. It was developed in the early 1960s and has in all essentials remained the same. Indeed, the vowels and the rules of syllabification and svarabhakti coloring (vowel harmony) have remained unchanged since then. There have been some changes over the years regarding the consonants. It would be tedious to go through all these changes, even if I could recall them all.

What is presented below is the form the language had in January 2005 when the terms 'briefscript', BrSc and BrScA were formally abandoned.

The vowels

The use of the symbols a, e, i, o, u, w, y as written stressed vowels and the system of vocalization of unstressed vowels has remained constant ever since the system was developed in the early 1960s. The idea behind the vocalization of the unstressed vowels, which are always unwritten, was prompted by two considerations

  • Design Principle 3: "There should be only one or two simple rules for the pronunciation of single consonanant morphemes, and there should be no exceptions to these rules."
  • I had noticed that in Turkish, those suffixes where the written vowel varies between i, ı, ü and u could all be written the same way (with, say, some 'neutral vowel' symbol) since the vocalization was unambiguously determined by the vowels of the lexical morpheme to which they were suffixed.

The written stressed vowels

Only stressed vowels are written, they are:

  1. Front vowels:
    i - IPA [i], French lit; English machine.
    e - This may vary between IPA [e] and IPA [ɛ], i.e. between the higher sound of Scots English they, French é or German Beten, and the lower sounds of English bet, French è or German Bett.
    These are both pure vowels, as in the French and German examples; there should be no trace of any final [j] sound as in most varieties of English.
  2. Back vowels:
    u - IPA [u], French vous, English food.
    o - This may vary between IPA [o] and IPA [ɔ], i.e. between the higher sound of Scots English coat, French eau or German Boden, and the more open sounds of British English cot, French bonne or German Gott.
    These are both pure vowels, as in the French and German examples; there should be no trace of any final [w] sound as in most varieties of English.
  3. Central vowels:
    one pure vowel -
    a - IPA [a] or IPA [ɑ], French la, German Baden, English father.
    and two diphthongs -
    y - English might (see below);
    w - English cow (see below);
    The two diphthongs may begin at positions slightly higher in the mouth than [a], i.e. in the region of the [ɐ], [ə], or very low [ɔ] or [ɛ], thus:
    • 'y' may sound like the Welsh ei, Dutch ij or English boy;
    • 'w' may sound like the Welsh ow, Dutch ou or the [ɛw] sound of some southern English pronunciations of cow (also heard in the Cockney pronunciation of bell).

The unwritten unstressed vowels

Unstressed vowels are determined, without exception, by the rules of syllabification and of vowel harmony, thus:

  • The syllabic structure is very simple; the only two permitted patterns are:
    V  = any vowel
    CV = any single consonant followed by a vowel
    No syllable may end in a consonant; and no clusters of consonants are permitted. In any word the vowel in the unstressed syllables is determined, according to the rule of vowel harmony, by the vowel of the stressed syllable which they follow
  • Vowel harmony determines the pronunciation of unstressed vowels. There are only three such vowel sounds, thus:
    1. front - IPA [i] (French si, or English pretty) if the stressed vowel is either i or e.
    2. back - IPA[u] (French sou , or English cuckoo) if the stressed vowel is either u or o.
    3. central - IPA [a] ( French la. or English fellah) if the stressed vowel is either a or w or y.

Vowel harmony is found in several languages; the more familar type is probably that found in languages like Finnish, Hungarian and Turkish. Another type is found in Igbo and related languages. The vowel harmony in 'Classical Briefscript' is the coloring of svarabhakti vowels by the stressed vowel of the syllable which precedes them.


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The consonants

This has been the area of change over the years. In order to maximize the number of one, two or three letter morphemes, one needs to use the 19 remaining letters of the alphabet. However, it is almost impossible to do this and satisfactorily achieve Design Principle 11 (Phonemes should be restricted to those that most people in the world already know or can learn to pronounce easily). The table below is possibly the best compromise.

 
Columns: Place of articulation
Rows: Manner of articulation
labialdental/
alveolar
palatalvelar
voiceless plosivep tq /c/ k
voiced plosiveb dc /ɟ/ g
voiceless fricativef sx /ç/ h
voiceless fricativev zj /ʝ/ -
voiced nasalm n- -
lateral approximant- l- -
trill , flap or
approximant
- r- (r)

Note:

  • The phonemic transcriptions of the palatal consonants show the preferred phonetic sounds. But 'x' may be pronounced [ʃ] or [ɕ] and 'j' may be pronounced [ʒ] or [ʑ]; likewise 'q' may be [ʧ] or [ʨ] and 'c' may be [ʤ] or [ʥ].
  • The preferred pronunciation of 'r' is a trill, either alveolar [r] or uvular [ʀ]. But the other 'rhotic' sounds are permissible, namely: alveolar flap [ɾ], alveolar approximant [ɹ], retroflex approximant [ɻ], or velar approximant [ʁ].

I was not entirely happy at the 'voiceless' ~ 'voiced' distinctions. Some languages, notably Chinese, do not have voiced plosives, except as allophones of voiceless unaspirated varieties; the contrast there is between aspirated and unaspirated (voiceless) plosives. On the other hand, the speakers of many languages, e.g. southern European languages, find difficulty in aspirating plosives but happily distinguish between voiced and voiceless varieties. The situation in Spanish and Portuguese is further complicated in that intervocalically, unvoiced plosives tend to get a noticeable degree of voicing and voiced plosives are pronounced as voiced fricatives. And so one could go on with the behavior of plosives in many other languages.

I was even more unhappy at the inclusion of voiced fricatives. These have a distinct tendency to become approximants or even reduce to zero. But if all the 19 letters are to used, their inclusions seems unavoidable.

Nor was I happy at the inclusion of both /r/ and /l/ as many languages, such as Japanese and Korean fail to make a distinction between these sounds. I hoped the wide range of permitted variants for /r/ would make its inclusion less unacceptable, e.g. Chinese làng [laŋ˥˩] "wave" ~ ràng [ɻaŋ˥˩]/[ʐaŋ˥˩] "allow".

 
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Morphemes

All morphemes conform to the following rules:

  • Three letter morphemes are always lexical morphemes and must have the written shape CVC; they are disyllablic, the final vowel being unstressed and determined by the written stressed vowel.
  • Two letter morphemes may have the witten shape VC or CV. The former are disyllabic, the final vowel being determined in the same way as CVC morphemes, and may occur only at the beginning of phrases; the latter are monosyllabic, the vowel being stressed, and may occur only at the end of phrases.
  • One letter morphemes are functional morphemes or 'particles' and must have the written shape C, the vowel being determined by the lexical morpheme to which the particle is suffixed or postposited

There are no exceptions to the above three rules. So, for example. eklatrunltkw must be: ek-lat-run-l-t -kw. No other analysis is possible. Also it will be noted that morphemes consisting of a single vowel are not valid.

There was a few years back some discussion on either Auxlang or Conlang (or both) whether the vowel harmony rule should be kept or whether to drop it and have all unstressed vowels as shwa [ə] (that is whether the svarabhakti vowels should be colored by the preceding stressed vowel or whether they should all take the uniform 'neutral' pronunciation of the central mid unrounded [ə]). I wrote a computer program which would generate valid 'Classical Briefscript' strings at random and print out their pronunciation both with and without vowel harmony. Below is one of the samples:

The text
nikswkk netd bobpub etkyhnwsdt gwdbwhhk mofhendbo synb nwktygk fwd hornedpg alputptne dot feblutk.
Proununciation with vowel harmony
/'niki'sawkaka 'netidi 'bobu'pubu 'eti'kajha'nawsadata 'gawda'bawhahaka 'mofu'henidi'bo 'sajnaba nawka'tajgaka 'fawda 'horu'nedipigi 'ala'putuputu'ne 'dotu 'febi'lutuku/
Pronunciation with shwa
/'nikə'sawkəkə 'netədə 'bobə'pubə 'etə'kajhə'nawsədətə 'gawdə'bawhəhəkə 'mofə'henədəbo; 'sajnəbə 'nawkə'tajgəkə 'fawdə 'horə'nedəpəgə 'alə'putəpətə ne 'dotə 'febə'lutəkə/

I am glad to say that no-one liked the version with shwa; in any case that vowel sound, so common in English, is in fact not found among very many of the world's languages. The svarabhakti vowels continue to be colored. At least practically everyone can pronounce [i], [a] and [u].

Furthermore, all the morphemes are, without exception, self-segregating. Even without a dictionary or without knowing what any of the morphemes mean, not only is there only one way the above string can be pronounced, there is also only one way in which it can be analyzed into constituent morphemes:

nik-swk-k net-d bob-pub et-kyh-nws-d-t gwd-bwh-h-k mof-hen-d-bo syn-b nwk-tyg-k fwd hor-ned-p-g al-put-p-t-ne dot feb-lut-k

The number of valid morphemes in Classical Briefscript is:

Three letter morphems (CVC)2527(19 x 7 x 19)
Two letter morphems (VC)133(7 x 19)
Two letter morphems (CV)133(19 x 7 )
One letter morphems (C)19 
TOTAL2812 

Compared with Dutton's 491 root words with 19 suffixes and 4 prefixes, this is almost profligate. But we have seen that Dutton extended the vocabulary by an unpredictable use of ambiguous suffixes and idiomatic compounding of root words. Furthermore some compounds were longer than the corresponding English word.

It is said that with Esperanto (possibly the most well known constructed IAL) you can get by with just 500 root words and judicious compounding. But I believe that after a century of use Esperanto currently has some 9000 root words, which is rather more than Classical Briefscript maximum limit. One can argue about the ideal size of the vocabulary of an IAL. Hopefully one will be able to get going with a vocabulary of about a couple of thousand.

 
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